Most Melburnians have at least two things in common: a love of food (the city being Australia’s culinary capital) and a favourite holiday spot within a few hours drive from home. Some head to one of the towns along the scenic Great Ocean Road. Others visit Daylesford in the spa country. We have devotees of Phillip Island while others lay in wait for the snow to hit the slopes of Falls Creek and Mt. Hotham for skiing and snowboarding in the winter. Victoria’s regional areas are very appealing and sometimes overlooked by foreign travellers.
John and I have lived in Melbourne for four years and our preferred getaway is to the Mornington Peninsula and, more specifically, its wine region. The towns of Merricks, Red Hill, Dromana and Moorooduc lie just an hour south of Melbourne. A recent excursion over a long weekend took this quiet couple south along the Nepean Highway in search of some fresh air and the promise of eating and drinking our way through the next couple of days.
It was a busy weekend, just after this year’s wines had been bottled. Keen to avoid the crowds in the hub of Red Hill, we’d booked into the luxurious Easton Grey bed and breakfast. Guiding our car up the long drive, we felt as though we’d been transported to country England. The canines of the house and our gracious host, Jo Clements greeted us right away. Our private studio apartment, with its own staircase, luxurious king-sized bed, kitchenette and well-appointed bathroom, had a view of the estate's 40 acres. We could even see the family’s two ponies from our private balcony.
We were determined to visit some new wineries this time around. New to us at least: most of the winemakers on the Mornington Peninsula have been producing wines commercially since the 1970s. This is predominantly a Pinot, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay producing region, though you’ll also find some gorgeous Rieslings and other styles. The cool climate is not only conducive to growing pinot, but it also provides a Chardonnay style that is different and generally more palatable than what most people are used to. Australia is now the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world after Italy, France and Spain. Mornington Peninsula is definitely one the country’s wine regions to explore.
We chose Moorooduc Estate for our first tasting. This winery specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. One of the first things we noticed was that the wines were made simply and naturally, using wild yeast fermentation. We were a bit distracted by the giant pizza oven outside and were very sad that we’d already had lunch after a quick glance at the menu. But the wines quickly captivated us as we worked through the tasting list.
We also visited Phaedrus, a boutique winery with an intriguing name. Over a few glasses with winemaker Ewan, we learned that the name is homage to the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This was clearly a thoughtful drinker’s vineyard and we loved the carefully crafted Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays we tried there. Tasting the reserve and vintage wines was a delight and is highly recommended.
After a breakfast the next morning of bacon, sausages, warm croissants and fresh eggs from the Easton Grey chickens, our first stop was Balnarring Vineyard. The tasting room is located right in the warehouse where the barrels are stored. It was nice to just stand in the open space instead of at a counter for a change, as the staff moved around the room providing tastes from the different bottles on offer. We sampled some exciting blends here, including Rageous, which is a mix of Sangiovese, Shiraz and Pinot Noir, and Pobblebonk, a Pinot Grigio, Friulano, Chardonnay, Riesling & Muscat Giallo blend. Both are outstanding drops and this estate offers a variety of other wine styles that must be experienced. Winemaker Kathleen Quealy is a creative, experimental genius.
Finally, we arrived at Box Stallion, a lively cellar door that was absolutely merry with the sound of live music playing from the dining area. This is the place to come for European-style wines in a number of varieties. As we moved through the tasting list, we were amazed that a producer could make so many different types of wine so well. Partner Garry Zerbe personally took us on a wonderful tasting adventure and told us all about each wine and the best foods to have it with. Most of the wines on the list were heavily awarded in both Australian and international shows, including the International Wine Challenge in London.
We wanted to stay in on Sunday night, so we headed to the popular Merricks General Store to make a picnic of cheese, bread, infused olive oil and freshly baked cookies. This lovely heritage building houses not only a cellar door for Baillieu Vineyard, Elgee Park and Quealy Wines, but also a gourmet food shop and popular bistro where locals and travellers meet to enjoy country breakfasts, lunch and small meals or a glass of wine.
The next time you’re in Melbourne, take a day or two to visit the wineries of Mornington Peninsula. We also recommend:
Paradigm Hill – We missed out on Paradigm Hill this time around but fondly reminisced about our last visit there. This boutique vineyard and winery produces Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Riesling and Pinot Gris. Husband and wife team George and Ruth Mihaly have a palpable passion for viticulture and winemaking, and offer a unique tasting experience that pairs the wines with their ideal fodder.
Red Hill Brewery - Handcrafted ales in a gorgeous outdoor setting are showcased at this awesome brewery among the vineyards. We enjoyed a great meal here, the menu featuring English, Belgian and German inspired dishes made from local ingredients. Come here on a nice day and just relax.
Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm - Alas, we were off-season for berry picking, but instead were tempted by the on-site Dessert Café. The farm produces its own ice creams, wines and liquers, and the store stocks gourmet produce, delicacies and gift items. Cherries, raspberries and, of course, strawberries can be picked from November through the summer months.
Are you a fan of Australian wines? What's your favourite region or winery?