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.