Nestled just beyond the edges of Melbourne’s leafy outer east, Rob Dolan’s winery and cellar door is no half-hearted affair. The winery is a big thing (like Rob), and the cellar door, though casual, friendly and warm (like Rob), is still super-professional (like Rob).
If you’re thinking ‘Do I know that name from somewhere?’, let’s just run through a quick potted history of the Yarra Valley legend that is Mr Rob Dolan. Brands he’s launched have included Yarra Ridge, Punt Road, and Sticks. He’s managed Mildara Blass (Victoria). He’s the winemaker behind a bunch of success stories in the Yarra Valley. So many winemakers have worked for him or with him at some point that the region should really be called ‘The Dolan Valley’. If that still doesn’t ring any bells, Rob ‘Sticks’ Dolan played in the ruck for Port Adelaide.
The cellar door is the perfect setting for a casual sampling of wines from Rob’s three ranges. All are well targeted and great examples of the generosity of flavour and spirit in his winemaking approach. The platters offer a selection of regional produce and are a perfect way to indulge with some time on the lawn or sitting at the tasting bar. Jack from Stone and Crow makes cheese in a corner of the facility out the back, and OHO’s own Caro makes jams and preserves under Rob’s label, too. A platter with a few of these extraordinary delights is worth a little trip to Warranwood. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for special events and after-work drinks.
If you’re an apple grower, and you see the premium paid for cider apples and the further value-add from making cider, it’s really a no-brainer to have a bit of a look at selling your own stuff. Cheeky Grog have nailed the concept of grower-turns-brewer with their roadside cider house. With orchards everywhere in the surrounding fields, it’s both no surprise and an absolute delight to find that someone is taking the fruit and turning it into the makings of a fab Friday night.
The list of ciders on taste is long, and there’s something for everyone’s palate. Some medal-winning drops are on taste too, and of course available for you to take home.
For anyone after adventurous flavours, they’re doing some funky things with brettanomyces (“brett”), much as beer brewers are doing. It’s not for everyone, but it’s interesting and a bit of fun.
The outdoor lounge area is fantastically created from old fruit bins, with sprawling timber lounge chairs and tables for group tastings, or for enjoying a few slow cold ones and something to eat. The kitchen has a short simple menu, which on the weekends includes wood-fired pizzas. Regular live music happens out there on the lawn too.
Of course, you can just pull in to the roadside stall and, old-school honesty-box style, pick up a bag of apples or pears.
There’s something fun and interesting about visiting a place with a bit of family history. Maybe it’s the respect for that singular family focus, or maybe it’s just the old stuff in the sheds. At Lake Moodemere Estate it’s all of this plus the new generation’s enthusiasm to both respect tradition and move ahead with innovation. It was delightful, but no surprise, to be introduced to one family member after another: all passionate about the property, the vines, the wines, the lamb, and the visitor experience. Seven generations in, vineyard manager Joel Chambers speaks with such passion about his work, the legacy of his family, and the bright future he sees for the wines the family has been producing since 1858.
Rutherglen as a region is traditionally regarded as a producer of big (huge) red wines like durif and fortified muscat. Some old-school outfits are well known for their blow-your-head-off durif at 16% to 18% alcohol. Not so at Moodemere. Whilst respecting the plantings of earlier generations, the current custodians (Joel’s dad Michael and mum Belinda) are making finer, lower-alcohol, flavour-focused wines. There’s cabernet sauvignon, cinsaut, syrah, merlot and chardonnay, to name a few lesser-planted varieties amongst those more common in the area.
Of course, all this is nonsense without a word for the place you’ll visit. The ancient trees hang glorious green-laden branches over a green lawn that looks down a vast, prehistoric riverbank to the lake below. Tables set for maximum view-soaking pleasure are the perfect setting for a platter of locally sourced produce, including lamb from the property (try the terrine, OMG). If you want to talk low food-miles, everything on the platter is from inside the Indigo Shire.
Your next event could well be a divine summer-sunset soirée at this spot. Or, for something more private, book the lakehouse accommodation and sit on the banks of the river. Just soak it in.
The Mitchell and Harris families grew up in the Ballarat region. You could argue that they were early instigators of the food revolution off the main drag (Sturt St) in town. The last few years have seen the likes of Catfish, Meigas and the Mitchell Harris cellar door/bar open up and make Ballarat a foodie destination.
The Mitchell Harris style is of relaxed industrial and historic chic, and is at once familiar and fun. It’s a place you can spend a whole Friday night getting lost in a detailed exploration of your friend’s holiday recommendations over several bottles of whatever it takes to make that sound interesting. It’s a place for meeting up with your best friend to laugh about that time you couldn’t remember that thing you did together, and order the Sabre sparkling, complete with the actual sabring of the bottle. All the Mitchell Harris wines are of course made in the company’s own winery. They’re good. Really good. There are some fabulously sessional wines in there, perfect for the formerly referred-to Friday evening.
If you’re not content with just drinking the wine someone else made for you, you could enrol in the Curious Winemaker workshop. Over the course of several visits through the season, make your own wine: from grapevine to bottle. Don’t worry, you’re not left to your own devices. You’ll be under the expert guidance of winemaker John Harris, and with him make all the critical decisions along the way to produce a decent drop you can call your own.
Mitchell and Harris is also a place to eat. A bloody good one. The food is comfortable and brings on all the requisite ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’.
With only Google as a guide, it feels like you’re heading into the middle of nowhere to get to Equus Wines. Then the really interesting profile of a modern piece of architecture appears atop a hill, and you find yourself thinking ‘Geez, I hope I’m going there – that looks amazing.’
Arriving at Equus is no let-down of the anticipation. The view is stunning. The modern cellar door overlooks the vineyard and the Pyrenees Ranges beyond.
Wines are typical of the region – intense cool-climate flavours and fine tannins, with winemaker Owen Latta being known for natural, minimal intervention winemaking. It’s worth trusting in Google to take you up the hill for this.
A real surprise though is the discovery of the wooden horse museum through the opposite door. It’s a lifetime’s collection of author and artist, Patricia Mullins. Curated and interpreted with the finesse of any of the great museums, and just a fascinating place to wander. The collection changes regularly to accommodate a particular theme, and is surely worth the trip on its own merits.
About 30 minutes south of Shepparton (on the way home to Melbourne!), is the modest and unassuming little cellar door of Longleat Wines at Murchison – a short detour that’s worth the effort.
This is a true family run winery and cellar door. Guido brings his passion for making wines designed to share and enjoy (especially with food), while Sandra draws from her passion for cheese to keep the cellar door well stocked.
Guido’s Italian heritage is evident in the styles of wine that he makes, and words like ‘generous, flavourful and food-friendly’ spring to mind. In fact, all conversations with Guido and Sandra quickly turn to the food that will best complement the wines.
It’s a lovely, intimate experience chatting, eating, and drinking with people who genuinely love what they do. Guido brings his heritage to the fore in wines like Garganega and Sangiovese, both textural and interesting in a white and red wine respectively.
The deck cafe is lovely for a glass of vino, a coffee and a platter, but they also do lunches – which are a generous feasting occasion and definitely require a booking.
With more than 40 wines produced, and all available for tasting, Lethbridge Wines is something of an antidote to an industry that can be at times unapproachable. Lethbridge is a family business and at the hands of founders Ray and Maree, has become something of a benchmark for other winemakers.
Conceived as a tree-change for two people with a passion for wine and established careers in science and medicine, Lethbridge’s approach to winemaking is all about attention to detail.
The cellar door itself is a quirky straw-bale building of diminutive proportions. Rest assured you and your three friends will not be sharing the attention of Ray or Maree with a busload of inebriated tourists. They give the same care and attention to all customers and with over 40 wines under Coravin (inert gas) for tasting, there’s room and time to discover your own taste preferences.
It’s worth allowing some time to sample slowly and mindfully at Lethbridge. It’s not so much a case of, “Here’s our Sav Blanc, here’s our Pinot”, like some of the large-scale producers. At Lethbridge you could just as easily spend all morning tasting just Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – each a perfect expression of the fruit from one vineyard in one particular year. It’s scientific study in making truthful wines that are proud of their origin.
This is one of those OHO wow moments. You’ll have followed the quirky directional signage to a carpark in what looks like an abandoned paper mill (because that’s what it was), and you’ll be wondering where the heck One Hour Out has led you. Trust is everything, and it pays off here. Walking through the big old timber doors into the winery and cellar door at Provenance and you’ll know why.
The venue is a heritage-listed industrial building, situated above the river that once powered the paper mill. The site is still industrial, now housing an array of artistic endeavours from galleries to studios. The large building occupied and expertly restored by Provenance Wines holds their winery on one end, kitchen and cellar door in the middle, and restaurant/event space at the other. It’s a vast space, made cosy by the large central wood heater and lounge area.
The business is named for the concept of honouring the place where the grapes are from. The French call it ‘terroir’, here the crew from Fyansford call it provenance. The wines are named simply for their place of origin: Henty, Golden Plains, Ballarat, Geelong. Even the blends are named by the region covering the sources – Western Plains, Geelong Region, Ballarat Region.
Worth the visit. Trust us.
In 1865, George Billson purchased the old Ovens Brewery with the aim to fulfil his ambition to be a brewer (after spending time as a publican). Outgrowing that premises, and in response to the vast requirements of a burgeoning settlement during the gold rush, George built a brew tower at the current site in Beechworth. George went on to brew beer here until the 1950s, after which it became a site for the production of cordials by Murray Breweries.
In 2017 the site was bought by Nathan and Felicity Cowan and carefully renovated to house a modern small-batch brewery and distillery alongside the continuation of cordial production.
Today they are brewing a growing range of quality beers, a (proper!) ginger ale, a cider, and with a clever addition to the brewery, are also distilling gin. All are excellent, and there’s something for every taste. It would be remiss of us at this point to neglect to mention the basement Speakeasy bar. It’s spectacular and reminiscent of the hidden bars of the temperance days.
Speaking of taste, cordials are a nostalgic thing. The classic flavour of raspberry cordial will transport you back to your childhood while the raspberry vinegar cordial is so resplendent with ripe raspberry flavour, it’s like a time-machine back to the “please mum, can I have a cordial” days.
There is a cafe on-site serving good coffee and a short but delicious food menu. Take a good look at that coffee machine too – it reflects the Billson’s way with its hand-operated lever pump, and is a thing of great beauty.
Also on-site and worthy of a visit is the Carriage Museum. It houses horse-drawn carriages of various kinds still in their original condition.
Between Eltham and the Yarra Valley floor, there’s a gateway of roads winding through rugged bush country called Christmas Hills, Smiths Gully, and Kangaroo Ground. You could be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing here but uncompromising rocky soil, scrubby tree cover, and kangaroos.
Pay attention, though, and you’ll spot a little sign that offers wine, pizza and views. At the end of a typical country driveway, you’ll find a modest but stylish building, almost right on top of a vineyard, overlooking a close valley that opens out into the view beyond.
Nillumbik winery has been on this site for two and a half decades. It’s a family business, with the friendly owner John making the kinds of wine he loves to drink – those best enjoyed with food. The restaurant is a tucked-away secret, renowned for its pizzas. With that view and a bottle of John’s wine, you’ll lose an afternoon here just taking it all in. It’s a simple recipe for success, really: make pizza, make wine, serve it on a deck that overlooks the garden and beyond. Not much to argue with there.