Rock Solid- 30 Years of Hanging Rock Winery (WBM Magazine) June 2013
As Hanging Rock Winery in the Macedon Ranges marks its 30th anniversary, general manager Ruth Ellis recalls the day her family moved to Newham all those years ago. “The old woodpanelled TV was strapped to the mustardcoloured couch along with the rest of our possessions on a tandem trailer, and our dog Defor was at my feet,” she says.
In the late ’70s, winemaker John Ellis and Ann Ellis met while working in the Hunter Valley and eloped to Echuca to make wine and start a label. “We started the business with the aim of making Australia’s best sparkling wine and Heathcote Shiraz, and that’s always stayed true,” says Ruth, John and Ann’s daughter.
And while the winery has in the past taken grapes from places as far-flung as Swan Hill and Goulburn Valley, Ruth and her brother Rob want to focus on the areas they’ve grown up in and fallen in love with over the past 30 years – the Macedon Ranges, Heathcote and Strathbogie Ranges. “We’re really hoping to focus on what we love to do, where we love to grow and get back to doing the best we can in those regions,” Ruth says.
In 1983 Melbourne University students found Hanging Rock to be one of the most suitable sites for sparkling wine in Australia. The winery grew from there. But while Hanging Rock once produced 1,000 tonnes and exported to various countries across the globe, the GFC has seen Rob and Ruth reduce production to 300 tonnes and they are focusing on a handful of markets including Canada, Hong Kong, Japan and China, the latter equating to one-third of sales.
They’ve cut products from the range including Viognier and Verdelho, some products from Odd One Out, the winery’s second label, and Rosé and Riesling from its Rock Range. Ruth says the products weren’t earning their spot on the cellar door bench. “They were products that didn’t fit with the company story, and we’ve scaled back our range from more than 30 products to 20,” Ruth says.
It’s not all cut-backs. Managing director John Ellis spends much of his time farming a herd of Speckle Park beef cattle in readiness for the launch of Hanging Rock Beef later in the year. “It’s an extension to the brand,” says Ruth. “And it’s a great project for Dad, who spends more time on that instead of being the chief winemaker and front person of Hanging Rock.” After much research, they decided on the Speckle Park breed because of its tenderness and suitability to cooler climates. The beef will be available in cellar door and at local restaurants in October. Ruth’s husband and her in-laws, who own renowned Melbourne restaurants Spaghetti Tree and Peligrinis, are supporting the venture as well. But the focus will be to sell beef direct to consumers, as opposed to restaurants, in the immediate region and Melbourne initially. Hanging Rock’s Japanese wine agents are excited about the prospect of selling Aussie beef. “But at this stage it’s just a little bit of fun for us on the side,” Ruth says.
As for the wine, it’s all about getting the right range of high quality, top end products in bottle. “Rob and I want to get back to the best quality wines and spend time on the things we’re passionate about, the things we love doing,” Ruth says. “And we want to produce cattle which echoes our dreams for the wine – really high end quality beef.”
So while times have changed – the old mustard couch is no longer in fashion and the wood panelled TV has seen better days – the dream for Hanging Rock Winery remains the same as it did 30 years ago: to make the best wine possible.