Six of the best: Canberra district cellar doors


On the Federal Highway into Canberra, the Cullerin Range escarpment of Lake George is one of the region's pioneering vineyard sites. CSIRO scientist Edgar Reik's Lake George Winery established in 1972 was the inspiration for Jim Lumbers' neighbouring Lerida Estate, which has gone on to affirm Reik's belief in the high, cool lakeside terroir as a perfect home for pinot noir – and much else besides: this tiny 8ha site has managed 14 trophies and 535 medals from its seven grape varieties in less than a decade. Try them all in the distinctive Glenn Murcutt designed winery overlooking the coming-and-going lake, including a world class shiraz viognier and an interesting blend of viognier, pinot gris and chardonnay among the whites. The cellar door café carries locally sourced gourmet produce and there's a year-round Sunday music program, fireside in winter and out on Murcutt's terrace in summer.


At an altitude of 860m on the Lake George escarpment, this is one very cool vineyard and a splendidly sited cellar door and restaurant to call in on. From Sue and David Carpenter's first vintage of chardonnay and riesling in 1981, this celebrated vineyard has received critical acclaim for their low-yield, intensely flavoured wines, which include a notable pinot noir. Son Chris joined the family venture in 2002 and this, along with full biodynamic certification since 2008, has only lifted the applause. English wine critic Jancis Robinson visited that year and suggested they try gruner veltliner, which has gone on to outgun a few Austrians in international competition. The cellar door also offers shiraz, sangiovese and a blend of viognier, marsanne and rousanne (MrV) from the Carpenter's Murrumbateman vineyard, now also with biodynamic accreditation.


Ski bunnies who fancy tempranillo should beat a path to this winery right on the Majura Parkway, the ACT's new fast track to the snow. It's also close to the hatted Pialligo Estate, a must for lunch. Tempranillo is the signature drop from winemaker Frank van de Loo, who revels in this 9ha vineyard of red volcanic soils with a limestone base. Situated on a 660m to 700m mountainside slope, with a south-easterly to north-easterly aspect, the vineyard was first planted in 1988 but varieties have been extensively expanded (and so has its repute) since bought by a consortium of wine lovers in 1999. van de Loo wants to make "unique and interesting" wines and says his blend of tempranillo, shiraz and graciana (the TSG) offers a real expression of the site in just one glass. Elegant and expressive pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay and pinot gris feature alongside.


The largest collection of Canberra District wineries is in the Murrumbateman region and the man who first saw its potential was CSIRO scientist, John Kirk, who established Clonakilla in 1971. Now the home of one of the country's most lauded wines, it was his son Tim's exposure to the Côte-Rôtie wines of the Guigal vineyards that led the family to add a drop of viognier to their shiraz, and a star was born. (Serendipitously, Tim's brother, Jeremy, had persuaded their father to plant viognier back in 1986.) It gives a "high tone lift" to the shiraz, says Tim, now winemaker and CEO. And it doesn't end there, the rest of the Clonakilla lineup has been described as "some of the country's most breathtakingly beautiful wines", including a reisling, a straight viognier and a Hilltops shiraz among those for tasting at a stylish new cellar door.


Riesling is regarded as a star performer in this region and Ken Helm its supreme master. You could say this fourth generation descendant of vinedressers from the Rhineland could turn water into riesling. He has an international profile as a winemaker, established the Canberra International Riesling Challenge in 2000 and has an AO for services to the industry. In the tiny refurbished 1888 one-teacher schoolhouse now listed by the National Trust that serves as his cellar door, you can taste the superb 2015 and 2016 rieslings from his Premium (single vineyard) and Classic Dry ranges, and the sleeper here is award-winning cabernet (Ken won the first ever medal and trophy for a Canberra wine for his 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon). The 2010 and 2011 is available for tasting. As a point of difference, there's a cracker pinot noir from winemaker daughter Stephanie from a Tumbarumba vineyard.


The newest kid on the block has not missed a beat since it won the Jimmy Watson Trophy for its first release Long Road Shiraz in 2009. The young team, led by winemaker Nick Spencer, gets superlative reviews and has a swag of awards for anything they turn their hand to, be it chardonnay and pinot noir from the High Country around Tumbarumba and the Hilltops region, or their Canberra District based wines centred on Murrumbateman, such as the premium Canberra Syrah or rockstar riesling. Their embrace now includes fruit from Gundagai, and the 2011 Nebbiolo from this newly designated wine region is at the cellar door. It's a fun place to visit and a favourite of the cool young staff at Canberra's buzzy Hotel Hotel, where we were lodged. For a lunch break in the Murrumbateman region, the Poachers Pantry is highly recommended.

The writer travelled courtesy of Visit Canberra and Hotel Hotel.