Back in the early 1980’s, John and Ann Ellis, both in their mid-30’s and with two small children, decided to take a giant leap of faith and establish their own winery – Hanging Rock Winery in the Macedon Ranges.
As Chief Winemaker at Tisdall Winery at the time, John consequently spent many hours on the road between Echuca and the Macedon Ranges, an area now known as the Heathcote Wine Region. With plenty of time to survey the landscape during those trips, John liked what he saw! Each year as the paddocks were ploughed, he could see the rusty red, clay loam soil, which we now know to be Cambrian soil – some of the oldest soil in the world.
There were very few winemakers in the region at the time - Ron Laughton at Jasper Hill being one of the few. John contacted him to get his views on growing grapes in the region and Ron confirmed his suspicions – the conditions were near perfect! Little rainfall, deep clay loam ancient soil with great water retention properties, warm but dry air creating an environment with very little disease. This combination was too good to be true – John was hooked!
John and Ann started their new venture by leasing a small vineyard in the region. They released their first wine from this vineyard in 1987 and it was an instant success. The wine won a swag of awards for them. It was even compared to Penfold’s Grange Hermitage by the industry …. the legend was born!
Unfortunately, this vineyard was not long for this world. Deforestation meant that salinity levels eventually rendered the vineyard unviable so the time had come to take the next big leap and plant their own vineyard. Enter Athol Guy. Athol, of Seekers fame and a close family friend, had recently returned from the Seekers second “last world tour”. He was looking for a project and had approached John to help him plant and manage a vineyard in Heathcote. This vineyard, which John and Ann later bought from Athol, came to be known as “Athol’s Paddock”. The first vintage from Athol’s Paddock was in 1997 and won the trophy for the Best Shiraz at the Victorian Wine Show – not bad for its first showing!
These days John and Ann’s son Robert is the Chief Winemaker at Hanging Rock. Having literally grown up in the winery, Rob has a deep understanding of the Heathcote vineyard and the impact of the variance of the seasons over the years. Rob is passionate about the possibilities of the vineyard and is constantly pushing the boundaries. Along with his accomplished team he has been working towards sustainable, dry land grape growing practices and is testing out small batch, new techniques in the winery, such as whole bunch, whole berry and natural fermentation.
Since the early 1980’s it has been wonderful and rewarding to see the growth of the region. Over this time we have seen the area planted under vine go from tens of acres to tens of thousands of acres. We can now all share the rewards of a thriving and supportive community with a good mix of smaller, artisan winemakers and larger producers, all combining to help make the Heathcote Wine Region a seriously successful one.