Writer/photographer (& coffee snob), living in Melbourne's inner west. Visit www.insiteimages.com.au for more photos.
Published June 8th 2016
Knocking on cellar doors
Your knuckles would be red-raw if you had to knock on the more than 50 cellar doors of the Mornington Peninsula. Fortunately, the doors are wide open and you'll receive a warm welcome, from vignerons and staff. An easy day trip from Melbourne, at just over an hour's drive, the Mornington Peninsula covers 723 square kilometres, similar in area to the Loire Valley's vineyards. But you'd rather spend more than one day in the Loire, wouldn't you? And to really appreciate the diversity of terrain and activities on the Peninsula, stay overnight or longer – explore beaches, upmarket villages of Portsea/Sorrento, take in views from Arthurs' Seat, walk through nearby woodlands around Red Hill, head across to Flinders beach, visit farm-gates, take an outdoor spa at the Hot Springs, play golf and of course, visit the wineries.
Our group of five decided to focus on the wineries (no surprises there!). We booked a private tour, with Peter of Mannagum tours, who had booked ahead and pre-paid our tasting fees (commonly $5). It was nice that the staff were expecting us and had the glasses lined up!
Peter is friendly and knowledgeable, having lived and worked on the Peninsula for over three decades. You can choose your own wineries but we were happy for Peter to take us to some of his favourites, ones new to us. Each winery has its own distinct character (behind the counter and in the bottle!).
The Mannagum bus
TIP: Save the big name wineries for another visit, you'll easily find them on a self-drive trip.
From pick up at 10.30 a.m. until (local) drop off after 5.30 p.m. it was a full day… but someone has to do it! Visiting five wineries and finishing off with a cleansing cider, some highlights of the day included:
Yabby Lake Vineyard: A wall of windows reveals the vineyard and sculpture garden beyond. Inside, gobsmacking contemporary art and a log fire warms the spacious tasting area. Our tasting host firmly but kindly steers us away from a heart-starter coffee as it would spoil the wine tasting. With wry smiles (straight to 'hair of the dog'!) we plunge into the array, from sparkling to reds. The premium Yabby Lake label is ideal for cellaring, more a 'restaurant quality' than the 'bistro style' of their Red Claw label, it was explained. It was educational to compare and taste "single vineyard wines" ranging from cool climate Pinot Gris to their Heathcote shiraz. And I can report the coffees are great!
Trofeo Estate: A distinctive feature are their "biodynamic" wines fermented and matured in hand-made terracotta amphoras, lined with beeswax to stop seepage of the wine, but allowing air to interact. The purity of the grape's fruit is fully appreciated. Being a history buff, it felt special to be sipping wine which had been stored in these large waist-high jars, a 2,000 year old process, depicted in ancient frescos!
Quea!y Winemakers at Balnarring Vineyard: Yes, the ! is their label, and ! was how it felt to be standing in the cellar, with Kathleen Quealy, winemaker, explaining her vision and techniques, with Bonnie the dog at our feet. The wine labels are colourful, just like "Kat", with quirky names, like "Pobblebonk" (a white "field blend" and very quaffable) and "Tussie Mussie". Kat is a lot of fun but has a serious viticulture pedigree, was named "Queen of Pinot Grigio" by James Halliday and, with her husband, is a trailblazer in the industry.
TIP: Drink plenty of water along the way, available at all wineries.
Lunch @ Morning Sun vineyard: Named for their two vineyards, planted on slopes facing the morning sun. A Northern Italian influence pervades the menu in the Osteria restaurant and cool climate varieties. Lunch was included in our tour price, and we were invited to choose anything from the menu. A hungry bunch, we chose entrees to share and a hearty pasta dish each. Tastings prior helped in selecting a bottle to accompany the very enjoyable and generous meal.
TIP: Book ahead for lunch so you can plan your tasting itinerary around that, and even in winter, when cosy fires are a drawcard, your preferred venue might be full.
Tuck's Ridge: Feeling drowsy post-lunch (and perhaps post-wine tastings!) our small group appreciated the relaxed atmosphere of Tuck's Ridge, and I particularly enjoyed the Turramurra 2012 Chardonnay (James Halliday recommended - 92 points).
We pile back into the van and Pete drives us up to Arthurs' Seat before driving back down the hill, so we can take in the views - of beaches stretching down to Point Nepean, a rain shower drifting across the Bay, and dusk closing in over the vineyards and hamlets of the Peninsula.
Having visited 5% of the Peninsula's wineries it looks like we have another 10 trips down the Peninsula, if we are to 'knock' on all the cellar doors!
Many of the wineries will be represented at this event:
WINTER WINE WEEKEND 11-12 JUNE across Mornington Peninsula, with launch @ Red Hill Reserve & Showgrounds, Arthurs Seat Rd, Red Hill 11 June from 11am-4pm Winter Fest info
Mannagum Tours full day tour incl. lunch, for max. 7 people @ $130 p.p. Mannagum tours