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.

Six Acres

The name could not be any more literal. Six Acres is truly six acres of vineyard producing estate-grown (vegan-friendly) wines in small batches on site. The Zuccaro family has tended this plot lovingly, subscribing to the adage that all good winemakers say: ‘Good wine is grown in the vineyard.’ It’s a prime little patch of Yarra Ranges dirt near Silvan in the Upper Yarra region of the Valley. Here the soils are deep and volcanic, and the fruit yields wines of density and structure. Some of the greatest wines of the Yarra Valley come from up this way; we’re not far from Seville Estate, Hoddles Creek, Thousand Candles, and vineyards growing fruit for Giant Steps, De Bortoli and Oakridge. So the area has some kudos.

Six Acres is a smaller affair, located in a modest (cute) shed with a great view. However, don’t let size fool you. The Zuccaros are focused on quality in their pinot noir, merlot and cabernet. They pride themselves on minimal intervention wines, using none of the usual animal products (like eggs, which are traditionally used for fining). The cellar door is a fun and super-personal experience with a passionate family sharing some stonking wines. You’ll need to allow a budget for take-home wines, but nothing is super-expensive, so don’t be shy!

Balgownie Estate Bendigo

If you’re familiar with Balgownie Estate Yarra Valley, going to the Bendigo side of the family is like visiting that cousin in the country who has the lifestyle you’ve always dreamt of. Laid-back, casual, super-relaxed about being incredibly lucky to live in a beautiful place. This cousin is the envy of its slick sister.

The Bendigo property was the first to bear the name ‘Balgownie’, planted in 1969 by Stuart Anderson. It’s 33 hectares of mostly red grape varieties, producing powerful and intense wines, but which still show restraint in alcohol.

Food by chef Travis is French inspired, and makes the most of the region’s stunning produce. Particularly noteworthy is the Wagyu beef, grown by an old school mate of Travis’s. Fresh boxes of local food come in from producers, inspiring the classically trained chef to create new dishes. There’s beauty and finesse in the food, but the atmosphere is relaxed and very ‘country’.

The property also has accommodation. There’s a newly renovated set of suites, joined in the middle by a large common area with kitchen, perfect for a big group weekend away. The popular ‘glamping’ tents are a must-do experience, set in the bushland adjacent to the restaurant and winery, overlooking the spectacular vineyard. Each is equipped with air-conditioning and a fridge, and the deluxe tents even have bathrooms. It’s still camping, but definitely on the glamorous side!

Mount Langi Ghiran

Here’s the thing about wine. It comes from the country. All over the country. Those of us who are dedicated to the quest for really good wines don’t baulk at the thought of a little day trip outside our suburban domicile in order to find the best of the sacred drop. Two hours’ driving west of Melbourne is barely enough time to think about all the wonders of great wine. Coincidentally, that’s where you’ll find Mount Langi Ghiran and some of the best wines made in Victoria.

The mountain that gives the vineyard its name rises up out of the earth right in front of you as you pull into the car park. It’s truly spectacular, and a gentle reminder to slow down and take in the whole experience. Langi Ghiran is a word  from the Djarb Wurrung people, (pronounced lar-ne-jeering) and refers to the black cockatoo. The Fratin brothers probably didn’t know much about that when they planted the now legendary shiraz back in 1963, but they chose a stunning setting on decomposed granite soils, and the wines are amongst the best in Australia – an assessment made by Langton’s in their classification of Australian wines.

The cellar door makes the most of that setting. Take a bike on the Langi Picnic Idyll, and park yourself on a blanket with Grampians produce and a bottle of the estate’s finest. (Make sure you book ahead for this one!)

Look out for the cellar-door-only ranges. ‘Spinoff’ is a selection of wines where the winemakers have stretched their creative boundaries and released limited quantities available only on site.

Seppelt

Great Western in the Grampians is like a history lesson in Australian wine. With vines first planted in 1862 (you read that right), the area garnered a reputation for high-quality shiraz and riesling and its sparkling wines. Back before non-French wines were prohibited from using French regional nomenclature,  the site now owned by Seppelt was famous for its Claret. The shiraz planted by Joseph Best (recognise that name?)  was replanted in 1962 to a better-suited clone, and it now produces the famous St Peter’s red wines.

It was Best who began the work of digging the more than 3km of underground storage tunnels. He employed miners from the goldfields to dig them by hand for storing thousands upon thousands of bottles. When you tour these tunnels, called ‘drives’, you can see not only the very many dusty bottles of very old wine, but also marks from the hand tools used to carve the tunnels out of the granite. Sadly, Best died without leaving a will, and when all was finally settled, Ballarat businessman Hans Irvine bought the winery in 1890 with an ambition to make Champagne. He bought a French Champagne house,  shipped it all out to Great Western along with wine maker Charles Pierlot. He’d failed to tell the Frenchman that there was only shiraz growing on the property, but he made the first known method traditionelle shiraz, and it’s still a staple at the Australian Christmas table.

Of course, with Benno Seppelt in 1918 came the substantial vineyard resources of the Seppelt wineries, and since then, more traditional white sparkling wines made with chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier.

This is a pretty potted history of a substantial legacy, and space constraints mean we’ve had to gloss over some really important bits. Honestly, you need to get in a car and spend some time exploring the dusty underground history at Seppelt. There are some significant bonuses for making the effort. For starters, the wines are magnificent. Do a tasting, pay the small fee for the really good stuff, and ask for all the stories. It’s a stunning setting, and there are accommodation options too – from ‘glamping’ to the AirBnB in Best’s Cottage or the magnificent Vine Lodge.

OHO stayed in Great Western at Salinger’s B&B, and ate at the Great Western Hotel. Both are owned by the same family, bringing life to the old pub with a passion for local producers.  Do it – it’s a great drive, and worth staying over so you can take in some of the other awesome producers in the area.

Pomonal Estate

Something is happening in the tiny community of Pomonal. Pep, owner of Pomonal Estate, points to the neighbours in various directions and tells OHO, ‘The carpenter lives over there, the builder just there, the beekeeper over that way, and the guy who grows the salad greens, just there.” Almost on cue, the guy who grows the salad greens walks in the door with today’s box of salad greens. He talks about the horseradish-peppery flavour of the curly red lettuce.

The owners’ enthusiasm for all things local is infectious. The build is brand-new, and made by locals. The accommodation they’ve just opened on site is set right in the middle of the place they love. The Grampians are right there, changing all the time with the changes in light, and you can stay in a brand-new luxury home with picture windows to all the views.

What you’ve really come here to read about, though, is one or more of the following burning questions:

1.  Can I get a good coffee? Yes.
2.  Is there good food? Yes. Local, simple and fresh.
3.  Is there a view? Yes. A damn good one.
4.  Is the wine good? Yes it is.
5.  Is the beer good? Yes it is, and it’s truly small-batch, made on site.
6.  Is it far? No, not if you stay over. Otherwise, expect a 3-hour drive and a mix-tape.

Fallen Giants

The Grampians is rich with ancient history. The landscape, shaped by the great spirit Bunjil, breathes ancient air. There’s so much to soak in, if you just take a little slow-time. Part of the ancient Dreamtime story is honoured by Fallen Giants Wines, the name a reference to the tale told in the traditions of the Djab Wurrung and Jardwadjali people, the original custodians of the land. The estate’s wine labels show representations of the spirit birds from the stories.

The cellar door at Fallen Giants is a small, picturesque place. There are simple local-produce platters on offer, and knowledgable staff take care in presenting tastings of the wines. The modesty of the place belies the quality of the wines – most rate 95 or higher according to Halliday, and are worthy of any great collection. Formerly a part of the Rathbone’s Langi Ghiran portfolio, the place is now independently operated again after purchase by the Drummonds in 2013.  Recently awarded a “5-Red-Star Winery” accolade by Halliday, Fallen Giants is continuing the long tradition of exceptional wines from this vineyard.

Stay tuned to the social media pages and subscribe to the mailing list for all kinds of super-relaxed music and events on that epic lawn, surrounded by those extraordinary Grampians views.

Rob Dolan Wines

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.