A LOVE of wine is not essential when visiting the townships of Rutherglen, Wahgunyah and Corowa this summer — but it helps.
With more than 20 wineries located in the Rutherglen wine region, a tour of this industry and nothing else could fill a day easily.
However there is far more to see and do for all ages, so don’t be afraid to put down that glass and look beyond the grapes.
Rutherglen is a half-hour drive west of Albury-Wodonga along first the Hume Freeway and then the Murray Valley Highway.
Established in 1860, gold not wine was the catalyst for its development, the township exploding into life on the back of one of Victoria’s last great gold rushes.
Rutherglen’s streetscape retains many 19th century buildings and a self-guided walking tour is a good way to appreciate the historic architecture.
The accompanying booklet, put together by Destination Rutherglen and available from Rutherglen Visitor Information Centre, adds value to any stroll around town.
Its pages reveal how Star Hotel proprietor John Wallace was allowed to name the new township because he shouted the bar, calling it Rutherglen after his native home town in Scotland.
Walkers can survey the town’s first two-storey building, the pub with its own morgue and the courthouse built to replace the tent once used for legal proceedings.
There are several choices for refreshments along the main street, which also has a number of interesting shops to explore.
A link to Rutherglen’s gold mining past lies in the restored Gold Battery near Hopetoun Road.
Built in 1908, the battery used first steam, then electricity to crush quartz and reveal the (hoped-for) golden treasures within.
Visitors today can gain a sense of the battery’s workings through the video displays in front of the illuminated machinery.
But Rutherglen’s primary industry is never far from view — after all a town that converts a water tower to look like a wine bottle takes the caper seriously.
A good starting point for any winery tour would be Rutherglen Wine Experience, housed in the 1862 building that also includes the information centre.
There you can learn more about each winery that forms part of the umbrella group Winemakers of Rutherglen.
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In 1851 Edwin Sanger at Corowa and John Lindsay Brown at Browns Plains planted the region’s first vines while several wineries still operating today established themselves in the following decades.
Rutherglen’s climate, combining long warm days and cool nights, and soil proved favourable for wine making, with durif and muscat varieties among the specialities.
Rutherglen Wine Experience has examples of local produce for sale, not just the obvious but also olive products, dips, relishes and dressings.
Picking up a winery guide may help you plan your next move.
Notable is the co-operation that seems to exist among the wine businesses; they appear to accept each other’s strengths and feel there is room for all in the region.
And apparently it isn’t just lip service; this traveller overheard a winery staff member recommend another winery to a customer unable to find what she sought.
When able to tear yourself away from the vineyards, Wahgunyah is a short drive.
Or you may prefer to cycle via the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, with a sealed track of about nine kilometres linking the two towns.
Bikes can be hired at the visitor information centres in Rutherglen and Corowa and there are a number of different circuits to attempt, ranging in distance from three to 45 kilometres.
Wahgunyah is known today as the home of Uncle Toby’s but once it was a thriving and servicing the North East goldfields.
The riverside village dates back to 1839 and owes much to the vision of founder John Foord who saw its potential once gold had been discovered in this part of Victoria.
Interpretative boards near the John Foord Bridge outline in detail the history of Wahgunyah and the later settlement North Wahgunyah, now known as Corowa.
Wahgunyah retains a peaceful charm, aided by the obvious advantage of lying next to the Murray River.
A couple of houseboats move across the water while picnickers enjoy the river.
Over the bridge into NSW you enter Corowa and the sights and sounds of campers enjoying river activities are obvious immediately.
Known as the birthplace of Federation and host of a major conference on the subject in 1893, the town has not forgotten its heritage.
This year’s winners in the annual Corowa Federation Art Exhibition are on display in the Memorial Hall and preparations continue for the Federation Festival this weekend.
Numerous examples of Corowa’s history can be found in the Federation Museum.
Operated by volunteers from the Corowa District Historical Society, the museum focuses on far more than just the Federation story.
Several other attractions lie within Corowa’s town boundaries, for example Gallery 294, where you can wander among and admire art by members of Corowa Arts Co-operative Ltd.
Another stop should be made at Corowa Whisky & Chocolate, if only to witness the creation of the biggest chocolate freckles you could ever hope to see.
Once the site of the Corowa Flour Milling Factory, the business remembers its roots through displays of pictures and articles from the time the mill closed in 1970.
A break in the chocolate factory’s cafe may refresh a weary visitor, but Corowa’s central business district also provides plenty of options for food and drink.
So now, fed, watered and feeling good, your day in the region can end with one of the tandem skydives available at the Corowa airport.
Rutherglen truly does has something for all appetites.
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