There's a lot to enjoy in Rutherglen – the history, the wineries and the simple charm of the town. A good place to start is the Visitor Information Centre – you get a very friendly welcome as well as information, maps, brochures and audio headsets for a self-guided tour.
Prior to the 1820’s the Kwat Kwat people occupied the land. In 1836, Major Mitchell’s expedition opened up the area for cattle runs. The region saw the first grape vines planted in 1851 but it was gold prospecting that gave Rutherglen it’s big kick start in the spring of 1860.
Probably the best way to compare Rutherglen today and then is by pubs and population – today there are around 2000 people and three pubs – at the peak of the boom there were 11,000 locals supporting 21 pubs – and one of those pubs indirectly gave Rutherglen its name.
Initially the township was called the Wahgunyah Diggings… then Calico Town… then Barkly… then John Wallace, the owner of the Star Hotel, promised to shout the bar if the town’s name was changed to his birthplace in Scotland – so Rutherglen it was and is.
After 1919 mining ceased and agriculture (vineyards and general farming) took over. To quote a district agricultural pioneer, “There is more gold to be won from the top twelve inches of soil than from the depths below.”
On the vineyard front, All Saints won Australia’s first international gold medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1873 and by 1884 there were 50 working vineyards. By 1900 the region produced 25% of Australia’s wines. The 1950’s saw many wineries close because of half-gallon flagons decimating the bulk wine trade. Many winemakers opted for growing wool and only 12 wineries battled on. Today, however, Rutherglen thrives thanks to its 20 wineries and cellar doors and the tourism they attract.
It's easy to explore Rutherglen from Rydges Albury - you can drive a rewarding loop going via Victoria one way and NSW the other.