“Age is just a number.
It’s totally irrelevant unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.”
~ Joan Collins, US actress and author
It hardly seems a year ago that my friends Molly, KC and I were tasting wine in Yarra Valley. One of the best things about Victoria’s wine growing regions is that they are just an hour’s leisurely drive from Melbourne.
On this trip, we decide to venture south to the Mornington Peninsula, a mere 80 kilometres from the heart of Melbourne.
Our escapade took us to seven wineries noted for its chardonnay and pinot noir from this region. I hope to give you a glimpse of a beautiful day spent around the vineyards because it is truly an enchanting place to find some peace and serenity from hectic city living.
- Yabby Lake Vineyard
- Dromana Estate
- Port Phillip Estate
- Paringa Estate
- Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove
- Ten Minutes By Tractor
Music with wine
Déjà Septembre, composed and performed by
Andre Gagnon and the London Symphony Orchestra
Born on 2 August 1942 in Saint-Pacôme-de-Kamouraska, Andre Gagnon OC, is a Canadian composer and pianist notable for his compositions and arrangements for solo piano and orchestra.
The youngest of nineteen children, Gagnon began composing at the age of six.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “He took theory lessons with Léon Destroismaisons in Ste. Anne-de-la-Pocatière from 1952-53 and studied at the Conservatoire de musique à Montréal with Germaine Malépart (piano), Clermont Pépin (composition), and Gilberte Martin (solfège) from 1957 to 1961. *
Gagnon’s hallmark is haunting melodies from the piano being accompanied by the woodwind and strings of the London Symphony Orchestra. Two pieces from this album remain dear to my heart after so many years ~ Comme Au Premier Jour and Deja Septembre.
In Déjà Septembre (Already in September), the piano introduces a melody which tells the beauty of autumn. At 1:38, the calming timbre of the flute reinforces the glorious colours of this season until the cellos’ haunting at 3:18 reminds us a cold and dark winter is fast descending upon us.
I have been listening to Gagnon’s Impressions album since its release in 1983 and as we journey across this wine growing region today, this music becomes our travelling companion. It is music that is timeless and helps me relive so many beautiful moments that I have experienced in my life over the last thirty years.
The delicate sensitivity of Gagnon’s arrangements is heartfelt. They enhance the serenity of these vineyards and driving becomes more of an adventure than a mere task. As I negotiate each bend on this winding road, the whispering wind and rustle of dried leaves from a harsh winter fall silent behind his music. Throw in good company, this road trip itself is one to savour and relive. Wine tasting may just become secondary and a mere excuse.
(Listening tip: Use a set of good headphones)
So put on a set of good headphones, pour yourself a glass of wine and lets relive this beautiful day I spent with my friends Molly and KC.
* Source: Wikipedia about Andre Gagnon
Yabby Lake Vineyard
Founded by the Kirby family, this winery is now managed by chief winemaker and General Manager Tom Carson.
The story began when Robert and Mem Kirby, having been involved in the Mornington Peninsula region for decades, planted their first vines in this area in 1992.
The Yabby Lake Vineyard was established in the sub-region of Moorooduc in 1998 and a year later, a parcel of land on Heathcote was plated to grow and craft a single vineyard shiraz.
The Kirby family worked with viticulturist Keith Harris and renowned Mornington Peninsula winemaker Tod Dexter to craft their range of wines. In 2008, after a decade of carefully planning the family’s wine business, Robert and Mem passed on their control of the family’s vineyards to their children Nina and Clark.
I like the retro stone wall of this fireplace because it reminds me of my parents’ home in Malaysia which was built in the late 1960’s though it’s been extensively renovated since.
I’m no Frank Lloyd Wright but what is the message from an architect who incorporates firewood storage into a wall that integrates the natural elements of the earth with the fireplace that will eventually burn these logs to the ground?
In itself, this design evokes thoughts about sustainability of fossil fuels, the way we live our lives and the relationship we have with our beautiful yet fragile environment.
The Yabby Lake Vineyard range includes chardonnay, shiraz and pinot noir while the Red Claw range showcase chardonnay, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir rose, pinot noir and shiraz.
The east-facing Cellar door cafe is drenched with morning rays and walks out to the sprawling gardens which overlooks the vineyards beyond.
I am told the owners are passionate art collectors and the walls of the dining room are adorned with pieces from their private collection.
A few unusual sculptures add character to the gardens.
My heart sings when I see healthy clumps of Vietnamese mint flourishing in a huge wooden barrel.
This herb is one of the most fragrant and aromatic of its kind that is used in Asian salads and curries. I spy on the cafe’s menu and there it is – ‘a green chicken curry, baby corn, green beans, Jasmine rice, Asian herbs, beanshoots and fried shallots’ that seem enticing right in the heart of the Mornington Peninsula.
Established in 1982, Dromana Estate has been a notable winery in forging the Mornington Peninsula’s reputation as one of the leading wine regions in Australia.
Chief winemaker Peter Bauer has steered this winery towards the production of chardonnay and pinot noir in the tradition of classic French styles for these varietals.
This vineyard spreads across 54 acres where some 60,000 vines are planted.
Estate grown varietals include arneis, chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot noir, shiraz, sauvignon blanc and viognier.
Dromana Estate is conscious about its role in environmental sustainability. In conjunction with Endless Solar and South East Water, the premises use solar energy and the entire vineyard is irrigated with recycled water.
The cellar door is part of a historic Tuerong homestead that also houses the restaurant at this winery.
Opened only in December 2013, Rowan Herrald heads up the kitchen burners in Terre while wife Janine Herrald takes the role of pastry chef.
The seasonal menu is very short and precise with four entrees and four mains that takes advantage of fresh regional produce. Prices are honest with entrees and mains all at $19 and $34 respectively.
Pumpkin custard, smoked eel, duck ‘ham’, lamb shoulder and beef short rib features on a July menu.
Its wine list pays homage to the local Mornington Peninsula region with a predominance of chardonnay and pinot noir while a smattering of French labels make up the rest.
Port Phillip Estate
An automatic door swings open and invites us into the world of Giogio Gjergja, owner of Port Phillip Estate winery.
A political refugee from Italy who came to Australia some 50-odd years ago, he founded a successful electrical manufacturing business before deciding it is too early to retire. Perhaps it is his sense of adventure as a keen sailor, having taken line honours at the Sydney to Hobart in 1996 with Ausmaid or his Dalmatian Venetian heritage that has fuelled his fondness for wine.
He bought Port Phillip Estate vineyard in 2000 and then Kooyong in 2004. With over twenty estate and single vineyard wines, it just made sense to combine the two vineyards under one cellar door.
Always one for big ideas, Gjergja’s brief to Wood Marsh Architecture was to “build a truly outstanding and uncompromising architectural landmark, the most exciting new winery in Victoria.”
Surrounded by native foliage and indigenous gum trees, this modern piece of architecture emerges from the landscape as a dramatic curved sculpture constructed with rammed earth.
With an initial budget of $11 million that eventually became a lot more, the cellar door and restaurant is a showpiece of architectural splendor that cleverly integrates the natural environment with man-made structures.
The restaurant with a private dining room extends to a massive outdoor deck which cantilevers towards the vineyards below. A private tasting room is built into the ridge under the cellar door which houses a wine museum, bottling facility and state-of-the-art laboratory.
Space in the dining room is opulent because it is only an 85-seater for such a large area, let alone its spectacular views of the vineyards.
Six apartments below the restaurant are accorded similar views of its surrounds.
The massive outdoor deck overlooks the vineyards and offer panoramic views of undulating hills, Westernport Bay, Phillip Island and Bass Strait in the horizon.
Port Phillip Estate is a massive investment by any measure. And to ensure its success, Gjergja has signed on chief winemaker Sandro Mosele, who works with a bewildering array of equipment to ensure the quality of wine of Port Phillip Estate is matched with its spectacular setting.
Paringa Estate winery was established in 1985 by owner and winemaker Lindsay McCall.
In 2014, Paringa Estate managed 55 acres of vineyard and in an average season, this winery processes 200 tonnes of fruit to produce 15,000 cases of wine.
Located at Red Hill South in the heart of the Mornington Peninsula, the vineyard on its home property covers ten acres of pinot gris, chardonnay, pinot noir and shiraz.
The existing winery was built in 1998 with a cellar door and a la carte restaurant on the upper level while the wine-making facilities are housed below.
The Mornington Peninsula has established itself as one of the most important pinot noir producing regions, not just in Australia but the world.
The reasons for one of the most difficult varietals of wine to thrive in this region are partly due to the exceptional soil and the climate conditions which takes on a maritime influence along its peninsula. More importantly, there is a band of highly skilled and passionate winemakers in this small region who strive to improve the conditions of all aspects of wine-making with each vintage.
Fruit-driven with rich aromas of ripened plum and cherry, this wine is well balanced with soft tannins and a velvety mouth feel. What sets it apart from other pinot noir is restrained subtlety yet an incredible length that showcases its classic Burgundian style from being matured in French oak.
For me, this is one of the best pinot noir of Australia.
Situated on the upper level of the property, the dining room has beautiful views of the vineyards below.
We are keen to have lunch here today but its popularity proved too strong as all tables have been fully booked.
You can read more information and watch a video about this important pinot noir producing region here.
Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove
Montalto is the culmination of a long-held dream for John and Wendy Mitchell. Living in the UK in the 1980’s, they spent their summers in the south of France with rows upon rows of vineyards along the Mediterranean.
It was over lazy summer lunches and a glass of rosé that they began to dream.
A first foray was the planting of a few vines on their property on the coast of the Mornington Peninsula. When they returned to Australia in 1990, John’s passion to turn their dream into a reality saw him studying viticulture at the University of Melbourne.
In the ensuing years, they discovered an established vineyard and set about transforming the site to become a sustainable horticultural heartland for its produce.
In 2002, their dream became a reality and Montalto was opened to the public for the very first time.
In addition to its grapevines which were planted in the mid 1980’s, its horticultural vision saw its first olive trees, planted for shelter and the industrious fruit they bear.
Today, there are 1,500 olive trees that border the property with its silvery green foliage and Mediterranean presence.
The establishment of Montalto’s kitchen gardens and orchard in 2002 provide its restaurant with fresh and sustainable local produce.
Wendy’s passion in her kitchen gardens has resulted in two acres of heirloom vegetables and herbs as well as an orchard of stone fruit, apples, pears, quinces, figs, persimmons, avocados and a variety of citrus fruits, raspberries, loganberries and more.
Each season the fruits from Montalto’s horticultural labour are bountiful and in autumn, this bounty includes basil, beetroot, carrots, coriander, cucumber, fennel, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, lettuce, melons, mint, parsley, parsnips, pumpkin, radish, rhubarb, rocket, rosemary, silverbeet, spinach, sweet corn, tarragon, turnips and zucchini.
Fruits which are harvested in autumn include apples, grapes, tomatoes, lemons, nectarines, olives, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, figs and quinces.
Montalto’s pantry range of products is the culmination of efforts in its orchards and includes extra virgin olive oil, black olive tapenade, marinated olives, dukkah and verjuice.
The range of Montalto wines are built upon fruits sourced from different parts of its home estate.
Pennon Hill is the south facing slope of Montalto’s home vineyard in Red Hill South. This range aims for fresh and light wines with nil or very little oak influences. Varietals in this range include moscato, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, rosé, pinot noir, tempranillo and shiraz.
The Montalto range is a selection of the best parcels of fruit from its vineyards that typically come from the oldest vines that exhibit more fruit intensity and complexity. Varietals in this range include a sparkling pinot noir chardonnay, pinot gris, chardonnay and pinor noir.
The prized Single Vineyard range are made to showcase the style of Mornington Peninsula wines and varietals include chardonnay and pinor noir which this region is so renown for.
On a Saturday afternoon, the piazza is crowded with families where pizza is easily the most popular item on its short menu.
We decide on the restaurant which was fully booked and after a few minutes wait, we are allocated a table isolated from the main area of the dining room. Clearly not the best of tables but it’s 1.30 pm, we have been wine tasting and we are hungry.
On weekends and public holidays, the menu imposes two options – two course a la carte for $72 per person or three course a la carte for $85 per person.
We decide on the two course option.
Olive bread is warm and fluffy. Dipped into good olive, I could eat this beautiful bread as a meal on its own.
My roasted quail, Jerusalem artichoke risotto arrives in a small oblong platter.
The risotto is warm and creamy with a lemony flavour of artichoke. Two quail Marylands looks more pan seared than roasted to me. If it is at all roasted, then it’s a pretty poor effort since the colour of the skin is mostly pale.
A regular deep plate for risotto would make more sense in keeping the rice warm let alone this oblong platter swiveling on its centre when I try to slice the quail with my fork and knife. Using my fingers is an easier and more exciting task if only its skin is crispy as you would expect from a roast.
Three plump scallops are nicely seared though I wonder how the subtle taste of scallops will combine with red wine jus and orange glazed witlof.
If head chef Barry Davis‘ menu slants towards French from his stints with legendary chefs Philippe Mouchel and Paul Bocuse, then octopus ‘a feira’ takes us on a Spanish Galician route with its signature smoked paprika.
As tradition would dictate, thinly sliced tentacles instead of the head are tender yet slightly al dente.
I don’t think our entrees are any more outstanding than my roasted quail risotto being disappointing. But a 45-minute wait for our mains after finishing our entrees took the disappointment trophy. And we are quietly hoping our mains will fare better.
KC and I opt for the beef eye fillet, braised rib, garden Jerusalem artichoke and garden kale.
The beef rib is melting tender from the slow braise and offers some tasty fat to the lean eye fillet medallion. A flavoursome red wine jus complements the meat well in a braised winter dish like this one.
Molly‘s rack of lamb is extremely tender and have even more flavour than my beef.
Medium rare and pink inside with a warm puree, this lamb rack is a hearty winter dish.
Our mains are good though not outstanding. But imposing a price of $72 for two courses is like charging $30 and $42 for an entree and a main. This is very expensive considering there are so many good winery restaurants in this region.
Our lunch would have cost $178 on a weekday instead of $216 today, a mark-up of more than 20%, because it is a weekend. Is it justified for the quality of dishes we had plus the 45-minute delay between entree and mains? Definitely not.
Will I return? No I won’t.
I feel a bit like this sculpture after our lunch at Montalto today – blinded with my head in the sand and a cut in the back.
Ten Minutes By Tractor
Ten Minutes By Tractor is the convergence of a series of individual journeys that began more than 30 years ago.
In 1982, Richard McIntyre purchased land that was to become Moorooduc Estate. The McCutcheon and Wallis families committed themselves to pursue a dream of producing high quality wines in the early 1990’s.
Then in 1996, the Judd family bought a vineyard and over the next few years, the families sold fruit to local wineries while experimenting with making small batches of wine independently. Their goal was to produce high quality fruit and wines that reflect the characteristics of their vineyards.
A study conducted for the Victorian Department of Agriculture found that production costs in this cool climate region were extremely high and due to the nature of boutique wineries that dotted this area, there were little attempts to improve economies of scale and become more efficient.
Andrew McCutcheon then set about working on a larger area of 50 acres rather than their 15-acres vineyards in an attempt to significantly reduce operating costs by discussing with neighbouring vineyards to pool resources in a joint effort. The participating vineyards ended up being those of the Judd, Wallis and McCutcheon families.
While discussing a joint name for the venture, someone described themselves as being about ’10 minutes by tractor’ from the others and from that day, the name of this winery was born.
Yet another winery with sprawling gardens leading up to its vineyards, it is a beautiful setting with panoramic views of rolling hills and meadows.
The small dining room at this winery is almost full past lunch hour today.
Head chef Stuat Bell‘s menu is driven by fresh regional produce and his training in classic French with Asian and European influences.
Similar to Montralto, there are two options for a two and three course a la carte menu for $69 and $92 per person respectively. The main difference is this menu comes with recommended wine pairing for each course which appears to have better value than Montralto.
The cellar door and dining room is warm and cosy with a toasty fireplace on this winter day.
The gardens at this winery are planted with a variety of fruit trees, vegetables and herbs that goes into the cooking pots of its restaurant kitchen.
A small tree in the flowering plant family Solanaceae “the nightshade plant”, Solanum betaceum is native to South America.
It is best known as the species that bears the tamarillo, an egg-shaped edible fruit. Other names include tree tomato, tomate de arbol, and Dutch eggplant.
These fruits are very high in vitamins and iron and low in calories.
Kevin McCarthy is the winemaker and co-founder of T’Gallant.
His experience include stints in the Granite Belt region in Queensland making chardonnay and shiraz. He relocated to Victoria and worked for James Halliday in the Yarra Valley before settling in Mornington Peninsula.
T’Gallant’s range of wines include pinot grigio, chardonnay and pinot noir.
It has been almost a full day of traversing between vineyards, tasting wine and sampling the delights of local regional produce.
As I take one last gaze into the horizon lined with beautiful vineyards, I savour the thought this wonderful day would be in my memory for many years to come.
So dear readers, which is your favourite wine growing region in Victoria, Geelong, Mornington Peninsula or Yarra Valley?