Hidden Gems: Bendigo

By Halliday Promotion

1 Oct, 2023

Bendigo, located in central Victoria, has a thriving wine industry and arts and culture scene. Get to know five wineries in this hidden gem of a region. 

As with many regions in Central Victoria, Bendigo’s winemaking history began in the gold-rush era of the 1800s. The arrival of phylloxera in 1893 put a stop to wine production for more than 60 years, until Bendigo pharmacist Stuart Anderson planted vines in 1969 and reignited the winemaking fervour in the region. Today, the region is a veritable gold mine for dense, crimson grape varieties, with shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and Italian red varietals such as sangiovese and nebbiolo dominating the plantings.

A comfortable two-hour drive north of Melbourne, Bendigo boasts an array of cellar doors hidden throughout the valley. If you’re visiting, make sure to stop by BlackJack Vineyards, Glenwillow Wines, Killiecrankie Wines, Mandurang Valley Wine and Sandhurst Ridge and discover their wines to try below. 

BlackJack Vineyards

BlackJack winery winemakers

Winemakers Ian McKenzie and Ken Pollock say: We're two Bendigo neighbours who, over many glasses of wine, hatched a dream to develop a vineyard and winery. From the very beginning it was always our mission to produce high-quality red wines that reflect the vineyard and vintage variations – wines of terroir. Our core range is the estate-grown wines, namely the BlackJack Shiraz, the Block 6 Shiraz and the Cabernet Merlot, supported by the Chortle’s Edge Shiraz, which we lovingly call our 'Monday to Thursday' wine.

H. What do you love about making wine in Bendigo?
IM & KP. BlackJack Vineyards is situated on an easterly slope, in the old apple and pear growing district of the Harcourt Valley on the foothills of Mt. Alexander. Although we're just south of Bendigo, the climate is considerably cooler here, and we're blessed with cool nights, evening valley breezes and warm clear days, allowing the grapes to slowly ripen. This allows us to produce generous, full-flavoured wines that are approachable early on, but reward the patient consumer 10–15 years down the track. 

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
IM & KP. Vintage is an 'all hands on deck' affair, an amalgam of hard work, stress and fun. And, although it sounds a little cliche in today’s world, our winemaking approach has always been to allow the vineyard to express itself. So, minimal intervention in the vineyard and the winemaking process. Fermentation occurs in traditional open tank fermenters and the wine is hand-plunged and aged in small oak barriques for around 22 months.

Wine to try

BlackJack wine bottleshot

2020 BlackJack Block 6 Shiraz

Crimson red in colour. Dark berry aromas. Spice as well. Generous palate and rich, ripe, dark berry fruits, plum, cinnamon and mixed spice. Fine grain grape and French oak add further structure to an already elegant wine.

Best enjoyed: This shiraz pairs perfectly with veal osso bucco. Best served at 15–18 degrees, accompanied by the 'Holy Trinity of wine' – good food, good friends and good wine – where the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

RRP $42 | Drink to 2035 | Shop this wine |

Glenwillow Wines

Peter Fyffe

Owner and vigneron Peter Fyffe says: We pride ourselves on following sustainable, minimal intervention viticulture to produce premium, award-winning wines at the best possible prices. Our cellar door is located at the Bendigo Pottery Precinct, where you can enjoy our award-winning wines and see our display of Australian opals from the family opal mine in White Cliffs in outback NSW (where I live with my wife Cherryl in a comfortable dugout).

H. What do you love about making wine in Bendigo?
PF. Our three-hectare vineyard is located in the cooler fringe of the premium red-wine-growing region between Castlemaine and Daylesford. The elevated, north-facing aspect maximises the sun for vine growth, and regular soft breezes help with disease control and gentle ripening of the grapes, especially the Italian varieties, nebbiolo and barbera. The Fyffe clan and our friends love working together happily in this unique and picturesque winery.

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
PF. Whilst I have a very keen interest in winemaking, I leave this aspect to the best winemakers in the Bendigo region, who have made our wine over the last 24 years. Our winemakers over the years have all agreed to let our grapes speak for themselves. Such is the quality of our grapes and vineyard practices, that very little adjustment is needed during winemaking to produce our wines. This is particularly so for our shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, but our sometimes difficult nebbiolo makes the winemakers earn their money!

Wine to try

Glenwillow bottleshot

2015 Glenwillow Reserve Shiraz

The key feature of this great wine is its balance. It has rich, powerful black fruit flavours, yet the wine is still smooth and elegant, with great line and length and amazing structure. Rated 94 points by Halliday Wine Companion. 

Best enjoyed: The Reserve Shiraz is a perfect match for a fillet of aged Angus beef cooked medium-rare and kipfler potatoes. Serve at around 15 degrees, with the biggest shiraz glass you can find. 

RRP $60 | Drink to 2035 | Shop this wine |

Killiecrankie Wines

Killiecrankie cellar door

Winemaker John Monteath says: Our first tiny commercial release was in 2007, a very well-received 2005 Killiecrankie Shiraz. We have slowly and steadily built up the range of wines since then but truly remain in the boutique section of the market. The Killiecrankie Wines cellar door was opened in June 2014 in a restored 1880s workers cottage. The cellar door gardens are a feast for the eyes all year round and feature a grand pear tree that is over 100 years of age. We encourage visitors to bring some food to enjoy with our wines or we can arrange a delicious platter with prior notice.

H. What do you love about making wine in Bendigo?
JM. Bendigo is a hidden gem of a wine region, or would you say hidden nugget? The region is diverse, ranging from warmer climates to vineyards on the edge of a cool climate. Most of our grapes come from the Harcourt area, located in the southern part of the Bendigo GI, which gives our wines a lovely spicy elegance and fine tannins. 

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
JM. Some may call our wine making 'lo-fi' – there is no fancy winemaking equipment here. For our red wines we bucket the handpicked grapes into our small crusher destemmer. The grapes are then fermented and hand plunged in small open vats. After fermentation is complete, we back fill the buckets with grape skins to fill the basket press. By the end of vintage we are very happy to see the last of the bucket work! The resultant wines then rest in French and American oak barriques for between 10 and 22 months (depending on wine style) and then it’s into bottles for a little more maturing. 

Wine to try

2021 Killiecrankie Triskelion

2021 Killiecrankie Triskelion

A blend of 50 per cent sangiovese, 35 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 15 per cent shiraz. A glorious mix of fruity and savoury characters: blackberry, nutmeg, cinnamon, leather, and dried black fruits. A palate which is silky, rich and balanced, with fine, grippy tannins. A wine which will age gracefully into the next decade. 

Best enjoyed: Triskelion is a wonderful food wine which will be a great accompaniment to homemade pasta with meatballs in Napoli sauce or a heartwarming beef stew. We would also recommend mushroom risotto for our vegetarian friends. Best served between 15–18 degrees. 

RRP $45 | Drink to 2030+ | Shop this wine |

Mandurang Valley Wine

Mandurang Wines

Owner Wes Vine says: Pamela and I planted our first vines in 1976 when it became obvious that a hobby farm at Mandurang Valley would not be sustainable. We both have a passionate interest in wine and winemaking, and our first vintage was produced in 1980 for our consumption, with friends gaining the benefit of the excess stock. During the past thirty years, Mandurang Valley Wines has grown from a small enterprise to an established exporter and producer of award-winning wines. We're excited for the future of Mandurang Valley Wines, with three generations of winemakers now onboard.

H. What do you love about making wine in Bendigo?
WV. Our winery is situated nine kilometres south east of Bendigo in historic vineyard country. We love the central Victorian location, the excellent climatic conditions, very suitable soils and the availability of water. 

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
WV. Our winemaking is focused on producing wines that are fruit-forward, with an emphasis on clean expression, balance and elegance. Contract winemaking has grown to be a substantial aspect of our winery’s activities, and the success of those wines in commercial terms and in awards is something of which we are very proud.

Wine to try 

Mandurang bottleshot

2022 Mandurang Valley Wines Sparkling Grenache Rosé

A blush-toned wine with a beautiful bead, hints of rosewater and Turkish delight with crisp acidity and bright fruit on the palate. Refreshingly dry on the finish.

Best enjoyed: Pair with antipasto or seafood, particularly fish. Serve at eight degrees in flutes. 

RRP $30 | Drink to 2030 | Shop this wine |

Sandhurst Ridge

Sandhurst Ridge winery

Winemaker Paul Greblo says: Bendigo is a long way from the vineyards of our forefathers in northern Italy but, when we planted the first shiraz and cabernet here in 1989, we had no doubt the conditions were perfect for growing rich, ripe fruit which could be crafted into wines with intense flavour and very fine tannins. From our first planting of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon grapes, we have expanded our plantings to include sauvignon blanc, merlot, and our family favourite, nebbiolo. 

H. What do you love about making wine in Bendigo?
PG. The blessing of our Mediterranean climate means that in most years our grapes can grow naturally. We use only disease-preventative sprays that fit within the organic regime.

H. How do you approach the winemaking process?
PG. First and foremost, we concentrate on getting the best possible fruit from our vineyard. The winemaking process involves open-vat fermentation, with careful monitoring but minimal interference. We make our wines as naturally as possible, seeking expression of the fruit and vineyard site, with a savouriness imparted through the use of French and Hungarian oak barriques. 

Wine to try 

Sandhurst Ridge bottleshot

2014 Sandhurst Ridge Fringe Shiraz Classic Blend

The 2014 vintage was one for a tailor-made special blend. The blackberry fruit and spice of shiraz marries with the dark berry richness of cabernet sauvignon in this 70/30 blend, creating a sumptuous and complex mix of flavours on the palate. 

Best enjoyed: Serve at 18 degrees with roast beef and barbecued steaks in summer, and hearty beef stews in winter. 

RRP $24 | Drink to 2026 | Shop this wine |