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Great Western, VIC

The town which gave its name to a popular sparkling wine.

In his travel book, Following the Equator, the famous author Mark Twain stops at Great Western and offers us a description of the vineyard in 1895: "The Stawell region ... had great vineyards - the Great Western owned by Mr Irving - is regarded as a model. Its product has a reputation abroad. It yields a choice champagne and a fine claret, and its hock took a prize in France two or three years ago. The champagne is kept in a maze of passages under ground, cut in the rock, to secure it at an even temperature during the three-year term required to perfect it. In those vaults I saw 120,000 bottles of champagne. The colony of Victoria has a population of 1,000,000 and those people are said to drink 25,000,000 bottles of champagne a year." Great Western is known as the birthplace of viniculture in a district that is now renowned for its excellent wineries.


Great Western is located on the Western Highway between Ararat and Stawell, 220 km north-west of Melbourne.


Origin of Name

Great Western was named after the Great Western vineyard which was established in 1865 by Joseph Best, the district's first wine grower.


Things to See and Do

Great Western Winery now known as Seppelt Winery
The justifiably famous Great Western Vineyard was established in 1865 by Joseph Best with cuttings taken from the vineyard of Jean-Pierre Trouette (see history for details). Best employed goldminers to construct the barrel-vaulted cellars which were cut from decomposed granite. By 1882 he was successfully making champagne which many considered as good as that made in the Champagne region of France. When Best died in 1887 the new owner, Hans Irvine (he was incorrectly named Mr Irving by Mark Twain) extended the cellars as did Seppelt's who bought the property in 1918. The cellars, known as 'The Drives', stretch for 3 km and contain up to two million bottles of wine. They have been classified by the National Trust.

Today it is an enormous complex and the town's major employer. Opening hours are from 10.00am to 5.00pm daily with guided tours at 11.00am and 2.00pm daily. tel: (03) 5361 2239. Check out http://www.seppelt.com.au/en/Cellar-Door/Tours/Tours.aspx

Best's Wines (Concongella)
Best's Wines is located on the banks of Concongella Creek. The property was taken up in 1866 by Joseph Best's brother, Henry. He planted the first vines here in 1868. Henry died in 1913 and his son continued to work the vineyard until 1920 when the property was sold to established winemaker, Frederick Thomson. Many of the signs in the vineyard are reminders of the age of the grapes. One sign reads: "Original Nursery Block. Planted late 1860s by Henry Best & Family. Mixed red and white varieties some as yet unnamed."

On their excellent site Nicks Wine Merchants (http://www.nicks.com.au/Index.aspx?link_id=76.617) write of Best's Wines in the following glowing terms: "The winery is unpretentious, but inside and below ground the massive pillars and beams which were cut by hand are as straight as ever. On the doughy walls are still, quite clear, the pick-strokes of the men who dug it out. The fermentery vats are out in the open in the cellar yard, the presses mounted about them covered in wraps most of the year, awaiting those few weeks of the vintage when a hundred tons of Hermitage, Malbec, Riesling and Chasselas are brought up to them. Storage above and below is in cask, some quite small, others over 1,000 gallon capacity, while in between the casks are small stocks of bottled wine ageing quietly away. The earthern floor has been tramped hard by a century of cellar workers."

Opening hours Monday to Saturday are 10.00am to 5.00pm and on Sunday from 11.00am to 4.00pm, tel: (03) 5356 2250. Check out http://www.bestswines.com/ for more details and specific information about the wines.



* In 1863 two Frenchmen, Emile Blampied and his brother-in-law Jean-Pierre Trouette, planted vines at Great Western and shortly afterwards English brothers, Joseph and Henry Best, seeing the district's wine growing potential established vineyards at Great Western and Concongella Creek using, among others, some of Trouette's cuttings.

* By 1866 the Trouette and Blampied vineyard, known as St Peter's, had grown to 15 acres (6.1ha) and the wines started winning international awards and eulogistic reviews.

* Determined to develop excellent cellars for their wines the Best brothers employed former miners to dig underground ‘drives’ to house the wines. Today these remarkable underground cellars have become a tourist attraction.

* Joseph Best died in 1887 and a successful Victorian businessman, Hans Irvine, purchased the property and employed an expert, Charles Pierlot from Champagne in France, to produce Methode Champenoise sparking wines. Twain made a mistake. The vineyard was owned by Mr Irvine, not Irving, who sold it to Seppelts in 1918.

* By 1890 there were some 120 Vignerons cultivating about 2,000 acres (809ha) in the district and Great Western became a name associated with fine wines.


Visitor Information

The nearest information centres to Great Western are Halls Gap Visitor Information Centre, 117 Grampians Way, Halls Gap, tel: (03) 5361 4444 and Ararat and Grampians Visitor Information Centre, 91 High Street, Ararat, tel: 1800 657 158.


Useful Websites

There are a number of useful websites including the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry on Jean-Pierre Trouette (http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/trouette-jean-pierre-13224); http://www.visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Grampians/Destinations/Great-Western.aspx offers useful information about the wineries in the area; and http://www.seppelt.com.au/en/About-Us/Our-Story.aspx is part of an excellent overview of the Great Western winery.

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