The road to Rutherglen
There are grapes, good food and a golden past at this north-eastern town with the lot.
It was meant to be a year off. Eliza Brown, then aged 28, left her successful advertising career in Melbourne to work for her father, winemaker Peter R. Brown.
“Dad rang me up one day when it was wet and I was stuck in traffic and said, ‘how do you feel about doing a year up here at Rutherglen?’”
Her father had bought the historic All Saints Estate winery in north-eastern Victoria in the early 1990s and, more recently, acquired nearby St Leonards Vineyard from his brothers (of Brown Brothers fame). Eliza said yes.
Sixteen years later she is still here, running both wineries with her siblings Angela, 42, and Nicholas, 38. “I had all the intention at the start to go back to Melbourne but I kind of fell in love up here with the industry and, I suppose, the romance of it all.”
Although, she hastens to add, it’s not all been beer and skittles. “It’s a changing environment. You’re not just dealing with wine, you’re dealing with the weather and people, and hospitality – but it’s a really nice industry to work in.”
In 2005, her decision to stay was sealed by the tragic death of her father in a motorbike accident. Eliza, Angela and Nick thought about selling but opted instead to take the plunge and run the wineries themselves.
Rutherglen’s rich gold-flecked past attracts its share of history buffs.
Rutherglen is famous for five and even six-generation family winemakers, who specialise in bold Durifs, world-renowned fortifieds and interesting French varietal table wines. The first vineyards were planted here in the 1850s and, by 1890, the region was producing a quarter of Australia’s wine, much of it for export.
But then an outbreak of root-destroying phylloxera struck in the late 1890s and the winemakers had to start afresh, with disease-resistant root stock imported from California.
While many visitors from Melbourne (three hours’ drive away) and nearby NSW flock here to visit the 19 small wineries dotted around town, Rutherglen’s rich gold-flecked past attracts its share of history buffs, too. The precious metal was discovered here in 1860 and, within weeks, the town swelled with prospectors.
“I’m intrigued by the gold history,” says Mandy Jones, a fifth-generation winemaker and local historian, standing in her cellar door restaurant at Jones Winery.
“Just out the road that way, on the way to Albury-Wodonga, there was a settlement of 2000 people and there were 22,000 in Rutherglen at the time. They needed a lot of miners because it wasn’t surface gold it was underground,” Mandy says. “They had that many people working in the grazing properties and as miners that they used to play football on Saturdays and Sundays. There was a huge population.”