Nillumbik Estate

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.

The Winery Kitchen

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.

Dalwhinnie Estate

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).

Tallis Wines

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.

Avoca Hotel

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.

Talbot Provedore and Eatery

Christopher and Jayne are both ex-photographers, although one is never really an ex-photographer. One merely becomes preoccupied with other things. The ‘other thing’ that fills their time is a slice of a stunning country town in the form of Talbot Provedore and Eatery.

Christopher was once the chef at the Avoca Hotel and part of a team that won numerous industry accolades. His commitment to excellent food from sustainable, local produce continues at his own venture here in Talbot.

The town plays host to one of the biggest farmers markets in country Victoria every 3rd Sunday of the month, when thousands of people descend on the streets looking for produce straight from the people who grow it. The Provedore and Eatery is designed to be a showcase of the best of the farmers market and other producers from the region. It’s situated right next to a community garden, where the chefs regularly gather whatever is growing and include it in the menu. Fresh produce from the farmers around the district comes in daily, and the menu reflects this.  The wine and beer list contains mostly local heroes, all worthy of the best lists, and all doing something interesting.

Christopher and Jayne are not loud or brash entrepreneur types. They are enterprising, no doubt. But they exude a quiet and passionate commitment to their craft. Saturday nights are a real stretching of the legs for the chefs. It’s a simple degustation of three carefully crafted and exquisitely prepared dishes for pretty short money. Talbot is lucky to have the Provedore and Eatery. Get out there for a weekend, do the Saturday night and the market next day. Good times.

James and Co. Wines

Town-based cellar doors are becoming a thing. In the Yarra Valley there’s Mac Forbes’ little Graceburn Wine Room; Payten and Jones have opened across from Four Pillars. In Rutherlen James and Co. are making Beechworth wines and selling them out of their brand-new and rather stylish shop.

People who love recycled timber made into gorgeous things will love the fit-out. But really, you’re coming here for the wines, so let’s talk sangiovese. Ricky loves sangi. Around Beechworth, people are growing some stunning examples of it. Ricky combines his love of sangiovese with the stunning examples grown around Beechworth to make some excellent wines. His sparkling rosé is dry (minimal residual sugar) and beautiful. I’m sure more-established wineries looked upon a sparkling sangiovese rosé with more than a little curiosity, but far out it’s good. In fact, all the wines are flavour focused, elegant, and finely detailed. You’ll walk away with a collection of beautiful wines that really demonstrates Ricky and Georgie’s passion for what they are doing.

You’ll love the Cheese Your Own Adventure fridge, too. Build your own platter of produce from the fridge at the back of the room, take a board, and make a beeline for one of those beautiful recycled wooden tables.

It would be remiss of us to fail to mention Georgie’s photography, which adorns one side of the space. She’s got talent, and it’s on display as you sit and take in both wines and imagery.

Nourish’d Eatery

Nourish’d is the kind of place that we go searching for in the hippest parts of Melbourne when we’re on that health kick, but still need really tasty food. It’s terrific to find that a place so far from the health-conscious restaurants of inner Melbourne is walking the walk.

The Sensory Lab coffee here is great, and the daily selection of treats to go with it are the kind of palette pleasers you’d expect at a good Melbourne cafe. At Nourish’d though, there is a reason for everything. The menu is loaded with items that have a purpose in supporting your daily dietary health. Smoothies are a blend of goodies to refresh you, detox you, or give you energy for the day ahead.

Breakfast plates are a balance of ingredients designed to sustain you through the day. The days of the big fry-up breakfast are gone, as we search out options to sustain us as well as make a positive impact on our health. But carnivores need not despair – if you want pork at breakfast time, then the pulled-pork with egg  and superfood toast will delight. It is no surprise, given their proximity to the grain- and pulse-growing centre of Australia, that lentils and quinoa feature on the menu. The gluten-free porridge with turmeric poached pear is pretty damned tasty.

Other local producers feature prominently. Nice to know that the farms you drive past on the way are the sources of your breakfast and lunch.

Summerfield Winery

You know those little places on a road trip that linger like a question mark in the map of where you’ve been? The tiny little one-horse towns that flash past as you wrangle with Google to make sure you’re on the right track? Summerfield wines is the argument for stopping to check out these tiny towns.

Perched on the edge of Moonambel is a winery with a little cellar door and a large lawn. Summerfield is the labour of love of a farming family. Wines are named for the children, with artwork on labels that depict the child’s personality. They are powerful wines with beguiling cold-climate characters. Bold and interesting would be another way to describe them. It’s also an apt description of owner Mark Summerfield. He’s passionate about the place, the grapes he farms and the wines he makes.

Remember the lawn mentioned in the beginning? That’s where you’ll lose a little of your road-trip time with a selection of the goodies available in the tiny delicatessen at Summerfield to accompany a bottle or two of their wines. Mark is also passionate about the rare-breed pigs he farms, and the resulting incredible pork products fill the little deli alongside garlic grown by his children.

Slow down, people, and don’t blink as you pass though lest you miss opportunities like Summerfield. Pin your eyes open and stop!

Yea Emporium and MannaFest Cafe

Yea has had a few good little providores and cafes over the years, and the Emporium is a delightful continuation of the trend. True to the name, there are all manner of goods stocking the shelves – local produce, organic foods and cosmetics, bric-a-brac, and of course, food from the MannaFest Cafe.

The menu is homely and dishes like vegetable curries and soups are welcomed on cold days. Most of the produce is grown in the substantial garden on the property. There are local wines from the likes of Philip Lobley and Sedona Estate, as well as beers from Napoleone and Hargreaves Hill.

Of course, by committing to growing most of their food, they are also committing to changing menus regularly. There’s loads of preserves, pickles, and ferments too, ensuring there’s always something delicious from the garden.

Coffee is from the always excellent roastery of Mansfield Coffee Merchant, an OHO fave from the region.