The area around Tahbilk, just outside Nagambie in Central Victoria, is a unique little pocket of land almost surrounded by the Goulburn River and eight kilometres of permanent backwaters and creeks. The Purbrick family first planted vines here in 1860, and some of those vines are still producing fruit for their ‘1860’ shiraz today. The location adjacent to so much water has enough impact on the climate that the grape-growing creates flavours unique to the region. The French would name this little area for its own ‘appellation’, as a result.
Tahbilk’s historic winery and cellar door is an experience in itself. The ancient oak fermenters in the cellar door are not just for show. This is a working winery, using equipment that in some cases is over a hundred years old.
The restaurant on site is modern by comparison, and the food equally so. It’s a menu of sure-fire winners and crowd pleasers. Who can say no to the perfect pork belly or luscious little lumps of slow-cooked beef, pulled, pressed, crumbed and deep-fried. Ooh la la. A 2014 shiraz from the Estate was a sublime pairing with the beef.
Definitely take the short detour off the highway near Nagambie, and drop in for lunch and a lesson in the history of winemaking. Don’t forget to spend some time walking around the pristine wetlands at Tahbilk. There’s eight kilometres of waterfront, and a boat tour that’s totally worth the time. Tahbilk has a commitment to sustainability and carbon neutrality that is leading the way for the wine industry.
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.
Beechworth is bushranger central. At least, it was in the 1800s. That’s where this walking tour takes you back to – the heady and dangerous days of the frontier and goldfields in Victoria’s high country, centred in Beechworth. It’s Ned Kelly and Harry Power country, and the streets come alive with the aid of a professional guide. They’ll fill in the blanks and point out the large and small points of historical significance.
Walking down the streets of Beechworth, where buildings have remained largely unchanged since they were constructed during the gold rush, and listening to stories and characterisations that give voice to the moments we learnt about at school is an immersive experience. Imagining the likes of Ned Kelly walking through the door of the pub or being escorted from the courthouse is easy when the story is told so vividly.
Tours run daily and are well worth the small price, which also provides entry to the Burke Museum, Ned Kelly Vault and Courthouse.
The Spa Beechworth is an intensely personal experience where each treatment is carefully considered and customised to your needs. The old Benevolent Children’s Home building, stunningly renovated and fitted out, is a peaceful and quiet place to be. Each room is so tastefully designed, right down to the linen, that you can’t help but take a deep breath and smile that little smile of being in your happy place.
The therapist sets aside ample time to make sure that treatments happen slowly, quietly, and in a very honest and genuine way. There’s none of the pretense of day-spa speak. Just gentle, smiling faces and a conversation that leads through how a schedule of treatment could include quiet contemplation, massage, skin therapy, a bath or shower – whatever is needed to just relax for the afternoon.
Treatment is discreet, quiet, professional, and in the most beautiful way, gentle and honest. The therapists respect shyness, and ask lots of questions to make sure that any existing injuries are delicately handled. There’s no sense at any time that they are running to a time limit or a budget. Treatments like this take quite a while, but the time passes easily and it’s over all too soon.
For a longer retreat, The Spa is opening its accommodation in July 2019, so bear this in mind when you’re booking an escape from the noise of everyday life.
A Bohemian icon for decades, Monstalvat sits in the bushland just outside of Eltham, about half an hour from Melbourne. It’s been an artist colony since it was founded by Justus Jörgensen in 1934 and is an eclectic collection of buildings rambling across an expansive garden property.
The large halls house galleries, which host exhibitions and functions with a bohemian edge. The smaller buildings house studios for resident artists – painters, jewellers, potters, textile designers, glass artists, sculptors and writers. Some of these artists have work for sale in the larger retail space, some offer classes where you can come to learn their techniques.
Montsalvat is rich in the art history of Australia and a wander through the sprawling gardens is the perfect way to slow down from whatever fast-paced life you’re taking a break from. When you’re exploring the grounds and the great halls, and see the pool, the small artist studios and dwellings, it’s easy to imagine being part of the bohemian movement that was inspired by the vibrancy of the surrounds.
The cafe on site is a nice place to stop and recharge, but don’t let your exploration stop there. Take in the various exhibits and spend some time with like-minded people. Who knows, you might find inspiration from the surrounds like Justus Jörgensen.
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.
Here’s a great excuse to get off the Hume on your way up to the snow or Sydney or wherever you’re going. The quirky octagon that houses The Winery Kitchen is serving up simple, truly tasty dishes in a generous Italian family style. With amazing produce right on the property, grown by Somerset Heritage Produce, you can expect fresh, true flavours.
The menu sounds simple, and it is, but that old adage in cooking that simplicity requires skill is true here. These are simple dishes, well executed, and served honestly and with generosity. The wood-fired oven isn’t a gimmick at The Winery Kitchen, it’s just the best way to cook pizzas.
Don’t be fooled by the little cellar door perched on the hill: Dalwhinnie Estate is a powerhouse in Australian wines. With two wines in Langton’s classification of Australia’s best, the little winery on the hill overlooked by Bunjil the wedged-tail eagle is kicking some goals.
Put all that aside though, because the little room with the big deck overlooking the Pyrenees is spectacular. It’s literally set above the vines, and the designated driver could forgo the spittoon and just spit the tasting back into the vineyard. Just make sure you’re not designated though, because it’s definitely a crime against wine to spit this out at all. Once all the extravagant wine descriptors are put aside, the wines of Dalwhinnie are renowned and lauded for a fairly simple reason – they’re bloody amazing.
Oh, shouldn’t forget the simple platters on offer while sitting out on that deck and enjoying a bottle (not a glass). The produce is local, often made by the owners (such as the stunning chicken and pistachio terrine Jenny made).
The cellar door at Tallis Wines commands what can only be described as a spectacular view. Across lush fields of grain crops, 360 degrees into the vast distance. There is the vineyard down the hill a little, but the Tallis family made the right choice when they decided that the hilltop outside Dookie was the best place for the ‘wow factor’.
Also worthy of a little ‘wow’ is the wine. The soil here is similar to Tuscany, and Tallis makes the most of it with generous, full-flavoured wines. The new release shiraz stood out, with flavours typical of the soils that at one time produced up to one third of the wines made in Victoria.
Food at Tallis is a simple affair. Platters of local produce, pickles, charcuterie, cheeses and relishes are simple and well curated. They are plenty for a hungry couple, and the perfect foil to any of the wines available by the glass.
Take a mo to stretch your legs and follow the signs on the Yorta Yorta interpretive trail as you walk to the peak of the hill. You’ll not only take in the extraordinary view, but you’ll learn a few things about the original custodians of the land, too.
At One Hour Out we are all about the ‘pleasant surprise’. The pretty little town which is an oasis at the end (or middle) of a trip, or the pub that puts up ridiculously good-looking dishes. The nice thing about the Avoca Hotel is that you get all that with an added bonus of the aforementioned ridiculously good-looking dishes actually living up to their pretty visage.
The owners of the pub inherited a renovators’ dream about nine years ago, and essentially gutted the place. It’s not a stuffy gastro-pub fit-out though – it’s still definitely a friendly local. Beers are a mix of old friends and local heroes. The presence of an almost life-sized carved red duck on a beer is good for a laugh as it bobs back and forth like a novelty desktop toy.
The dishes are spectacular to look at and follow through with taste to match. Hay-smoked venison fillet is treated with care and respect, and tastes amazing. There’s some serious talent in the kitchen producing beautiful food like this. True flavours and respect for the integrity of the produce is also apparent in the radish top gazpacho.
There’s plenty to see and do in the region, and the Avoca Hotel definitely makes an overnight stay in the area worthwhile for the travelling food lover.