Cheers to Half a Century: The Legacy that is Winery Walkabout.

Cheers to Half a Century: The Legacy that is Winery Walkabout.

Get ready to raise your glasses and join in the jubilation, for a momentous milestone is upon us. It's time to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rutherglen's legendary wine festival, Winery Walkabout, the one weekend of the year when wine enthusiasts and costumed party animals rub elbows in the tasting rooms of Rutherglen's finest wineries. 

Before we take a sip of the present, let's pour ourselves a generous glass of nostalgia and journey back through the captivating (and slightly intoxicated) history of Australia's beloved wine festival.

Chapter 1:The Infamous Rutherglen Wine Festival

In 1967, the Rutherglen community, backed by local wineries, had a brilliant idea. They decided to throw a wine festival to raise funds for a new caravan park (that still exists today) and put their town on the tourism map. And thus, the Rutherglen Wine Festival was born, marking the beginning of a legendary festival. 

With an audacious publicity stunt, four bikini-clad girls strutted through the bustling streets of Melbourne, turning heads and capturing the attention of onlookers. The festival's debut in 1967 was a roaring success, attracting a whopping 8,000 visitors who flocked to Rutherglen for the first-ever four-day extravaganza.

The festival not only surpassed its fundraising target, raking in over $12,000, but it also birthed a whole new era: wine tourism!

In those days, red wine was reserved for migrants and eccentrics, while sherry was the preferred sip of mothball-scented grandmothers. As for vodka, well, that was exclusively for those who favored a specific political philosophy. Australians were clueless about grape varieties, often mistaking Muscat for a firearm and Tokay for some kind of fungus.

But as word spread about the Rutherglen Wine Festival, a new generation of adventure-seekers emerged. Young boomers, tired of the traditional weekend routine, yearned for freedom, unbounded by Sunday mass, family roasts, and televised sports. Thousands embarked on a pilgrimage along the Hume Highway towards Rutherglen for the 1970 festival. 

Rutherglen transformed into a bustling hub, rivalling the heydays of the Gold Rush. 

The small town, with a population of a mere 1200, was completely unprepared for the onslaught of 20,000 eager festival-goers. Every motel, hotel, and caravan park was packed to the rafters, leaving festival-goers no choice but to pitch tents, sleep in cars, or even roll out sleeping bags wherever there was a spot.

Reports from the 1970 festival unveiled mind-boggling numbers— 2500 gallons of wine consumed, equivalent to over 11,000 litres or well over 100,000 standard drinks for those keeping count! At a bargain price of 10 cents a glass, it's no wonder the wine flowed so freely. But with all that wine coursing through the veins of the festival-goers, mischief and mayhem were inevitable companions.

The festival's atmosphere birthed wild street dancing, impromptu car chases, car window-smashing, tomahawk-wielding youths and even a daring attempt to steal the town's fire engine.

And then, there was that unforgettable moment when a stack of hay bales caught fire, and George Sutherland Smith Jr., the festival president at the time, made a courageous yet unconventional decision—fight the flames with a tank full of Rutherglen Red.

It was a bittersweet sacrifice, watching the crimson liquid douse the flames, but in the face of a blazing inferno, desperate times called for desperate measures. The festival-goers cheered as the wine saved the day, leaving behind a tale that would be passed down through generations—a story of fire, wine, and the extraordinary lengths Rutherglen would go to preserve its beloved festival.

Recognising the need for change, the festival committee sought to transform the event and shed its rowdy image. 

Chapter 2: From Chaos to Cheers: The Birth of Winery Walkabout!

In 1974, the festival committee faced a challenge: how to shake off the unruly reputation of the previous festival and entice wine enthusiasts with genuine curiosity. Their solution? Enter 'Winery Walkabout,' the event that would turn the Australian wine world on its head.

Gone were the days of wild street gatherings. Winery Walkabout was all about immersing festival-goers in a captivating winery adventure. Now held during the June long weekend, it offered a combination of winetasting, wine education, and collecting. 

Each winery became a realm of unique festival attractions, featuring everything from live music and mouthwatering food to pony rides, art displays, and even hot air balloon rides. Talk about an all-inclusive experience!

To add a dash of excitement, attendees were bestowed with the prestigious 'Winery Walkabout Passport.' Armed with this document, they embarked on a journey to collect stamps from each winery they visited. Those intrepid explorers who completed the stamp collection were rewarded with a bottle of the highly sought-after commemorative Muscat.

With Winery Walkabout, Rutherglen had truly reinvented itself, transforming from rowdy revelry to an exploration of all things wine. The stage was set for a new era of sophistication, education, and unforgettable experiences.

Chapter 3: Dress to Impress: Costumes Steal the Show at Winery Walkabout!

In the world of Winery Walkabout, costumes reign supreme, adding a dash of whimsy and a burst of creativity to the weekend festivities. 

Interestingly, the tradition of dressing up and wearing costumes at Winery Walkabout originated with the wineries themselves. Right from the first event, winery staff would dress up in costumes inspired by the gold-rush era, aligning with the festival's original theme. Little did they know that their wardrobe choice would spark a contagious trend among the festival-goers. Soon, the festival was filled with an explosion of colour and imagination as attendees fully embraced the opportunity to become swashbuckling pirates, mystical creatures, superheroes, and historical figures. So, when you encounter a group of giggling grapes or stumble upon a walking wine bottle, fear not, you haven't had too much to drink (yet) —it's all part of the spectacle.

Whether you join the whimsical ranks or marvel at the creative ensembles, one thing is guaranteed: it's a whole lot of fun!

Chapter 4: Celebrate the Past, Present, and Future:Embrace Roam Rutherglen Winery Walkabout!

As mentioned earlier, get ready for the ultimate celebration as this year marks the festival's 50th anniversary—a true milestone that demands some serious celebration! Prepare to take your wine-loving wanderlust to the next level as the festival undergoes a spectacular transformation and emerges as Roam Rutherglen Winery Walkabout!

Renowned for its laid-back and fun-loving spirit, this revamped festival aims to elevate that spirit to new heights. Picture yourself leisurely strolling through picturesque vineyards dressed in your best costume, indulging in premium tastings and chowing down on some delicious festival fare whilst a live DJ serenades you towards the dancefloor. Sounds delightful. 

From sipping Muscat cocktails while showcasing your dance moves to discovering new varietals and the art of winemaking, this festival is all about having fun, embracing the unexpected and forging unforgettable connections between wine lovers and passionate winemakers.

Now, let's delve into the exciting changes happening this year. Prepare yourself for a festival upgrade, my friends! The Festival Lovers ticket now grants you access to two glorious days of wine-filled merriment at a remarkable price of just $65 (early bird pricing). And guess what? That includes a wine glass, 15 complimentary tastings per day and even a food voucher for the participating wineries. Talk about exceptional value for your investment!

For those among us who yearn for an extra dose of indulgence, we have you covered too. Introducing the Premium Wine Lovers ticket, where unlimited tastings and exclusive experiences await.

Oh, and have we mentioned the convenient hop-on, hop-off bus loop? No worries about logistics, my dear friends. Simply hop aboard, relax, and let the adventure unfold as you are whisked away to all the participating wineries. 

Let us not forget to highlight the Festival Currency wristbands—a stroke of genius! Load up your wristband with Festival Currency, and you'll be well-prepared for good times without fumbling for (or losing) your wallet.

And as if all these enticing offerings weren't enough, we have yet another exciting addition to the mix: the Rutherglen Winery Digital Passport. With every purchase of a bottle of wine from a participating winery, you'll earn an entry into a giveaway draw. Picture yourself jetting off with $2,000 in travel vouchers! The more wineries you visit and support, the greater your chances of winning. It's a win-win situation, indeed!

So as the sun begins to set on the first half-century of Winery Walkabout and a new chapter begins, let us raise our glasses once more to toast the legacy of this remarkable festival. Cheers to the winemakers, the festival organizers, and the countless wine lovers who have made Winery Walkabout an unforgettable journey thus far. 

May Roam Rutherglen Winery Walkabout continue to captivate our senses, ignite our passion for wine, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Here's to the next fifty years of wine-filled adventures in Rutherglen.