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Water Wheel Logo

Water Wheel

Bendigo, Australia
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Water Wheel Vineyards is the brainchild of Peter Cumming. His family has long been established as successful growers of tomatoes and cherries at Bridgewater-on-Loddon to the north-west of Bendigo in central Victoria.

Peter studied winemaking at Roseworthy and, after a few excellent years as winemaker for Hickinbotham at the old Anakie vineyard near Geelong, threw himself boots and all into the Water Wheel business. As a relatively inexperienced winemaker, his driving ambition was to capture as much flavor on the palate of his wines as he possibly could, precisely the edge that Water Wheel still retains over so many of its competitors.

Today, people regard Water Wheel as one of Australia’s best value mid-sized producers. These wines capture the richness of wines twice the price without compromising structure and balance. The first Water Wheel planting was three acres planted in 1972 by the Water Wheel flour mill.

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In 1975-77, they planted another twenty acres. These 20 acres are what the Cumming family purchased in 1989, linking with the newer vineyard established nearby at Gem Bend by Peter Cumming in the mid-1980s. They constructed the present winery before the 1980 vintage.

Recognizing the market's insatiable appetite for his wares, owner Peter Cumming decided in 1990 that bigger would, indeed, be better – and with that, the family invested heavily in new plantings at three sites around the winery and at a new property called Memsie, which was bought specifically for tomatoes.

Peter Cumming struck limestone while testing its soil types, which ended the tomato idea and in went the vines. "I don't know how it works, but for some reason, the best wines in Australia and France come from soils with limestone. There's just no doubt about it," he says. Over the last two years, Cumming has already planted another 46 acres of Shiraz on this site and is brimful of confidence that it will provide his best Shiraz fruit in the future. Waterwheel Memsie is one of Australia's first screw cap reds, and it's a clever blend of Shiraz, Cabernet, and Malbec.

Despite the reduced price point, the wine has opulence and richness in abundance and has drawn huge favorable reviews from Aussie critics, thus far praising Peter's enterprising approach. The approach is nothing new, though, as many of you have come to realize with this winery. This is a man who refuses ever to make a Reserve wine because it will, as Peter says, "rob the man in the street of the best barrels I have, and those need to form the nucleus of the mother blend.

After all, it's that bugger that's kept us in business all these years....not that bloomin' d-- swingers looking for trophy wines." So now Peter has taken things one step further and started bottling in screw caps. "We want the customer's first experience to be a memorable one," says Peter with tongue-in-cheek. "That's what Memsie is all about." Bill Trevaskis is the chief winemaker at WW, answering directly to Peter Cumming. Bill started at WW as a tractor driver 20 years ago but soon showed that his skill and knowledge were far better suited to the winery.

Bill has been responsible for implementing the changes in style to WW wines under the Cumming ownership. One of the highlights for him was the current Shiraz 2001, which was awarded a gold medal at the National Wine Show in Canberrain, 2002.Water Wheel's present vineyard of around 250 acres comprises 150 acres of Shiraz and 42 cabernet sauvignon varieties, the varieties responsible for its most distinctive wines.

Water Wheel has reduced its cropping from 4-5 tonnes to 2-3 tonnes per acre, resulting in a tangible improvement in quality. The natural rainfall at Bridgewater-on-Loddon is 17" (425mm). While it is possible to grow wine grapes with this rainfall, Water Wheel believes that to do so places too much stress on the vines and irrigate all of their vines. The vines are Hedged trellised, exposing the grapes to the sun to achieve maximum ripeness. The red grapes are grown on heavy clay soil; the white varieties are planted on lighter, better-drained soil.

SCREWCAPS: IT'S THE FUTURE

like it or not folks, screw caps are here to stay, and before the next 12 months are out, Australia will have over 60% of its wines in the new alternative closure. We're not going to bore you with the technical information. Suffice it to say that the absence of oxidation (brought on by screw caps) does not prevent the physiological evolution of wine, and so the wine does age in screw caps, albeit it a little slower. It just doesn't oxidize. Which means that the winemaker can decide today that a wine in tank is ready for bottling, apply a screw cap closure, and be assured that the wine will taste virtually identical when it reaches the marketplace a few months later – not so with corks.

Rumor has it that as many as 10% of all wines bottled with cork closures are spoiled, 80% of these problem wines are difficult to spot. Why would either party want to settle for anything less than absolute perfection? Beats me!