My parents have been dragging me to wineries since the age of two so it is safe to say I have visited almost every winery on the Mornington Peninsula, more than once. Over the last 20 years I have watched as many of my favourite boutique watering holes have been transformed from cute tin sheds to modern monstrosities in attempt to keep up with the demands of tourists and weekenders.
One of my favourite wineries by far is Darling Park Vineyard, a little hidden gem of this famous wine region. What keeps me returning is the fact that it has not followed the trends now typical of the Peninsula wine region. You will rarely find tour busses and large crowds at this family owned winery, just a quaint tasting room with a relaxed and homey feel and a small outdoor deck and dining area. Just an hour and a half from Melbourne, it is the perfect place to relax with friends in an affable and calm environment that oozes personality.
The cool maritime climate of the Mornington Peninsula is famous for producing world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Darling Park's Sparkling Pinot is a definite winner. However, you may have to twist the staffs' arms to sample it. This little treat is often sold out so unless you're very lucky, it is not readily available on the tasting menu.
Aside from the wine, Darling Park offers a seasonal light lunch menu every weekend from 12-4 derived from the popular tapas restaurant the 'long table' in Red Hill. My pick is the tasting platter for two, filled with yummy local produce like cheeses, dukka eggs, breads, dipping oils and olives. Not many wineries allow guests to venture out into the vines, but at Darling Park they are more than happy for you to explore the property and escape the hustle and bustle this district can sometimes bring about. The best part is they also offer delightful picnic hampers so you can enjoy a quiet and more private lunch right in amongst the vines. It's the perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon if your looking to unwind after a busy week or contemplate the rigors of the next.
It is always a good feeling to see staff enjoying their work and it is clear that food and wine is almost a religion for the Darling Park team who are so passionate about educating customers about their wine and produce. Whether you are a complete novice or a wine connoisseur you are bound to learn something that will stay with you long after you have gone and tug at your memory until you return.
In terms of value for money and ambiance, Darling Park takes the cake in my book.
The cellar door is open for tasting every day from 11am until 5pm with light lunches offered on weekends.