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.

De Bortoli Yarra Valley

Amongst the hundreds of winemaking families in Australia, there are   the ‘First Families’ – those pioneers who shaped the way Australia makes and drinks the nectar of the gods.  All have generations of grape growing, squishing, fermenting, bottling and drinking to their names. Think McWilliams, Tyrrells, Tahbilk and De Bortoli.

Leanne De Bortoli brought the family name down to Victoria from Griffith in the late ’80s; she and her partner and the business’s chief winemaker Steve Webber have been living the ‘good wine, good food, good friends’ mantra. Three unique vineyards supply distinct fruit which expresses its sense of place. Steve has a passion for making wines that taste like where they’re from. For the lesson in terroir alone, you should book a private tasting experience.

The restaurant on site, ‘Locale’, sings from the same mantra song-sheet. Local produce (some of it grown just out the window next to the vineyard) combines with a slightly formal but definitely casual atmosphere. It’s like going to your fancy Nonna’s house for a big family meal with loads of great Italian food, more wine than you probably should have had, and laughs aplenty.  Except Nonna is a chef. And has staff. And a cellar door down stairs. Oh, and a cheese shop. Dear Lord, do not forget the formaggio. There’s a great selection of extraordinary cheeses, matured right there, available as platters, tasting plates to go with the wine tastings at the bar, or for taking home.