Grampians Olive Co.

At the base of a spectacular Grampians escarpment is an olive grove that plays home to the Grampians Olive Co. It’s reminiscent of old Mediterranean groves, with gnarly weather-worn trees planted into rocky soil, fighting the elements to survive. The result is flavourful olives producing bright peppery oil of exceptional quality.

Greg Mathews, in the second generation of his family to run this grove, tells us that this plantation was put down in 1943. It’s a small operation, though 28 000 trees does sound like a lot. All the fruit is processed on site: pressed and bottled. The farm gate is a nice way to sample some of the fresh oil from the most recent harvest. Wow, what a difference in flavour there is from fresh oil! It makes a great substitute for butter, just poured over good bread.

Definitely worth a visit to stock up on high-quality oil for your road trip picnics.

Tooboorac Hotel and Brewery

Is there anything as country as a proper country pub? The Tooboorac is the genuine article. There’s a bar, a small dining room and a function room, but that’s not the story here, or even the reason to detour and spend a little time immersed in its rustic charms. There are two compelling arguments to stop here – beer and pies.

The beer is all brewed on site in the micro-brewery out the back (by an appropriately bearded brewer). With so many beers to taste, it’s worth putting some time aside. The names are intriguing invitations to try, such as ‘Cashed Up Summer Ale’, ‘Gunslinger’, ‘Blacksmiths’, and more. During warmer months the ‘Beerbulance’ makes regular trips to festivals, markets and food van parks with its kegs of delight. Try it there, then pop out to the hotel for a beer and a pie.

Oh, the pies. These are no ordinary pastries with a random meat reference. Lamb and Shiraz, Rabbit, Beef and Ale, to name just three.

Worth the detour.

Pickled Sisters

Rutherglen is part of a little cluster of towns right near the NSW border.  Within ten minutes’ reach you have Rutherglen, Wahgunyah and, just over the border, Corowa. So many producers of quality food are in the surrounding area that really, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to find Pickled Sisters doing such fine fare, nor that they’ve been doing it for so long.

It’s fair to call the restaurant a shed – that’s what it is. There’s nothing wrong with that in OHO’s reckoning. Sheds are where some of the best stuff gets made. In this particular shed, chef Stuart is quietly turning out some stunning-looking and beautiful-tasting food. The approach is simple – take good produce, respect it, and serve it with local wines.

Although Pickled Sisters shares the shed with Cofield Wines, the wine list is not limited to that one label. It’s a real showcase of the region’s best. In fact, it wouldn’t be unusual to spot a local winemaker like Mandy Jones dropping off another case.

If you have a tendency to get pickled yourself, you could plan ahead and book one or two of the ‘glamping’ tents situated at the very edge of the vineyard. These are tents in the literal sense, if not the traditional. Yes, there’s canvas and a fire. But when was the last time your tent was fully carpeted, had a queen-size bed, air conditioning and a fully stocked wine fridge?

It’s worth keeping in touch with the Sisters event schedule. The cooking classes would make for a fab fun weekend in a shed.

Sally’s Paddock at Redbank Winery

For those who remember what they were drinking in the Melbourne restaurant scene a decade or so ago, Sally’s Paddock was a prominent feature at the premium end of the wine lists in some of the top eateries in town. Now, with the emergence of the next generation in the family, Sasha Fair is making sure that the wines from the Redbank winery are true to the reputation earned by her family – a reputation which includes the classification ‘Distinguished Winery’ from Langton’s.

The building that was put up to serve as the winery in the 70s now does duty as cellar door. Its remarkable timber shingle roof is a feature that takes your eye as soon as you come in. The cellar door is a great place to sit at a long table with a bunch of friends and kill a few hours with local produce platters and the truly amazing wines that Sasha is making.

In case you’re wondering about that gorgeous little mudbrick house as you come up the long drive to the winery, the answer is yes – it is available for rent for up to three couples at a time.

Sally’s Paddock is a stalwart of the Pyrenees wine industry, and plays host to local events (such as the Ballarat Winter Festival) when they pop up on the regional event calendar. It’s a spectacular spot, and events on the property are relaxed and fun.

Choose your own adventure: Exploring the You Yangs & Moorabool Valley

Images Supplied

They say life is all about balance, a bit of yin with your yang, so to speak. We all know that getting outside to blow away the cobwebs is not only good for the body, but it’s also good for the soul. We’ve rounded up a host of activities in the Moorabool Valley to get you out and about (while we can) and sweetened it with some treats for afterwards.

Walking MelbourneYou Yangs Regional Park

You’ve definitely seen them from across the bay, or perhaps from the city’s outskirts, those hills on the horizon. The You Yangs (Wurdi Youang) are a group of 24km long granite outcrops an hour southwest of Melbourne near the town of Little River. Time to pay them a visit!

Topping out at 319m is the park’s highest point, Flinders Peak. Those who make the 3.2km one-hour return walk will be well-rewarded with stunning views across the volcanic plains back towards Melbourne or south to Geelong.

From the eastern lookout, the eagle-eyed will also spy the geoglyph of Bunjil, creator spirit of the Wadawurrung people, traditional custodians of the region. Artist Andrew Rogers utilised 1500 tonnes of granite and limestone rock to form the wedge-tail eagle geoglyph, in recognition of the Wadawurrung people’s connection to the land.

Iconic Australian painter Fred Williams was known to spend much time painting en plein air in the region. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to create your own masterpiece?

Bike Riding MelbourneIf you’re the type who likes to get the blood really pumping, you might like to bring your mountain bike and hit some of the 50km of purpose-built trails across two dedicated zones. Maybe horse riding, orienteering, rock-climbing, abseiling or bushwalking is more your speed? If so, there are dozens of trails from the family-friendly through to the more challenging to choose from.

If that all sounds a little exhausting, you could always try your hand at some birdwatching or perhaps a gentle stroll to one of the nine designated picnic areas.

The You Yangs Regional Park is open every day from 7am and closing at 5pm (6pm from Daylight Savings). Access to the park from Princess Freeway is signposted via Lara. Facilities include picnic areas (barbecues, tables and toilets available) as well as drinking water available from the Visitors Centre.

Serendip Sanctuary Wildlife Park

Melbourne wildlife
© Barbara Dawn

Only 10 minutes further south is the Serendip Sanctuary. Soak in the serenity or explore some of the 250ha of wetlands and grassy woodlands. Experience your own close encounter with some native wildlife on one of the popular and wheelchair-accessible nature trails. Spot a mob of emus, Eastern Grey kangaroos or even a Tawny Frogmouth from one of the many bird hides.

With an emphasis on education, the sanctuary offers a Junior Rangers Program for families during school holidays as well as downloadable DIY activity sheets. Discover how some of Victoria’s most threatened species are being protected at the sanctuary’s education facility, old school and screen-free.

Serendip Sanctuary is open every day except Christmas Day & Good Friday from 8am until 4pm. Facilities include picnic areas, barbecues, tables, toilets and drinking water.

Brisbane Ranges National Park

National Parks MelbourneDrive half an hour west and you’ve arrived at Brisbane Ranges National Park and Steiglitz Historic Park. Ten points if you time your visit for spring’s magnificent wildflower displays including the rarely seen Velvet Daisy-bush and Brisbane Ranges Grevillea.

But first let’s start the adrenaline racing with some rock-climbing, abseiling, horse riding, kayaking/rafting or bushwalking (trails range from a couple of hours to several days). Camping areas with tank water and pit toilets available, bookings required. Picnic areas include wood barbecues, tables and toilets.

As with any visit to the great outdoors, best to check forecasted weather as well as location conditions. Visit Parks Victoria for more information.

Reckon you’ve earned a reward or two?

Farmers Market MelbourneFortunately, an area so rich in outdoor activities is also blessed with a cornucopia of food and drink choices.

Golden Plains Farmers Market is held the first Saturday of every month and is the ideal place to begin. If you miss that, no matter; the region is well placed with a slew of farm gates and providores.

Moorabool Valley Chocolate Pick up some handmade truffles made with the freshest ingredients from this family-owned small business.

Meredith Dairy The Cameron family have been responsibly and sustainably farming sheep and goats since the early 1990s, creating one of Australia’s most iconic farmhouse cheeses which are now exported to the world.

Inverleigh Bakehouse An old-school country bakery is a thing of beauty and this converted 1868 homestead doesn’t disappoint with artisan breads as well as tempting pastries and cakes.

Clyde ParkBread cheese and chocolate – tick! Now you need something to drink. Thankfully this cool climate wine region offers boutique wineries, renowned cellar doors and winery restaurants both large and small, so you’re sure to find one to suit.

Clyde Park Vineyard and Bistro Step into the cellar door and secure a spot by the fire before tasting through their award-winning wines whilst taking in sweeping views over the Moorabool Valley. This family-friendly bistro is open daily offering everything from a quick nibble through to a three-course meal.

Del Rios Wines Enjoy a long, lazy lunch centred around their estate-grown produce (including Black Angus beef) complemented by an extensive wine portfolio.

No doubt this has whet your appetite to explore the region. You’ll only wonder what took you so long.

We wish to acknowledge the Wadawurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.

Lake Moodemere Estate

There’s something fun and interesting about visiting a place with a bit of family history. Maybe it’s the respect for that singular family focus, or maybe it’s just the old stuff in the sheds. At Lake Moodemere Estate it’s all of this plus the new generation’s enthusiasm to both respect tradition and move ahead with innovation. It was delightful, but no surprise, to be introduced to one family member after another: all passionate about the property, the vines, the wines, the lamb, and the visitor experience. Seven generations in, vineyard manager Joel Chambers speaks with such passion about his work, the legacy of his family, and the bright future he sees for the wines the family has been producing since 1858.

Rutherglen as a region is traditionally regarded as a producer of big (huge) red wines like durif and fortified muscat. Some old-school outfits are well known for their blow-your-head-off durif at 16% to 18% alcohol. Not so at Moodemere. Whilst respecting the plantings of earlier generations, the current custodians (Joel’s dad Michael and mum Belinda) are making finer, lower-alcohol, flavour-focused wines. There’s cabernet sauvignon, cinsaut, syrah, merlot and chardonnay, to name a few lesser-planted varieties amongst those more common in the area.

Of course, all this is nonsense without a word for the place you’ll visit. The ancient trees hang glorious green-laden branches over a green lawn that looks down a vast, prehistoric riverbank to the lake below. Tables set for maximum view-soaking pleasure are the perfect setting for a platter of locally sourced produce, including lamb from the property (try the terrine, OMG). If you want to talk low food-miles, everything on the platter is from inside the Indigo Shire.

Your next event could well be a divine summer-sunset soirée at this spot. Or, for something more private, book the lakehouse accommodation and sit on the banks of the river. Just soak it in.

 

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.