Surveyors Hill Vineyards is a family-owned business set on a 100-acre property in Wallaroo, near the village of Hall, north-west of Canberra. The family purchased the former Park Lane Winery property in June 1996. The new cellar door and dining area opened at Easter 2010, designed by architects Anna Pender and Nabil Adhami. New accommodation was also opened around this time.
These days the business is mostly run by women, after the semi-retirement of Leigh. Leigh had been in charge of the kitchen and was a pioneer of country dining in the late 1970s/early 1980s in Castlemaine, Victoria. He’s still around experimenting and adding his charcuterie skills. His former assistant has taken over most kitchen duties.
Glenys will greet you at the cellar door.
The first vineyards, covering around 15 acres/7 hectares, were established from the mid-1980s onwards; this means they are among the older vines in the Canberra district where the majority of the plantings date from the mid- to late-1990s.
Common (mostly French) grape varieties were first planted: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, the latter with a scattering of Merlot. The only anomalous variety was Touriga Nacional, indigenous to Portugal, because the original vigneron wanted to make a ‘port’. This mixed and conventional approach to planting was standard at the time, before it was established which varieties were best suited to this region and the latterday interest in ‘alternative varieties’.
Shiraz was added to the vineyards in the early 1990s, and other, white Rhône varieties Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne more recently. Many of the original Pinot Noir vines have been grafted over to Tempranillo, Graciano and Grenache—a trio of classic Spanish grapes. The remaining Pinot Noir is used exclusively for sparkling wines.
The vineyards are low-yielding, growing on austere, weathered, free-draining volcanic soils. The main vineyard sits on a north-facing slope at the foot of Surveyors Hill. The vineyards grow between 550 and 585 metres. The soil is formed from extrusive igneous rocks—technically porphyritic ignimbrite—of a coarse structure. The rock dates from the Silurian, more than 400 million years ago, when the supercontinent Gondwana covered much of the Southern Hemisphere.
There is a panoramic view of Surveyors Hill from the cellar door/bistro. It was one of the points from which the site of Canberra was surveyed, rising to 736 metres above sea level on the eastern flank of the Murrumbidgee Valley. There is a trig point at the top. The hill is volcanic in origin; though it is (sort of) cone shaped, the passage of hundreds of millions of years means that it is just part of a volcanic structure, long since degraded, which rose in a Silurian sea.
Woodgrove and Heywood
The business runs on the home paddock of an old property, ‘Woodgrove’. Originally on Ngunnawal land, in the mid-1830s the New South Wales Government gave the land away (as was their habit), making a 5000-acre grant to Captain Charles Sturt as a reward for his exploration services along the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers. He named his grant ‘Belconnen’, but never occupied or farmed his grant. Sturt explored on, eventually settling in South Australia, and his land along Ginninderra Creek was broken up. One of these divisions was Woodgrove (in the midst of a group of properties with like names hankering after somewhere else—Parkwood, Brooklands, Allwood, Heywood).
Woodgrove was farmed from the second half of the nineteenth century, originally by the Smith family who, among other things, bred draft horses. The property changed hands several times in the twentieth century. Old Woodgrove got by on grazing of sheep and some cropping. Brooklands Road was made to service the quarrying of sand and gravel from the Murrumbidgee River, probably in the 1940s.
The home block includes a former homestead-cottage dating from around 1930 built of weatherboard, sheeting and gal with a red brick fireplace in the old Australian rural style. (It was once used as the B&B but is now in need of renovation.) The original Woodgrove homestead was a slab hut, demolished when the cottage was built.
Woodgrove has been divided into largish blocks for at least 30 years. The Pankhurst and Brindabella Hills winery operations are also on areas of old Woodgrove.
The eastern edge of the property was part of ‘Heywood’, one of the original farms owned by the Southwell family. The Heywood homestead was a slab hut whose sparse remains can be found in a struggling elm grove visible from the cellar door. The old wild orchard on Heywood remains a source of quinces, figs, walnuts and black mulberries.
Sub-region: Wallaroo or the ‘Hills of Hall’
Wallaroo is in Yass Valley Shire, bounded by the ACT border, Murrumbidgee River and Barton Highway (the road from Canberra to Yass and ultimately Melbourne). So far it has mostly larger subdivisions, allowing it to preserve a rural character, though it is very close to Canberra.
There are many vineyards in Wallaroo, and at least six wine labels, three with cellar doors. The landscape is dominated by the plunging V of the Murrumbidgee Valley and the blue mass of the Brindabellas across the river. There are many picturesque cellar doors in the Canberra wine region, but the Hills of Hall wineries, along Brooklands Road and Woodgrove Close, close by the Murrumbidgee, are among the most scenic of these.
Find out all you need to know about the Canberra wine region here.