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.
Town-based cellar doors are becoming a thing. In the Yarra Valley there’s Mac Forbes’ little Graceburn Wine Room; Payten and Jones have opened across from Four Pillars. In Rutherlen James and Co. are making Beechworth wines and selling them out of their brand-new and rather stylish shop.
People who love recycled timber made into gorgeous things will love the fit-out. But really, you’re coming here for the wines, so let’s talk sangiovese. Ricky loves sangi. Around Beechworth, people are growing some stunning examples of it. Ricky combines his love of sangiovese with the stunning examples grown around Beechworth to make some excellent wines. His sparkling rosé is dry (minimal residual sugar) and beautiful. I’m sure more-established wineries looked upon a sparkling sangiovese rosé with more than a little curiosity, but far out it’s good. In fact, all the wines are flavour focused, elegant, and finely detailed. You’ll walk away with a collection of beautiful wines that really demonstrates Ricky and Georgie’s passion for what they are doing.
You’ll love the Cheese Your Own Adventure fridge, too. Build your own platter of produce from the fridge at the back of the room, take a board, and make a beeline for one of those beautiful recycled wooden tables.
It would be remiss of us to fail to mention Georgie’s photography, which adorns one side of the space. She’s got talent, and it’s on display as you sit and take in both wines and imagery.
OHO is as much about the little guys as we are about the headline acts. We love to find the not-so-well-known places doing excellent things and share them with you like little secrets. Mandala Wines was one of those finds. Yes, it’s on the Melba Highway outside of Yarra Glen, but you were probably distracted by the bigger vineyards over the road. Yes, it has a stunning corten-steel building, but you were probably looking at the larger constructions and wineries on the other side too. So, Charles Smedley’s Mandala Wines is like this little gift hidden amongst some of the well respected larger players. But, don’t be fooled by the size; the wines punch well above their weight, and the venue will delight and surprise guests who planned on a quick stop but find themselves staying a while.
There’s a substantial restaurant on-site too, and it is well respected in the region for good Italian-style food inside or on the huge lawn overlooking the vines. However, lets stay focussed here and talk wines. They are all made from grapes grown on the estates at Dixons Creek and Yarra Junction. Everything in the vineyards is about maximising the potential for quality wines. The vines are hand-pruned, the grapes are hand-picked. In the winery, batches are small and carefully tended by winemaker Don Pople. The Yarra is known for Pinot and Chardonnay, and Mandala does not disappoint. Perhaps the aromatic and elegant Cabernet Sauvignon in all it’s inky gloriousness is the surprise, but serves as a wonderful reminder that Cabernet was here before Pinot or Chardonnay. The clever Coravin system of preserving open bottles of wine means that the reserve wines are available for tasting too.