Bank Street Wood Fired Pizza & Garden

Sometimes a room just feels right. The worn timbers hugging your group at Bank Street Pizza are the remnants of the 19th century Avenel bank before it was converted in 2011 by hospitality old hands Callum and Janelle.

It seems every ingredient has a story here. The ‘Jill’ in ‘Jill’s pork and veal terrine’ was a work colleague from Callum’s Melbourne days. The rocket underneath is sourced from Yellow Box Growers in nearby Seymour. And Michelle Wilkinson drops off boxes of farm-grown mushrooms for the eponymous Michelle’s Magic Mushrooms pizza, laced with truffle oil.

‘The Faz’ pizza (tomato, fetta, charred peppers and pancetta, topped with pesto and mozzarella) is named in honour of wood fire oven expert Tony Fazio, who helped Callum get the oven up and running in the early days.

Being roughly halfway between Melbourne and Wodonga, it’s the perfect place to pull off the Hume for a quick, casual lunch. The extensive back garden is verging on magical and a great spot to stretch little legs.

Innocent Bystander

Innocent Bystander is back, right across the car park from Giant Steps (where they were once housed under the same roof). It’s a familiar vibe, but like a great second marriage, it’s a bit more sophisticated. The wood-fired pizzas are there, the tapas are there, and the great wines are there. Only now the wines are on tap. Yes. Tap. It’s a revolutionary system developed to pour everything from chilled Prosecco or everyone’s favourite Moscato through to the Shiraz, which by the glass is a perfect foil for those wood-fired pizzas. By the flask, it’s fun to share.

There are loads of details to take in here while you’re spending a long lazy lunch with friends or a cheeky midweek dinner excursion. Take home your bread or pick up your coffee early.

Austin’s & Co.

This is one of those ‘you’d better sign up to the mailing list’ moments, because you’ll want to book early. The monthly lunches are a long-table affair, showcasing the local produce and, of course, Scott’s wine. We had the mainstay Chardonnay and Pinot. It’s an education in the influence of maritime conditions on the growing of grapes. These wines have a delicious complexity afforded them by the climate. 

Bright Chocolate

Honestly, if your best chocolate experience involved a mass-produced bar of something brown, you need to listen up.

Chocolate is like wine. Chocolate is like coffee. Chocolate is as seasonal as your tomatoes and apples. Speaking of apples, different places grow different tasting cacao. And this all adds up to single-origin chocolates which show all these variations in flavour. It’s exciting the first time you see it and taste it for yourself. There’s no better place than Bright Chocolate to have this experience. Here, the chocolate is made in front of you – from the cacao beans through to the packaged product. One of the few makers in Australia to commit to the whole process from bean to bar, Bright Chocolate gives you an experience every chocolate lover needs.

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.

Pierrepoint Wines

Andrew and Jenny are the kind of family hosts you expect from a little cellar door on a private property. They love what they do, though like most growers and makers, they question their own sanity. We didn’t have any further questions after sampling the wines, though. They’re all a perfect education in terroir – that fancy French word for the intangible combination of place, climate, season, and ‘vibe’ that makes wines taste the way they do. Regular music gigs held at the venue make it worth signing up to the newsletter.

These little places are why we leave the city for a long weekend.

Hogget Kitchen

When a chef and two winemakers conspire, it’s usually a good thing. It usually means food+wine=good. Hogget Kitchen is no different. In the winery, Bill Downie and Patrick O’Sullivan. You might recognise those Reg Mombassa labels Bill is famous for. In the kitchen, Trevor Perkins with brother Steve.

Trev is quietly spoken, passionate about food and provenance, but in a way that just gets the job done. No fanfare. Just, “Oh, I picked the tomatoes from Mum’s garden”, and “Yeah, we grew up cooking, hunting for meat, that sort of thing”,  and “Yeah, I built the hot smoker from scratch, to get one I liked.”

The food is a simple, beautiful, produce-driven style, not overly presented, and it’s all from around here. We had Trev’s mum’s heirloom tomato salad, (best tomatoes ever), flathead and Dobsons potatoes (perfect), Bresaola and radishes (sublime, cured in-house), and a simple little dish Trev called “Steak and chips.” OK, it was a steak and potato chips, but what you need to know is that the beef is dry-aged in the cabinet at the front of the open kitchen. It’s cooked carefully in the pan to get that golden crust on the outside and be gloriously soft and pink on the inside. It’s finished with Trev’s mum’s own Worcestershire sauce, and served with the crispiest golden potato chips ever.  O. M. G.