King Valley is one of a cluster of wine regions in northeast Victoria, nestled among the Victorian Alps. A local wine industry has been around since the late 19th Century and today serves as a kind of enclave for Italian grape varieties. Prosecco (now officially Glera) and Sangiovese are the region's most important grape varieties along with Cabernet Sauvignon, making fresh, light sparkling wines and finely structured red wines respectively.
The region, which received official recognition in 2007, stretches along the King river from near Glenrowan well into the Victorian Alps. King Valley's topography and climate is characterised by varying altitudes and temperatures across its length, beginning in the north at Wangaratta, around Milawa, at a mere 500ft (150m). Here, on the valley floor, the temperatures are warm to hot, with the continental climate making the summers sometimes extreme. Wines from the northern King Valley tend to be intensely flavoured and fruit-driven, certainly more so than those from the south.
The region's altitude progressively increases reaching as high as 2600ft (800m) above sea level on the Whitlands plateau, one of the highest grape-growing areas of Australia. Vines are positioned on the slopes above the river which is an important factor determining wine quality: sunlight exposure during the daytime is maximised and helps ripening along. A noticeable diurnal temperature variation ensures that this ripening process is slow and steady, letting the grapes retain their acidity as they develop varietal complexity.
As with the climate, King Valley has a range of different soil types that have been employed for viticulture. Deep red clay soils have proved the best, as their water retention and fertility makes for healthy, strong vines, but good drainage means that just the right amount of stress can be used to increase grape quality.
King Valley is somewhat characterised by its eschewing of traditional Australian grape varieties, and widespread plantings of Glera, Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio betray the region's Italian heritage (as do smaller plantings of Barbera and Nebbiolo). Pioneering vignerons began planting in the 1880s, led by the Brown Brothers, whose winery remains in the area today. Since the 1970s in particular, viticultural interest in the region has grown, and King Valley is now one of North East Victoria's most prolific regions.