Nillumbik Estate

Between Eltham and and the Yarra Valley floor, there’s a gateway of winding road 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. Trust us, take the turn. At the end of a typically country driveway, there’s a modest but stylish building, almost right on top of a vineyard, overlooking a close valley that opens out into a view beyond.

Nillumbik winery has been on this site for two and a half decades. It’s a family business, with owner John making the kinds of wine he loves to drink. They’re generous and food-friendly, much like John. The restaurant is a tucked-away secret renowned for it’s pizzas, and 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, make a big deck and a couple of garden seating areas to enjoy it in. Not much to argue with there.

James and Co. Wines

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.

Mandala Wines

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.

Medhurst Wines

Just off the Maroondah Highway, tucked up against the Warramate Hills, sits the winery, restaurant and cellar door of Medhurst Wines. The long driveway winds up the hill, past the red shed on the dam, past significant sculptures perched elegantly on the lawn, to the architecturally designed building which overlooks the picturesque close view. This part of the experience alone is worth the trip.

Medurst is the ‘retirement project’ (if you could call such hard work retirement) of ex Southcorp CEO Ross Wilson and his wife Robyn. It’s a family business, executed in a thoroughly professional manner. Every detail on the property is carefully considered: from the wave of the vast front glass on the cellar door, to the way a winery of considerable size is perfectly nestled into the hillside.

Speaking of detail, winemaker Simon Steele is all about the details. The Yarra Valley Pinot Noir is a fine expression of the fruit; bright cherry balanced with weight and complex spice notes.  The Rosé, a perennial fave and often on the ‘Pink List’ at the Healesville Hotel, is dry, savoury and so so drinkable.

With the newly renovated kitchen and dining area comes a new chef. Robin Sutcliffe brings his quiet, uncompromising passion for doing simple things right to Medhurst. The pickles, which provide a delicate acidic balance on platters and other dishes, are all made by him in-house. Simple dishes like arancini are elevated with his deft touch. Grazing food, dishes of deliciousness, and damn fine wines mean that a long slow lunch under the shade, overlooking the vines, makes so much sense.

Healesville Hotel Cellars and Harvest Coffee

Michael Kennedy and Kylie Balharrie have made something of a foodie haven precinct in Healesville. It’s anchored by the lasting favourite, Healesville Hotel, with food by Chris Twogood still kicking goals as he continues experiments with local produce and cooking with fire. (Hint: weekend BBQ – get on it!)

The headline here, though, is the recently renovated alleyway and new wine bar. Harvest Coffee serves Genovese coffee at the hole-in-the-wall counter from 8am every day. The selection of house-made pastries, toasties, cakes and slices is simple, and everything is made to be delicious, first and foremost. If you want lunch, don’t fret: the entire Healesville Hotel lunch menu is available to order from the hole in the wall, too. The poached chicken Asian salad is a standout for the health-conscious, and the seasonal beetroot and lentil dish is an earthy bomb of beautiful flavours.

The Cellars are a new venture. Michael says it’s a mix of local and imported wine, and even some of his own cellar stocks. We spotted some rare gems like a vintage bottle of Wantirna Estate chardonnay on the shelf. You can order by the glass; or, for a corkage fee, take a retail-priced bottle and a couple of glasses into the garden for a lazy afternoon in the shade.  There are some true undiscovered winners in the extensive wine selection. Three standouts would have to be the Scope Fiano (light, bright, zingy: summer in a glass),  Aller Trop skin-contact pinot gris (the ideal rosé that isn’t rosé), and One Block chardonnay (funky and interesting, by Jayden Ong). Of course, by the time you read this, these wines might not be on the list anymore. That’s the joy of a boutique cellar like this one – wines come and go, and there’s always something new.

There’s plenty of room for you and your friends, and dogs are welcomed on-lead in the garden. There are choices for non-meat-eaters, as well as the food that comes off that stunning wood-fired BBQ. On weekends the garden caravan bar opens up too, and with three places to place your order, it’s never a long queue at the bar for a beverage.

Seville Estate

Dylan McMahon, winemaker at Seville Estate, shoulders the weighty burden of carrying on a vinous dynasty. Built by his grandparents Margaret and Dr Peter McMahon in 1972, the winery played a significant part in the early re-establishment of the Yarra Valley as a premium wine region.

Since Dylan stepped in to the job as head winemaker in 2004, he’s taken the passion his grandparents showed for high quality wines and doubled down. Accolades from James Halliday (2019 Winery of the Year) and countless awards at wine shows attest to his focus on quality and flavour.

The newly renovated property has undergone extensive landscaping, with spaces for sitting outside under shade, chilling in beanbags, playing Bocce, and kicking back on the deck. The whole place urges you to slow down and make a relaxing day last as long as it can.

In twelve short months the new restaurant at Seville Estate has earned a reputation for local seasonal food with acute attention to detail. Neighbours bring in the excess of their home-grown produce, trusted local suppliers supplement the impressive kitchen garden on site, and the chefs take everything at its peak and do it all justice with full flavour and beautiful dishes.

By the time you read this, the menu will have changed – it does every week, sometimes more than once. Take a look through the images in the gallery here; you’ll get the idea. It’s all carefully prepared, cooked to perfection, and presented like works of art completely without pretence.

Wines are always considered as matches to the menu, and the staff are super attentive and knowledgable. You should take the extra time to go through a tasting at the cellar door before you sit down to eat. You’ll catch the winemaker here more often than not, but the whole crew are super-friendly and happy to talk about the wines they all share Dr Peter McMahon’s passion for.

Check out the accommodation in the newly renovated homestead, right next to the cellar door, too. It’s lavishly appointed, has a huge new kitchen, a swimming pool, and four double rooms for you and your friends on an epic weekend away.

 

Rusty Water Brewery Restaurant & Bar

Road trips are all about the journey, not just the destination. If your destination is Phillip Island on a Friday night for a weekend getaway, we have an idea for you to make your mini-break kick off just that bit better. Rusty Water Brewery Restaurant & Bar is on the road to Cowes, Phillip Island. We suggest knocking off work a little earlier and heading for this road-side gem. It’s a casual tavern-style experience with great pub food, paddles of beers for tastings, and their own brews on tap. It’s definitely a place for meeting up with mates to get things started right. There’s usually live music on Friday, and the atmosphere is lively and fun. Things can get pretty hectic during the Grand Prix or V8Supercars rounds, but it’s still a great destination and loads of fun even when it’s bursting at the seams.

As for the beers, they are brewed with food and fun in mind. There’s a wide range of styles, with something for everyone. If you can’t make up your mind, just get a tasting paddle. Pick your favourite from there, and bingo! Your session beer.

The beer sourdough is a highlight. Just be sure to leave room for that steak.

Central Gippsland Wine Trail

Words Jess Gadd
Images Supplied

Gippsland constitutes a huge part of Victoria, starting just outside Melbourne and stretching all the way to the NSW border. At its heart is Central Gippsland, cradled by the mountainous Great Dividing Range and its lower-lying cousin, the Strzelecki Ranges, and by the Bass Strait. It’s a geographic combination that results in an often complex set of climatic conditions for the local wineries: some areas are ideal for growing shiraz, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, while in other areas chardonnay shines – though of course a number of other varieties grow well here, too.

This means that – no matter what variety you like – you’ll find a winery in this region that fits the bill! Plus there’s the added bonus that Central Gippsland’s proximity to the ocean, and its flourishing dairy industry, deliver big time when it comes to perfect wine accompaniments like locally sourced seafood and cheese.

Here’s our guide to some of Central Gippsland’s top wineries, with tips for a few delightful detours along the way.

Toms Cap 
#twohoursout

If you’re after scenery that takes your breath away, you can’t go past Toms Cap. This venue has it all: vineyard, cellar door, restaurant, function centre and accommodation. The views, function centre and accommodation are especially popular for weddings, private functions and getaways, but Toms Cap is a much-loved locals secret, too – one that’s worth a drive for the range and quality of food and wine (not to mention the warm hospitality).

It’s surrounded by the Strzelecki Ranges, and not far from one of Victoria’s only cool temperate rainforests, the Tarra Bulga National Park. A walk here is a top choice for a hot day – better than air conditioning! Or, if having a beach to yourself sounds heavenly, you can usually find a solitary spot on the nearby Ninety Mile Beach.

Details:
The cellar door is open Thursday to Monday, 10am to 4pm; the restaurant is open for lunch Friday to Sunday (or by prior arrangement).
322 Lays Rd, Willung South

Traralgon Vineyard
#twohoursout

Wines grown on site at Traralgon Vineyard include chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot, sauvignon blanc and moscato. Enjoy them over a meal in the on-site restaurant, or you can buy a bottle to take home (note that tastings are paid, and by appointment only). A popular local wedding and function venue, offering occasional live entertainment, it books out quickly so the hosts recommend you book ahead to avoid disappointment!

Details:
Open for lunch Saturday to Sunday 12pm to 2pm, and dinner Saturday 6pm until late. Bookings essential.
140 Burnets Road Traralgon

Narkoojee
#twohoursout

Narkoojee’s father-and-son team, Harry and Axel Friend, produces cool climate shiraz, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet and chardonnay that the critics rave about. Narkoojee is rated as a five-star winery in the James Halliday Wine Companion, and a tasting will quickly show you why: these wines are sophisticated, graceful and walk the perfect line between complexity and balance. Some of the varieties, such as the pinot noir and merlot, are only small vintages, and sell out quickly.

Details:
Cellar door is open from 10.30am to 4.30pm daily most of the year; the restaurant opens Thursday to Sunday for lunch, as well as Saturday and some Fridays for dinner – check ahead for times.
220 Francis Road, Glengarry

Glenmaggie Wines
#twoandahalfhoursout

Named for its proximity to man-made Lake Glenmaggie, the water source for central Gippsland’s 130,000-acre Macalister Irrigation District, Glenmaggie Wines is definitely a family affair. You’ll sense this the moment you set foot in the cellar door, because – in that country way – there’s always time for a yarn, and the family are happy to share the story behind the winery and vintage.

Founders Fleur and Tony will explain that Glenmaggie Wines are a product of their climate – the long, slow ripening time resulting in fruit with a lower sugar content and well-developed flavour. The wines are lauded for their ability to complement, rather than overpower, food; and they are well awarded at wine shows.

Nearby Lake Glenmaggie is well worth a visit, too – particularly in times of high rainfall, when the sight of gum trees submerged in water will be a hit with the kids (and possibly the grown-ups, too!).

Details:
Open Sunday and public holidays 11am to 4pm (or by appointment).
439 McLachlands Rd, Tinamba West

Blue Gables Winery
#twoandahalfhoursout

Named for the story-book blue-roofed home nestled on the hillside among the vines, Blue Gables Winery launched its first vintage with a bang in 2009. It has continued to win awards year-on-year for all four of its varieties: sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot gris and shiraz.

The wines are made by industry stalwarts Mal Stewart and Alastair Butt, and offered at a cellar door featuring a killer view over the green pastures of the Macalister Irrigation District. The cellar door also serves wood-fired pizzas, antipasto platters, and cheese platters featuring local, award-winning Maffra Cheese Company. There’s often live entertainment, too, and in colder weather you can warm your toes before a roaring fire.

Blue Gables, as well as some of the other local wineries, like Glenmaggie Wines and Avon Ridge Vineyard, is located close to the popular Gippsland Plains Rail Trail.

Details:
Open public holidays, Friday to Saturday 11am to 9pm (bookings essential), and Sunday 11am to 5pm.
100 Lanigan Road, Maffra West Upper

Avon Ridge Vineyard
#twoandahalfhoursout

Drop by Avon Ridge on a Sunday and you might catch the Sunday Sippers afternoon, featuring live music and lunch and drink specials. You might be able to score a little home-grown produce at the Produce Swap table. You’ll certainly be able to enjoy some award-winning wines, and breakfast or lunch with a menu that celebrates the diversity and quality of local produce. You will also certainly have a chance to bask in the beautiful views of the Avon River Valley (with or without a wine in hand, that’s up to you!).

Grapes grown here include cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. The fruit is deep with varietal flavour and elegance, courtesy of the cool local climate. As a bonus, Avon Ridge makes a range of ciders, too!  

Open Wednesday to Sunday, but do check ahead before visiting, because the winery sometimes closes for functions and weddings.

Details:
Open for lunch Wednesday to Sunday
446 Maffra – Stratford Road, Maffra

Mt Moornapa
#threehoursout

Mt Moornapa is well off the beaten track, tucked away in artsy Briagolong. The winery itself is a unique building – it’s tall: an attempt to retain lower temperatures during the hotter months. There are plenty of other design features aimed at reducing energy consumption, too – for example, the vats are elevated to reduce energy use during production periods. Even the vines were planted with energy efficiency and reduced water-consumption in mind.

At the cellar door varieties on offer include chardonnay, traminer, pinot noir, riesling and merlot: all grown on site. There’s also a picnic area with barbecue facilities that visitors are welcome to enjoy.

Details:
Open weekends and public holidays, 10am to 4pm.
741 Briagolong Stockdale Rd, Stockdale

Tinamba Hotel
#twoandahalfhoursout

If you have a lust for local produce, the Tinamba Hotel will deliver: with honey from one of the owner’s family farm, herbs and veggies grown on site, and local producers and winemakers featuring prominently on the menu. You can choose from the relaxed atmosphere of the public bar, or a more refined dining experience in the restaurant – the same kitchen supplies both, and the food is outstanding. This picturesque, romantic venue even scored a mention in The Good Food Guide (2018).

The town of Tinamba celebrates the region’s bounty with a popular annual food and wine festival (April). And while we’re talking diary dates, the annual Marlay Point Overnight Yacht Race (March) makes quite a spectacle as it departs from Lake Wellington just outside the nearby township of Sale. It’s well worth timing your visit to coincide with either – or both – of these events.

Details:
Open for lunch Wednesday to Sunda and dinner Wednesday to Saturday
4-6 Tinamba Seaton Rd, Tinamba

 

ACCOMODATION OPTIONS
Toms Cap Vineyard
Mansi on Raymond
Abington Farm B&B
The Matador
Frog Gully Cottages 

Giant Steps

Giant Steps quickly became the stalwart of the Yarra Valley winery and restaurant scene when Phil Sexton first opened it over a decade ago. The structure has become a reassuring symbol of always-available quality wines and food situated in Healesville’s east end.

Winemaker Steve Flamsteed has an unwavering commitment to making quality wines that express the place they’re from, whether it’s one of the single-vineyard series wines or a regional blend. His commitment to excellence is exemplified in his path to winemaking. First he was a chef, then a cheesemaker, but it was wine that caught his attention. While studying oenology, he paid his way as a chef with Maggie Beer. It’s unsurprising that he emerged with a passion for local expressions of produce.

Steve’s uncompromising attention to detail yields results, from the vineyard to the wine glass, and the experience at the Healesville cellar-door restaurant is a reflection of this same approach. Staff are knowledgeable and genuinely love talking about the wines they’re selling. It helps that the tasting room is behind the glass wall, right in the barrel hall where you’re immersed in the workings and glorious smells of a winery.

After a recent refurbishment, the place is looking as fresh and contemporary as ever. It’s a pleasant place to sit and enjoy the food, and definitely to appreciate the good work of Steve and the team in the winery.

Boat O’Craigo

With a name that harks back to the Scottish ancestral roots of owners the Graham family, Boat O’Craigo punches way above its weight for quality wines. Indeed, Halliday named it as ‘Dark Horse Winery of the Year’ in 2018. The cellar door on the high side of Healesville heading out of town is a perfect place to sit and lose a couple of hours trying wines and eating platters of local produce, or the simple traditional pizzas expertly turned out of the tiny kitchen.

Wines are made by the legendary Rob Dolan at his Warranwood facility, from fruit grown on the two estate sites at Kangaroo Ground and Healesville. Quality is high, with an emphasis on wines made for drinking and enjoying. Rob is known for his generous winemaking style, and Boat O’Craigo wines definitely fit that bill.

The deck outside shares the close panorama of Mt Riddell with the dining area inside the building. For people who might be heading up to Marysville or just on a drive up the Black Spur, stepping out of the car and encountering the stunning view across the lush vineyard to the foot of the mountain comes as something of a surprise. It’s easily overlooked as you head up the highway, but with the triple threat of great wine, food and a surprise view, it’s a must-stop venue.