Built on the gold discoveries in Beechworth (in 1852) and
nearby at the soon-to-be-called Rutherglen (in 1860), the region gave
way to agriculture with former miners Morris, Campbell, Sutherland, as
well as several German settlers, all taking to the vine instead; 800 ha were
planted by 1881. This soon grew on the back of British demand for fortified
reds, if arrested momentarily by the onset of phylloxera during the 1890s.
Supply of dry reds then switched to the unblemished South Australia and
Rutherglen never got the market back.
Thanks to the deeply continental climate and rich loamy soils, the region
remains though a mine for fortified Muscats and Tokays. Brought from
the brown clone of Muscat à Petits Grains Rouge, more commonly known
as Rutherglen Brown Muscat or Brown Frontignac, the grapes are partially
desiccated on the vine, pressed and fermented until arrested by the addition
of grape spirit (as per Port) leaves residual sweetness; once bottled the
fortified wines do not improve with cellaring.
It should be noted that a voluntary classification of Rutherglen Muscats and
Tokays is now in operation. After a tasting of the wines by the members of the
group, each wine is classified in ascending order of quality as
Rutherglen, Classic, Grand or Rare. The average age stipulations
for the use of these descriptors are: for Rutherglen, two to five years old;
for Classic, five to 12 years old; for Grand, 12 to 20 years old, and for
Rare, 20 years or more.
Campbells Wines, Morris, Stanton and Killeen are top producers.