Wine by Sam

Visiting Seymour in years gone by honestly didn’t hold much promise for those on the food hunt. It was, to be frank, a bit of a foodies’ black hole. Wine by Sam is part of a small, savvy group of operators representing a changing of the guard. They’ve just taken up residence in the old Seymour dye works building, which they’ve expertly fitted out.

Sam Plunkett is passionate about the potential for stellar wines in the Strathbogie Ranges. It gets cold up there, so you can expect quite different flavours from the nearby Heathcote vignerons. There’s a beguiling fine quality about cold climate shiraz, and Sam plays with it masterfully.

The kitchen is serving simple charcuterie, cheese and locally made goodness. The coffee is excellent too.

Taltarni Vineyards

Here at OHO, we do love an impromptu celebration. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to break out the sparkling wine and maybe a few good oysters. Taltarni Vineyards can certainly supply the former. It’s a fine drop, in case you’re wondering. You should really try it for yourself, though.

The cellar door is a fresh renovation, with loads of room for groups to spread out for a long lunch, and some quiet spots for couples to hang out with a platter and a couple of glasses from the extensive list of wines made on site.

For people wanting something completely different, get a group together and organise a unique function in the T-Bar. It’s a cellar cut into the side of the rocky hill, replete with long table, huge old doors, a picturesque dam to look over, and back-vintages of the estate’s wines.

The estate has a public lookout that’s worth driving up to. At sunset (or sunrise for the super-keen), the Pyrenees are a stunning little part of Victoria, and this is a great spot to stand with a glass of bubbles.

Mitchell Harris Wines

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’.

Harvest Halls Gap

You know on a road-trip, you see all these other sub-50’s non-grey road-trippers and you think “Where the hell are all these other people like me getting their coffee and decent food??”

In Halls Gap it’s at Harvest. Simple delicious food from locally sourced produce. Their little providore section is filled with local stuff too.

We had breakfast here, having stayed the night in the accommodation attached to the restaurant. Friday nights go off (best to book!), and the vibe during the annual music festival (also run by the owners) is epic.

Equus @ Moonambel Wines

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.

Longleat Wines

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 makes some damn fine cheeses that are also available at the cellar door.

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.

Australian Botanic Garden, Shepparton

Put your hands in the air if you fit any of the following:
Nature-lover, environmentally aware, recycler, re-user, lover of anything to do with sustainability. Well, that’s most of us. So, here’s something pretty exciting – a botanic garden built entirely on top of a landfill site.

You read that correctly. A botanic garden, high atop a landfill site. It’s seriously amazing. It’s been a long time coming because no-one has done this before and there are so many things to iron out. But through dedication and community support, the amazing team of landscapers and gardeners have done it.

The hilltop site takes in a panoramic view of the Shepparton area. It’s built with re-used materials and planted out masterfully in Australian native plants. It’s still a work in-progress, but how often do you get to see the beginning of something so significant?

There are a range of cycling and walking paths to explore, from the river paths to the hilltop track. All are accessible and vary in length. There are also themed gardens around the park, like the Refugee Garden, which celebrates the ‘melting-pot’ that is created by the welcoming of refugees to the region, and the Children’s Garden –which promotes play and sensory experiences.

Sonny

Inverleigh is not quite a “blink and you’ll miss it” town – its wide street and small collection of shops are enough to slow you down for a look. But take this as a reason to stop – Sonny.

Shaun and Amy started Sonny a couple of years ago, and OHO always promised to go back after stumbling inside on what turned out to be his opening day. Well, the years have gone by quickly and Sonny is now firmly a part of the Moorabool Valley food scene –thanks in no small part to the owner’s dedication to keeping it fresh, local and seasonal.

Coffee is from the ever-reliable Market Lane, and made well. This should possibly be the headline for a cafe on a roadtrip route like Sonny – but in fact, the food is the best excuse to stop and take a lunch break in Inverleigh.

There’s a lot of love from local producers when it comes to the food at Sonny. Veggies are literally delivered to the kitchen by a tractor from the farm over the back, beef comes from Sage Farm down the road and wines are from the Moorabool Valley.

In keeping with the commitment to local, fresh produce, Sonny hosts a swap-meet for growers of fruits and vegetables on the weekends. If you happen upon this, don’t be shy! Just because you’ve come empty-handed doesn’t mean you have to leave that way.

Bannockburn Station

Railway Stations are generally fairly functional spaces, not usually described as ‘pretty’. Bannockburn is blessed with a beautiful stone cottage built in 1862 as a railway station, and now that trains don’t operate, it serves as a stunning venue for food and wine.

Cakes are something of a specialty at Bannockburn Station. In fact, in a way it’s the cakes that are responsible for Fiona starting the cafe in the first place. She was already turning out cakes for others from her own kitchen, and it seemed logical to give them their own cafe!

The menu is simple and generous – local produce cooked with care, nothing pretentious, no molecular gastronomy. It’s the kind of place that becomes a regular stop if you’re driving the Geelong to Ballarat route. You’d happily make time in your plans to stop for breakfast in the morning or lunch if you leave a little later.

Shepparton Brewery

For a place that hasn’t been open long, the Shepparton Brewery sure feels like a part of the furniture already. Maybe it’s the relaxed architectural design, the familiar and comfortable food, or the family-owned vibe. There’s a “Hey, this place is cool!” moment as soon as you walk in, followed by a sense of ease when it comes to ordering beers and food, and just having a bloody good time.

If a couple of items on the menu sound familiar, it might be because some of Anaya’s greatest hits have migrated from that perennial Shepparton fave with Chef Karan ‘Dave’ Bisht – like the eggplant chips (OMG). They sit comfortably on the list with wood-fired pizzas, house-made pickles, and slow-cooked ribs.

If some of the faces seem familiar too, it might be because owners Daina Winch and Matt Milsome have brought their vast experience from running The Teller Collective and Fryer Street Food Store to this new venture.

While there’s a deal of comfort and familiarity, don’t mistake it for cliches. The small-batch nature of the brewery means they can push the boundaries while still catering to beer newcomers.  There are some cheeky references to Shepparton culture, too. Look for the mid-strength beer, and ask about the name for a good story and a trip down memory lane.