The Geelong wine region has a history that dates back further than most people probably imagine. While most of us who live within the region are aware of the breadth and quality being produced, it is still a relatively undiscovered region for many further abroad. Turn back the clock roughly 150 years, it was a very different picture with Geelong and in particular the Moorabool Valley lauded as the preeminent wine growing area in Victoria.
Surprisingly it wasn’t one of the noted nationalities for fine wine production that drove the early years of Australian wine, it was in fact the Swiss who were responsible for as much as 75 per cent of the wine produced in Australia, and their arrival in our region meant that Geelong was no exception. Names such as Pettavel and Prince Albert stretch back to the very beginning of the Geelong wine region. In the mid-1800s sites across Waurn Ponds, Barrabool, Batesford and even as far in as Highton were under vine.
One of the leading producers at the time was James Henry Dardel who planted four sites along the Moorabool River at Batesford, naming them Paradise I, II, III and IV. After planting the sites in 1848, he went on to win numerous accolades at the Royal wine shows of Melbourne, Sydney, the Geelong wine show and even Paris Exhibitions. Unfortunately, this success was put to an abrupt end by the vine disease Phylloxera which struck many wine regions across the globe, and the Government ruled that all vines be ripped out in the Geelong region by the early 1880s in part to halt its spread to other Victorian regions. Even after planting was allowed again by the end of the century, no-one was replanting.
By the early 1970’s though, fine table wine production was again beginning to pick up across Victoria and in the year of the 150th anniversary since Dardel originally planted his vineyards, the Bonneys, owners of the property, replanted what was originally known as Paradise IV, naming it Moorabool Estate. Fast forward again, and with a proven excellent site and vines reaching nearly 20 years old, the timing couldn’t have been better for winemaker Doug Neal to enter the picture. Experience at great Victorian producers and a deep knowledge of the local history lead to the label change to Paradise IV under which he began making the wines. Over the 12 years, from 2006 until 2018, he helped to build the reputation of the estate back up to being considered amongst the finest in the region, albeit with tiny quantities keeping a cap on how far the brand could reach. Critics such as James Halliday, Huon Hooke and Jeremy Oliver have consistently lauded the wines, particularly so the last handful.
The property has unfortunately been sold and the vines ripped up in the last 12 months, leaving 2018 as the final vintage to be produced and released from the site at least for the time being, possibly forever. While the wines are not easy to find, and by no means inexpensive, great sites are not easy to find or replicate, so with the 2017 vintage just being released and the 2018’s still to come it is our last chance to squirrel a bottle or two of this historic Geelong vineyard away. The Chardonnay and Dardel Shiraz in particular are built to enjoy over the next five, 10 or maybe longer years as they are wines built for the cellar. While the Resilience Cabernet Shiraz which sees some of the eclassified Dardel Shiraz in the blend is a good introduction to the site, the producer and its potential.