Fowles Wines

Sitting down with four glasses of wine, each matched to the perfect food companion, might be the new definition of awesome. This is the Fowles Wines ‘Gamekeeper’s Lunch’. You get the impression that there is a tweed-wearing employee out the back who’s handy with a 12-gauge shotgun and skilled in the art of delicate food preparation.

Smoked eel has one of those flavours that when you speak of it, your memory plays tricks and you feel as though you’re tasting it. The fellow out back has paired it with a riesling which is focused and acidic, with balanced fruit. Rabbit rillette is meaty and flavoursome, matched to a fresh zippy chardonnay.

Duck and pinot noir are best friends – maybe even lovers. In this pairing the confit duck is crispy and full of flavour, and the pinot is elegant, savoury and beautifully rounded.

The finale is beetroot chutney and kangaroo. It’s the OMG moment. Earthy, sticky, charred and delicious. The shiraz is jammy and generous to match.

 

Saltwater Phillip Island

Saltwater Phillip Island opened a while back in an incredible waterside position at San Remo on the Phillip Island side. The water dominates 270 degrees of the view, from the bridge to the mainland around to the waters of Westernport. It boasts a wood-fired pizza oven, inside or outside dining, and an impressive bar.

Of course, sitting in a place like this, looking across the water to the fishing boats moored under the lee of the bridge, you’d expect seafood to be local. It’s exciting when the chef points to the boats and says, ‘That’s where the calamari came from today.’

The beers are a good mix of local and from further afield, as are the wines. A seasonal menu makes use of local produce, like Archie’s Creek rib-eye, and Koo Wee Rup asparagus.

If you’re a fan of Innocent Bystander in the Yarra Valley, then this is a no-brainer for you. The warehouse vibe, the casual fun food turned out to very high standard, combined with that view, make Saltwater an easy sell.

Phillip Island Winery

Here’s a reminder to people who might wonder what on earth a tiny coastal hamlet has to offer the wine lover. Phillip Island is nestled just next to the Gippsland coast. So, all those things you love about the flavour of Gippsland wines apply here. The wines are complex and full of character. But that’s not the whole story.

The owners of this place have form putting together the kind of venue where you want to spend a lazy afternoon with friends, having made a success out of the Westernport Hotel. The experience shows. Decor is considered and comfortable, dining choices from inside, to the outside open fire, to the expansive lawns are all beautifully put together without being fussy. Food is casual, from local produce. It’s for sharing, or for keeping to yourself, depending on how much you love your friends. The wines are on taste in the cellar door, so have a look before you order with lunch.

The venue is perfect for larger events, with a couple of spaces designed for the purpose. But don’t let that thought put you off an intimate lunch here, because that stunning view across the paddocks to Westernport is the prettiest way to spend a quiet foodie afternoon with wine and the person you love.

There’s a quirky bonus in visiting the winery, in the form of a little farm-gate style shop/studio for floral designer and stylist Bec Newman.

Warmer months here are ideal for a venue that boasts so many outdoor options, including the atrium, bean bags, live music, and a menu for your dog.

Yabby Lake

You might know Yabby Lake for its wines. The wines from winemaker Tom Carson are exquisite, and the subject of many a wine review containing rapturous hyperbole. The 2014 pinot noir quite famously won the Jimmy Watson Trophy – Australia’s most prestigious wine gong. It was the first pinot noir to do so.

The cellar door is a welcome breath of casual air, despite the lofty reputation of the wines. It’s a nice place to stand and taste a few of the award-winning wines while staring at either the sculpture collection, the view across the vineyards, or that Jimmy Watson Trophy in the cabinet. Take a little time to try the single block wines if you have the opportunity – they are a stunning lesson in terroir*.

The tasting is a lovely prelude to a long lunch. The menu is casual but sophisticated, the plates generous but refined.

There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than sitting in front of a view drinking some of Australia’s best wines, eating good food, and pondering the artworks. The Kirby family are well known patrons of the arts in Australia, and the collection at Yabby Lake is significant.

The attention to detail extends right to the end (or the beginning, depending on your preference) with expertly made Market Lane coffee.

* a French term which roughly translates as ‘the influence of all things local to a place upon the end product’.

Rokeby to Neerim Trail

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey, right? Like when you’ve got a whole day for a road trip and you’re all about the journey? But then you get in the car, punch in the GPS location, drive for a bit and then that GPS voice gets all angry when you take a turn off the path –suddenly, you’re all destination focussed. Read on and let OHO remind you why you should mute Google Maps and adjust your trip a little.

The back roads from the Yarra Valley into Gippsland via Neerim and Noojee are a stunning detour in themselves. Program your route to go via the C-roads, off the Princes Highway. Drag that blue line out to Neerim and Noojee. You won’t regret the extra time, particularly as you come through the Murchison gap. Stunning.

While you’re in the area, get out of the car and take a short walk into the Neerim-Rokeby trail. For us it was the perfect place to stretch the dog’s legs along the super-easy and flat rail trail. It features a historic trestle bridge that makes for a fine photographic subject. The complete walk is 12.6km, but you can park and do it in sections if you’re just out to stretch the dog’s legs. OHO kelpie Rosie approves.

Whilst on the topic of bridges, you should also stop at the Noojee trestle bridge. This one you can climb up to, walk across, and complete a circuit walk. It’s a spectacular wooden bridge in really great condition: discoveries like this at the end of a pointing brown tourist information sign are the reason it’s about the journey, not just the insistent voice of destination-focussed Google Maps.

Boat O’Craigo

With a name that harks back to the Scottish ancestral roots of owners the Graham family, Boat O’Craigo punches way above its weight for quality wines. Indeed, Halliday named it as ‘Dark Horse Winery of the Year’ in 2018. The cellar door on the high side of Healesville heading out of town is a perfect place to sit and lose a couple of hours trying wines and eating platters of local produce, or the simple traditional pizzas expertly turned out of the tiny kitchen.

Wines are made by the legendary Rob Dolan at his Warranwood facility, from fruit grown on the two estate sites at Kangaroo Ground and Healesville. Quality is high, with an emphasis on wines made for drinking and enjoying. Rob is known for his generous winemaking style, and Boat O’Craigo wines definitely fit that bill.

The deck outside shares the close panorama of Mt Riddell with the dining area inside the building. For people who might be heading up to Marysville or just on a drive up the Black Spur, stepping out of the car and encountering the stunning view across the lush vineyard to the foot of the mountain comes as something of a surprise. It’s easily overlooked as you head up the highway, but with the triple threat of great wine, food and a surprise view, it’s a must-stop venue.

Oakridge

You might know Oakridge for its deserved reputation as a producer of some of the best wines in Australia. The best wine writers consistently score Oakridge’s sacred drop over 95 points, and for good reason. The cellar door and restaurant, set in the middle of the vineyards at Coldstream, is a beautiful architectural work of minimalist art, and is the perfect place to try all the latest as well as some selected museum releases. Winemaker David Bicknell is one of the greats, described by James Halliday as ‘an extremely gifted winemaker’, so the opportunity to sample the wines with knowledgeable staff is one you should consider seriously as a life goal.

Another life goal should be to eat the food of Oakridge’s dynamic duo, Matt Stone and Jo Barrett. Both might appear familiar to you from cameo appearances on TV shows, including MasterChef. The ethos of local and seasonal is taken seriously, with an array of just-picked produce coming straight out of the large garden behind the winery. Matt handles the savoury flavours delicately and with such finesse that you’ll be hard-pressed to resist the instagram urge before devouring. Go slowly, because you’ll want to remember every bite. The same is true of Jo’s exquisite desserts.

One of the things we all look for when we go out to dine is flavour that we won’t experience at home. Jo and Matt both pair flavours with such bold confidence, you’re guaranteed a unique taste experience that you won’t get anywhere else, much less at home. Some flavours seem so unusual, ethereal and beautiful that they’re impossible to put a finger on. Who’d have thought that the lime-like acidity in a dish might come from the unexpectedly delicious addition of green ants?

 

Clyde Park

Clyde Park is one of those jaw-dropping moments in wine touring. You step out of the car behind the winery, walk around to the restaurant and cellar door, and find yourself looking over a balcony across the valley. It’s a stunning view across the vines. Pinot lovers will have a field day here. It’s a study in terroir – the impact of local conditions, soils, etc on specific sites. Here they craft single-block wines of such different refined character that it’s hard to believe they come from the same property.

The real bonus here is that the food is amazing. Great wood-fired pizzas cooked in front of you (weekends), and a seasonal al la carté menu with what owner Sue humbly calls “home-style” food. It’s the kind of home I’d like to live in, if this is what’s cooked there. It’s so easy to spend half a day here, tasting extraordinary wine, eating Sue’s food and staring out at that view. Wow, that view.

Oh, if you’re planning a special event, while you’re standing at the tasting bar, turn 180 degrees and stare at  the awesomeness that is the barrel-hall event space. Long table dinner or lunch in a working winery. Perfect.

Merricks General Wine Store

It’s been a while since the last visit to Merricks General Wine Store. I had fond memories of a great long lunches with a bunch of day-tripping friends. We’d seen a few wineries, walked on a wintery beach at Shoreham, and sat around a long table swapping dishes, tasting everything and sharing some great wines. The ownership has changed since then, but my memories are accurate. This place is just a perfect pause in the middle of a long weekend or just a long day out.

French chef Patrice Repellin’s food is seasonal, from local produce. We’d been to a farm-gate store where they were growing mushrooms earlier in our day out, and it was fantastic to then eat the king brown mushrooms in a dish a few hours later.

Wines are mostly local, showcasing in particular the wines of the Baillieu vineyards and other “friends of the wine store.”

Don’t miss the art gallery next door. It has a regularly changing exhibition. Also, if you’re on an early run and just want a coffee, they have a hole-in-the-wall style cafe too.

Balgownie Estate Bendigo

If you’re familiar with Balgownie Estate Yarra Valley, going to the Bendigo side of the family is like visiting that cousin in the country who has the lifestyle you’ve always dreamt of. Laid-back, casual, super-relaxed about being incredibly lucky to live in a beautiful place. This cousin is the envy of its slick sister.

The Bendigo property was the first to bear the name ‘Balgownie’, planted in 1969 by Stuart Anderson. It’s 33 hectares of mostly red grape varieties, producing powerful and intense wines, but which still show restraint in alcohol.

Food by chef Travis is French inspired, and makes the most of the region’s stunning produce. Particularly noteworthy is the Wagyu beef, grown by an old school mate of Travis’s. Fresh boxes of local food come in from producers, inspiring the classically trained chef to create new dishes. There’s beauty and finesse in the food, but the atmosphere is relaxed and very ‘country’.

The property also has accommodation. There’s a newly renovated set of suites, joined in the middle by a large common area with kitchen, perfect for a big group weekend away. The popular ‘glamping’ tents are a must-do experience, set in the bushland adjacent to the restaurant and winery, overlooking the spectacular vineyard. Each is equipped with air-conditioning and a fridge, and the deluxe tents even have bathrooms. It’s still camping, but definitely on the glamorous side!