What was once known as the centre of the wine world is now also a romantic estate … anyone for a glass of wine?
Rutherglen is the agricultural and viticultural centre of the oldest wine growing region in Australia. The gold rush township on the banks of the Murray River was established in the 1850s in Victoria's north-east and has added modern conveniences without taking away the old feel.
Its first European settlers arrived in 1836 and when gold was found at nearby Chiltern and Cornishtown in 1858, the rush was on. Rutherglen's strike came in 1860 and within weeks the population swelled by thousands. Along with the hopeful prospectors came hessian and calico houses plus 21 licensed hotels with dancing saloons and places of entertainment. By early 1861 the town had its own newspaper, three schools, police station and shops lining the main street from one end to the other.
By the 1880s things had quietened down and many people moved away and mines began to close. Two men who stayed on bought what is now called the Great Northern mine. The previous owner gave up at a depth of 65.8m the new owners dug just 1.8m more and found a lead measuring 15m wide by one metre thick. They sold their find to a Ballarat company for the equivalent of $28,000 a fortune in those days. The mine went on to produce 3033 grams of gold with profits exceeding $381,000.
Wine-making took over where gold left off and Rutherglen and surrounding towns now enjoy tourists coming to enjoy the fine wines, food and pleasurable accommodation, plus they can also go floating in a hot air balloon, cycling or picnicking in an area of gentle undulating countryside.
Ruth Hennessy is the owner of Mount Ophir Estate, an extensive National Trust brick winery complex built between 1891 and 1903 in absentia by the Burgoyne family, purveyors of fine wine to the King of England. At its peak, 2.73 million litres of wine went to England each year.
The estate has unusual curved gables and arched openings. There is a three-storey tower with a conical roof, gatehouse and a building once used for yeast fermentation. The two-storey brick cellar was excavated into the side of a hill.
The Spa Suite is in the original yeast house. It is cosy with a mezzanine floor and loft-style lounge area. The lower level has a queen bed, two person spa and bathroom. The Homestead was built in 1902 and sleeps up to four couples. It has a wide verandah on three sides and is just a wonderful place to sip a glass of local wine watching the sunset and stars.
The French Provincial Tower is a romantic elegant hideaway made up of three floors. It is perfect for celebrations. The Gatehouse is a charming Victorian farmhouse and sleeps up to 12. It is self-contained and has three bathrooms. There is a barbecue in its garden.
The Pickers' House is used by harvesters during the season and is a popular place for seminars, camps and groups of friends just wanting a getaway in the country. You share the 57ha with emus and elk and just enjoy traditional style in modern comfort.
Ruth Hennessy has won many awards for her property. She has slowly and methodically worked on the estate, restoring first the homestead and working her way through the buildings. It is protected under the National Trust and Heritage Victoria. Ruth has plans to restore two more buildings and is most particular about upholding the integrity of the estate.
The first stage of a new vineyard is producing small quantities of organic wine and today visitors can check that out, as well as see the old wine-making facilities.