In 1976, Sue & Rod Hourigan left behind careers in fabric design and television production design for the ABC to chase their passion for producing fine wine. The chase led them to McLaren Vale, South Australia, where Sue found work in the Barn Restaurant and Rod started his “apprenticeship” at D'Arenburg Winery. Over the next 3 years, Rod did vintages at Pirramimma and Coriole, gaining invaluable hands on experience, and attended the first short course for winemakers at what is now called Charles Sturt University, conducted by Brian Croser of Petaluma fame.
In 1979, they moved to Redesdale in the Heathcote district of Cental Victoria, where they established Eppalock Ridge. The winery and vineyard are perched on a rocky, basalt ridge overlooking Lake Eppalock and the vineyards are planted to shiraz and merlot. With the firm belief that premium wine can only be made from the best quality fruit, meticulous attention is paid to the tending of the vines. Vertical trellising is employed with hand movable foliage wires to maximize ripening.
Harvest is usually mid-March to early April. All fruit is hand-harvested using pickers from the Redesdale district.
The fruit is first picked into small 20kg buckets, then tipped into 400kg bins. The bins are then tipped directly into the hopper of the grape crusher. The crusher is a Zambelli 6tonne/hr. roller crusher/destemmer, which has a very gentle action on the fruit.
The “must” (which is the crushed grape skins and juice) is then pumped to small 1.1 tonne fermenters and immediately innoculated with specially selected wine yeast – no sulphur is added in any of these winemaking processes as this inhibits the action of the yeast. Fermentation usually takes 6-8 days, during which time the juice is pumped over the skins 2-3 times daily for gentle extraction of color and flavor.
After fermentation, the juice (wine) is pumped off and the skins are pressed in a small(300Lt)Vaslin press. The pressings are added straight back to the freerun wine.
After some weeks settling in tank, the wine is then racked off the gross lees and placed into oak barrels. They use a mixture of American and French oak barriques – still no sulphur dioxide is added.
The wine remains in barrel where it undergoes a natural malo-lactic fermentation in the spring when it warms up a little. After this is complete, the wine is removed from barrel, a small amount of sulphur dioxide is added, and it then is returned to barrel.
Some 18 months after harvest the wine is bottled at their winery by Portavin contract bottlers.
Located approximately 150 km north of Melbourne in the greater Bendigo district, the Heathcote sub-region is one of Australia's premier red wine producing regions.
Shiraz is the red wine of the region, displaying a distinctive mint character. Its intensity varies from vintage to vintage and from wine to wine as well as producer. Cabernet Sauvignons are produced with rich texture and abundant tannins, often needing 7 to 8 years to hit full stride. Alongside the typical blackberry/black currant flavors is a faint touch of herb and tobacco notes along with the subtle mint tones that are found more prevalent in the Shiraz. All in all, this is red wine country first and foremost – many believe this is where Australia's greatest Shiraz is produced.
With a heat summation of 1590 (and a mean January temperature of 21.8 degrees C), the Heathcote region is warm enough to make irrigation essential in most sites. Typical rainfall is between 500 - 550 mm annually. The rainfall pattern is basically winter-spring dominant, making irrigation even more necessary if economically viable crops are to be assured. Spring frosts can also be a problem. Overall the soils are acidic and fairly low in nutrients, needing the application of both lime and gypsum.
Due to its modest rainfall and lack of overall suitable ground water, as well as the poor soils, the vineyards have a natural tendency towards low yields. The wines that are produced therefore are full-bodied with exceptional depth, but still able to maintain a degree of elegance and finesse in spite of their tannic structure.
• Eppalock Ridge was awarded the Bronze Medallion for its Eppalock Ridge Shiraz 2001 at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show, 2003.