The Victorian Grampians wine-producing area includes a lovely small town called Great Western. It is home to some of the world's oldest vines and we were lucky to be able to see them, and taste their fruit. We have driven through Great Western on previous trip, but never stopped. We stayed at Great Western Racecourse, a lovely area with a great manger living on site. There are some powered areas @ $10 per night, non-powered is donation only. Toilets and shower ($1 per minute for hot water) are available, and there are lots of trees, so it is wise to select the right site for you. It is close to town, quiet and peaceful – only four of us there when we stayed. We enjoyed it so much we stayed three nights. View from our window!
It was winter when we visited and overnight and mornings were cold. Days were crisp but sunny. We even had the car covered in frost and ice one morning.
Great Western was first settled in the 1840's as a sheep grazing area, and became popular during the 1850 gold rushes, when vines were first planted by the miners. It is believed the name came from one miner who told the gold commissioner the towns name was Great Eastern (which was the name of a famous steamship). Another miner pointed out that the gold fields were in the west, and that Great Western would be more appropriate. The first vines were planted by two Frenchmen, Blampied and Trouette. Following in their footsteps, Henry and Joseph Best planted the first commercial vineyards. Henry and Joseph Best originally set up a slaughter yard to provide the miners with meat. They soon moved into wine making. Henry Best purchased 73 acres of Concongella Creek frontage in 1866 with the first vines planted in 1867. He named the property Concongella.
We went to this winery first and tasted the 'old vines' wine. The Best brothers planted a little of everything and the wine is a blend of the best of them. The wine changes each year and I really wasn't fussed with this years wine. The others we tasted were ok. I like sweet wines. I wish I liked different wines more than I do, but I like bubbly moscato, and there was none to be found in Great Western. We were told how the brothers had an argument and Joesph moved on to plant vines at a vineyard close by and named it Great Western Wines. This winery is now known as Seppelts Great Western, and sadly wine is no longer made there.
Both brothers built tunnels under their winery to store the oak casks and bottles of wine. Seppelt's tunnels are more extensive and a tour costs $15 per person. Best wines, with the earlier tunnels, provide a free self guided tour. We went to the Best Winery first and as we are more interested in the history rather than the wine, did the self guided tour. WOW. It is only a small one piece A4 sheet, but it tells one all one needs to know, not only about the historic tunnels, but about the vineyard in general. This is a must do in Great Western.
... and of course a wine tasting after. The staff were wonderful and answered all our questions about the wines and the history. The Stables Cellar Door is a great place to taste the wines after visiting the historic underground cellar.
Wines have been made at Best's Wines since 1867, and the winery has only been owned by two families. Henry Best and his family ran the vineyards until his death in 1913, his son ran the winery until he sold it to the Thompson family in 1920. Our next stop was a drive up to the old mine, which was very overgrown and difficult to get to. We then went to the Seppelt Great Western winery to do their underground tunnel tour. We got there 90 minutes before the last tour so we could have a drink, but the tours were not running. Peter also wanted to try the sparkling beer they are famous for, but they had run out of that also. They told us to try the local pub. Nothing is made at Seppelts Great Western now, although the vines are still producing, everything is shipped in. We were able to look around.
... and also were able to look at the old cellar door, which had an opening in the floor to look down at part of the underground tunnels.
Great Western was purchased by Hans Irvine after Joseph Best's death in 1888. Irvine established the sparkling wine industry in Victoria. In 1918, Irvine sold the winery to South Australian Benno Seppelt.Seppelt is famous for their heritage listed tunnels of underground cellars, each named after famous people and known as 'The Drives'. The tunnels were built by out of work miners over a period of 60 years. They are the largest underground cellars in the Southern Hemisphere.
We went to the local pub, The Great Western Hotel, to get some sparkling beer, but they were all out as well.
So we went for a walk around the town, not a very long walk as Great Western is a town when driving though 'if you blink you will miss it'. The Salingers Cafe, established in 1861, by Emmanuel Salinger as a general store and was originally a wooden building. In 1899 the wooden building was moved back to make way for a brick store and attached home. Emmanuel died in 1911 and his daughters ran the business until 1940. Today it is a well known cafe that is very popular on weekends.
There are many old buildings in the main street, and the old gaol is in the park opposite Seppelt's winery. The park is really good and there is plenty of caravan parking in and around the park for day visitors.