Fighting Gully Road is a boutique winery and vineyard in the Beechworth region of northeast Victoria established by well-known viticulturist and winemaker Mark Walpole. The vineyard is at an elevation of 530-580 meters above sea level, its steady slope rising to the top of the escarpment that overlooks the fertile Murmungee basin.
In 2009 the opportunity arose to lease the acclaimed Smith's Vineyard, a small vineyard planted to Chardonnay in 1978 and the oldest vineyard in the region. Half of the 2019 Fighting Gully Road Chardonnay is sourced from these 41-year-old vines and the other from the Fighting Gully Road Vineyard, fermented in mainly used French barriques, and aged on lees for 10 months.
"A strong follow-up to the trophy-winning '18, proving again just how good this region is for chardonnay. A taut and refined style, with layers of citrus – grapefruit. lemon, mandarin rind – nestled among smoky oak and almond meal. A tightly coiled spring on the palate, tense and firm. Feel the energy in the glass." Jeni Port
"Cool climate Chardonnay characters prevail with grapefruit, melon, white stone fruit, mineral and a hint of struck match. The palate shows richness despite the lack of malolactic fermentation, principally from the vines now over 40 years of age." Fighting Gully
"This delicious wine is sourced from the celebrated Smith's Vineyard planted in 1978 and the Fighting Gully Road Vineyard and fermented in mainly used French barriques, and aged on lees for 10 months. A top class chardonnay by any standard, it is beautifully crafted and composed, with wonderful varietal expression of white stone fruits, the balance of fruit and oak impeccable. Oozes class. A veritable bargain in the Beechworth Chardonnay landscape." Nick Munday, Canterbury Wines - 96+ points and Special Value Wine ★
"Hand-picked fruit from the Fighting Gully Road vineyard and the Smiths vineyard (the oldest vines in Beechworth, planted 1978). Fruit was chilled and whole-bunch pressed. Barrel-fermented with both wild and cultured yeasts. No mlf. Matured in one-third new French oak hogsheads. A strong follow-up to the trophy-winning '18, proving again just how good this region is for chardonnay. A taut and refined style, with layers of citrus – grapefruit. lemon, mandarin rind – nestled among smoky oak and almond meal. A tightly coiled spring on the palate, tense and firm. Feel the energy in the glass. Tasted: Nov 2020. Alcohol: 13%. Drink by 2028." Jeni Port, Halliday Wine Companion - 95 points and Shortlisted for the 2022 awards and Special Value Wine ★
"Pale straw hue. Gunsmoke and nectarine aromatics. Smoke and citrus spring to mind on the palate, but there's extra layers of crushed rock and soft herbs. Typical of the region, it's a high-powered wine with a good weight of fruit balanced by bright driving acid. It flows long with a nice phenolic grip at the finish just to accentuate the tension. Tasted: Jan 2021. Drink 2021-2031." Stuart Knox, The Real Review - 95 points
Special Value Wine – Halliday Wine Companion ★
Special Value Wine – Canterbury Wines ★
Mark Walpole is heralded as one of Australia's greatest viticulturists. Gourmet Traveller has named him 'Perpetual Viticulturist of the Year', an award reserved for only the most seasoned and accomplished grape growers in Australia.
Mark studied farm management in school before finding a job with Brown Brothers, one of the largest vineyard holders in Victoria. At Brown Brothers, Mark worked his way up to chief viticulturist, and gained experience with nearly every grape in every microclimate of Victoria. While still with Brown Brothers, Mark purchased his own land in 1995 and established Fighting Gully Road.
"Mark has a rare understanding of aspect, soils and cool-climate grape growing. His Fighting Gully Road vineyard reflects his skill at planting varieties on the slopes and soils that allow them to sing in their finest voice." Nick Butler, The Real Review
In 2019 Mark took out the inaugural Viticulturist of the Year award at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show (AAVWS). The award recognised Mark's contribution to the development of alternative varieties in Australia. For example, he changed the face of Sangiovese in Australia after a chance meeting with fellow vigneron Alberto Antonini on an international flight in 1997. The H6V9 Sangiovese clone that existed in Australia from the 1960s until that time was a disappointing imitation of the real thing. It had been selected because it was high yielding but it was very difficult to make a good wine with it.
In an effort to improve the quality of Sangiovese in Australia, Mark and Alberto embarked on an adventure to bring the good stuff down under. "We brought in a whole pile of new Sangiovese clones and other Italian stuff”, says Mark. "A lot of those clones we brought in were from really, really old vineyards; one, in particular, had had no new genetic material brought into that vineyard for a couple of hundred years.” Mark hand-selected his favourites from the varieties and planted them at Fighting Gully Road. "Those new clones have changed the face of Sangiovese in Australia. They're lower yield (naturally), loose clusters, and smaller berries, and so it's much, much easier to make good wine than before,” says Mark.
"The Fighting Gully Road Sangiovese has also got 5% or so of another old Tuscan red in there which we brought in at the same time, called Colorino”, Mark says. "If you're talking about Sange, you have to talk about Colorino.” In the 1960s, when Chianti came in wicker flasks, quantity over quality was the name of the game and the wine was really acidic. "Colorino is the opposite of all that”, says Mark. "It has huge colour, no acid, and was a perfect blender with Sange in that period. It softened the wine, gave it colour and a bit of flavour.” Colorino is rarely used in Tuscany today, as clonal selection and viticultural practices have changed so much. But Mark finds that at Fighting Gully Road a little dash of color adds another dimension to the Sangiovese. "When we do the blending, we always look at all the Sange barrels, put the whole wine together, and then we look at it with the Colorino. It's always a better wine with the Colorino in than without, so it always goes in” explains Mark. "It's rare – very few people in Australia grow it. We have one row of Colorino at Fighting Gully Road, and that's plenty."
About the winery
Fighting Gully Road is a boutique winery and vineyard in the Beechworth region of northeast Victoria established by well-known viticulturist and winemaker Mark Walpole. Mark purchased the farm, which lies to the south of the town of Beechworth, in 1995. The site is at an elevation of 530-580 meters above sea level, its steady slope rising to the top of the escarpment that overlooks the fertile Murmungee basin.
The first vines were planted in 1997, following two years of clearing the site of scrub, stumps, and thousands of rabbits. The north and west facing lower slopes were planted to the red Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; the upper and east facing slopes to Pinot Noir. Over subsequent years the vineyard has been expanded with significant plantings of Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Shiraz, Petit manseng and Chardonnay.
In 2009 the opportunity arose to lease the acclaimed Smith's Vineyard, located only a few minutes away from the Fighting Gully Road site. This small vineyard was planted to Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in 1978, making it the oldest vineyard in the region. In the 2010 vintage Mark released his first chardonnay under the Fighting Gully Road label.
Mark shares the Smith Vineyard lease with long-time friend and winemaker Adrian Rodda from A. Rodda Wines. They also share a winery space in the abandoned Mayday Hills lunatic asylum in Beechworth. The old maintenance workshop of the asylum has been cleared of wood lathes and blacksmithing furnaces and is now where Fighting Gully Road wines are made. Mark says, "We are now making wine in a building in an old and historic Lunatic Asylum – a place that should be full of winemakers!”
Mark is heralded as one of Australia's greatest viticulturists and from his immaculately grown fruit Fighting Gully Road crafts a wonderful range of wines that showcase the versatility of the Beechworth region.
Victoria is home to more than 800 wineries across 21 wine regions. The regions are Alpine Valley, Beechworth, Bendigo, Geelong, Gippsland, Glenrowan, Goulburn Valley, Grampians, Heathcote, Henty, King Valley, Macedon Ranges, Mornington Peninsula, Murray Darling, Pyrenees, Rutherglen, Strathbogie Ranges, Sunbury, Swan Hill, Upper Goulburn and Yarra Valley.
Victoria's first vines were planted at Yering in the Yarra Valley in 1838. By 1868 over 3,000 acres had been planted in Victoria, establishing Victoria as the premier wine State of the day. Today, the original vineyards planted at Best's Wines are among the oldest and rarest pre-phylloxera plantings in the world.
Victoria's climate varies from hot and dry in the north to cool in the south and each wine region specialises in different varietals. For example, Rutherglen in the north is famous for its opulent Muscats and Topaque and bold reds, while the many cooler climate regions near Melbourne produce world class Chardonnay and pinot Noir. Victoria is truly a wine lover's playground.