The Bellarine Peninsula is home to some amazing little finds, most of them set away from the main roads and found by local knowledge or that article you read once somewhere. Basils Farm is a vineyard and restaurant at the end of a spectacular driveway, through the vines, and almost on the beach overlooking the water to Queenscliff. Getting out of the car and discovering where you are is just the start of a beautifully surprising adventure.
With an almost Royal Mail–like attention to the provenance of their produce, they are crafting tasty dishes with veg from their extensive garden (a small section of which you are free to roam). The wines made on the estate are equally as fine and detailed. Two styles of chardonnay are particularly interesting, as is the maritime influence seen in the pinot noir.
From farm gate store to impressive food emporium: Kelly started selling her family’s beef products direct to the public at the back of a fruit and veg market. Before she knew it, with huge public support for her approach to organic goodness, she added a health foods and natural goods store. This is like a familiar Fitzroy fave in the middle of country Victoria. It’s a hub for locals who want local, ethical food, but it also carries all your regular natural products. It’s possibly the biggest organics, natural products, and food market we’ve ever seen.
There’s something lovely about plated single dishes from an à la carte menu, and professional, attentive service. In contrast to the ‘all dishes on the table, share the love’ approach, there’s an almost quiet, contemplative joy in studying the menu, ordering for yourself, and then talking with your company about all the elements in your meal as it comes out.
The Rathbone family have been custodians of this vineyard and property since the mid ’90s, though there has been wine made here before then. Very good wine, in fact. The Ryrie brothers, then the De Castella family, made some impressive red wines here. Sadly, with the destruction of the wine industry from a little bug called phylloxera, the property moved to other agricultural practices. The vision of a few pioneers in the 1970s and ’80s saw the first returns to grape growing and winemaking.
Of course, at the cellar door you can sample the excellent wines made on site by chief winemaker Willy Lunn. The cellar door is one of the older buildings on site, formerly the winery from 1859. Now it does triple-duty as cellar door, gallery and produce store. The produce is a representation of the monthly farmers market held in the barn. It’s all local, all lovely. The gallery showcases artworks from emerging artists and also hosts the annual Yering Sculpture Prize. Money from the gallery’s sale commissions go to the Children’s Leukaemia charity, Larch – a long-standing Rathbone family commitment.
All that makes for interesting conversation over a meal at tables set in a mighty glass, stone and steel structure overlooking the rolling green pastures, vineyards, hills, and skies until tomorrow. When the food arrives at the table, you’ll be tempted to whip out the phone and Instagram it, but resist the urge. Just take in the view, the setting, and the beauty, and re-post someone else’s picture.
If you’re new to wine, this is a must-visit for a lesson in the history of wine in Australia. If you’re a seasoned wine-lover, then this is a pilgrimage.
Best’s is like walking into a piece of Australia’s post-goldrush past – a time when wine growers had little idea what would grow well or what would make a good wine in a country so far from the indigenous soils of grapevines, so they planted one of everything.
Now Best’s is a modern wine-making facility owned and operated for four generations by the Thomson family after a series of Best family splits, deaths and sales. It is a complex history which Viv will gladly regale you with. The property is set on the flat land of Great Western, at the foot of the Grampians. Beneath the rustic log-cabin cellar door there are the original dug-in storage vats, lined with years and years of paraffin wax. You are free to walk down to explore among the museum stock, the old barrels and vats, and the ancient wine-making machinery.
The wine here is a happy place for this author. Old cabernets so fragrant they could be worn as cologne, and intriguing white blends worthy of the high scores given by revered wine writers like James Halliday. The museum tasting experience of six old wines is a rare treat. It’s not often you’ll get to taste a 1999 cabernet at a cellar door. For beginners, it’s a treat to see how wine ages, and the virtues of cellaring.
Go for the history lesson, stay a while for the wine.
A winery with a name is not unusual. Most are named for families, properties, or a geographical feature. In France, wines are named for the place – the region, the Chateau (winemaking house) and the quality of the vineyard. It’s refreshing to find a placed named simply for the names of the two people who own it. Helen and Joey have hit the ground running since purchasing the Fernando vineyard a few years back. In short order, Helen has made a passionate lunge at carving out a corner of the Yarra Valley wine industry.
The cellar door is a simple building perched on the hill with amazing views across the valley floor to the ranges beyond. Keep an eye out for a few unicorns between. The focus is squarely on the wines, made skilfully by Meg Brodtmann. The range is extensive, but the core is always the Alena, Layla, and Inara wines, expressing the strengths of the valley in chardonnay, pinot, syrah and cabernet. Take a look at the ‘Wayward Child’ labelled wines, too. The skin-contact pinot gris is rosé pink, and textural.
Simple local produce platters can be taken out onto the deck, and with a few glasses of vino, you can while away an afternoon with friends, watching the light change across the valley.
At the heart of this Trentham bakery is a 75-tonne masonry scotch oven, that rarely is left to go cold. It has sat in this same position since 1891, serving a long line of baking families over the years.
The current custodian John Reid, is a student of microbiology and chemistry, forgoing the use of commercial baker’s yeast for a wild culture to make their much sought after fermented sourdough bread. It’s nutty and hearty, with an attractive chew. Best friends with butter and vegemite.
Each month John runs a workshop for those interested in the process for making a natural, sourdough bread and the beauty of seeing one of the countries last remaining scotch ovens in action.
The cosy cafe space is an extension to the original bakery and is a mecca for coffee, hot chocolates, homemade-sausages rolls and an outstanding vanilla slice.
Come just before Easter and stock up on freshly baked hot-crossed buns.
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.
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’.
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.
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.