By Jen Pfeiffer
For the last 38 years, June has marked the Winery Walkabout festival, celebrated over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. That’s right, Winery Walkabout started in 1974, making it Australia’s original wine festival. Back in the 70s, it wasn’t the huge festival it is today – in fact, there were about only 10 wineries who participated across the event, and they were located all over the north east of Victoria. These days, there are over 20 Rutherglen wineries involved in the festival, all offering a huge array of activities and entertainment for participants.
Dressing up has always been part of the festival, and helps create a terrific party atmosphere over the weekend. However, when the festival first started, it wasn’t the participants who would dress up, it was the winery staff. They would don colonial clobber and serve wine to plain clothes folk…..how times have changed!!!!
The Winery Walkabout Passport was an initiative introduced from the first event, encouraging attendees to obtain a stamp from every participating winery. The development of the Winery Walkabout Collector’s Series Muscat came later. This was originally proposed by Don Chambers, and is still the prize for completing the passport trail.
One of the great past times of the Winery Walkabout festival is the Rutherglen Country Fair, which started because wineries were not allowed to open on Sundays. The local winemakers wanted to create an activity to keep the tourists in town for the whole long weekend, so the Country Fair was born. Obviously these days, both the winery cellar doors and the fair co-exist. The famous grape treading and barrel racing have long been a part of the Country Fair, and always attract a crowd to watch. Recently the Muscat Fun Run has been introduced to Sunday’s activities as well.
The Winemakers of Rutherglen have always held a joint function as part of the Winery Walkabout Festival, generally held on the Saturday night. Originally, there was the Colonial Bush Dance, which was first held in Wangaratta and then in Albury. At the peak of its popularity this Bush Dance would attract 1000 people and make national television!!!
A change saw the introduction of the Winemaker’s Banquet, a more upmarket and often black tie event, where high quality local food and wine came together in a celebration of the great produce available in our region. Over the year’s lots of developments have taken place and the popularity of the event has grown from a few people to many thousands enjoying this fantastic event.
The Rutherglen Winery Walkabout is a great introduction to wine for young people and remains a terrific opportunity for the wine lover to meet the maker in a relaxed and fun atmosphere.
I look forward to seeing the continuing evolution of the event and its success in the future.