Australia's top cellar doors: Victoria
Join a group of our top wine writers on a cross-country escapade as they reveal the greatest cellar doors this wide brown land has to offer. Whether the highlight is a line-up of rare museum wines to taste or a picture-perfect country cafe in which to linger over lunch, they’ve found the very best.
For ease of reference, the writers who have collaborated on this article, all of whom are Gourmet Traveller WINE contributors, can be identified with their initials at the end of each review: Nick Stock (NS), Jeni Port (JP), Tyson Stelzer (TS), Ken Gargett (KG), Nick Ryan (NR), Peter Bourne (PB), Mike Bennie (MB) and myself, Peter Forrestal (PF).
As in almost all things, the cellar door experience is down to the quality of the personnel behind the counter. Wine tourists love nothing more than meeting one or more members of the family behind the label, vineyard or winery. Of course, this is not always possible. We hear plenty of stories where cheerful, knowledgeable cellar door managers help transform a visit so that opening a subsequent bottle from that winery evokes wonderful memories of the occasion.
Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander
336 Maroondah Hwy, Healesville, (03) 5962 6111. Daily: 10am-10pm.
A veritable fun factory for wine lovers, accomplished brewer and winemaker Phil Sexton has assembled a beautiful array of his favourite things all under one big roof on Healesville’s main drag – it’s about as perfect a cellar door as you could ever wish for. The place is always brimming with activity. Action in the winery provides a busy backdrop behind a soaring glass wall while patrons enjoy wood-fired pizza, an artisan bakery, house-roasted coffee, a cheese room and a very carefully chosen global beer selection. A tasting of the range of current vintage wines and one older example will set you back $10, refundable upon purchase. Set aside plenty of time and a good chunk of room in the car, the quality is exemplary. NS
STANDOUT WINE: 2010 Giant Steps Gladysdale Pinot Noir, (A$45)
311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Rd, Yarra Glen, (03) 5957 3510. Tue-Sun: 11am-5pm.
Tarrawarra Estate is all class when it comes to the cellar door experience, combining high quality wine, food and art in the one picturesque location. Adjacent to the restaurant and cellar door is the Tarrawarra Museum of Art which is home to one of the most significant collections of contemporary Australian art. The restaurant, with its bistro-style menu, makes a tempting destination, but if you’re cruising around the Valley, delicious hampers can be enjoyed on the lawns. NS
STANDOUT WINE: 2008 Tarrawarra Estate Reserve Chardonnay, (A$55)
263 Collivers Rd, Lancefield, (03) 5429 1956. Sat-Sun: 12pm-5pm. Mon-Fri: by appointment.
Curly Flat Vineyard is tucked just on the edge of the Lancefield township in the cool-climate Macedon Ranges wine region and is very easily accessible from Melbourne. The emphasis at this small estate takes inspiration from Burgundy, with chardonnay and pinot noir taking centre stage, with a smaller interest in pinot grigio. The wines are very much hand-crafted and distinctively styled, and the work in establishing the vineyard has seen consistent levels of quality emerge through attention to detail at every step. The lovingly restored 1890s homestead, Vintage Hall, is home to dinners and special events. NS
STANDOUT WINE: 2010 Williams Crossing Pinot Noir, (A$25)
Knight’s Granite Hills
1481 Burke & Wills Track, Baynton, (03) 5423 7273. Daily: 11am-6pm.
Any winery with an address like this is bound to pique your curiosity. But before you roll up expecting bushranger beards and banjos, you might first note that this is home to more than 400 awards since being established in 1970. The vineyard is set in a spectacular landscape of big granite boulders and the soils are a decomposed sandy granitic loam. The star wine is the riesling and has the ability to excel as both a young wine and a mature one. The trick to this is a very long and gentle ripening season. It breeds structure and longevity into the wines and, aided by the fact that the vineyard is very much mature, ensures the quality of Granite Hills wines is here to stay. NS
STANDOUT WINE: 2011 Knight’s Granite Hills Riesling, (A$24)
271 Tucks Rd, Shoreham, (03) 5989 6471. First Sat-Sun of each month: 12-4pm.
The Aylward family has a keen understanding of just what the Mornington Peninsula does well and how to draw the best it has to offer. The property tucked up at Red Hill is just like a picture-book with carefully tended gardens and a modified stables building that serves as winery, cellar door and headquarters for this small family domaine. The quality of wines is superb across the board with every offering a statement of regional brilliance carefully imbued with winemaker Mike Aylward’s considered and well-researched stylistic overlay. It’s the things they don’t do at Ocean Eight that make the concise repertoire of sparkling, chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir a very compelling reason to visit. Advance bookings can be made for private barrel tastings. NS
STANDOUT WINE: 2010 Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay, (A$37)
Ten Minutes by Tractor
1333 Mornington-Flinders Rd, Main Ridge, (03) 5989 6455. Daily: 11am-5pm.
Ten Minutes by Tractor has been a compelling project to follow as it has sought to assert itself among the region’s very best in all areas. Three estates, planted in the early 1990s by three different families, form the basis of a group of terroirs upon which a stunning range of wines is crafted. The cellar door staff are adept at introducing less-familiar visitors to the regional wine styles and also drilling down deeper for more experienced tasters. Their award-winning restaurant boasts a menu that celebrates luxurious dining and high-quality, seasonally driven creations in an elegant setting. The wine list makes no secret of a love of the wines of Burgundy and has deservedly attracted a three-glass rating in our Wine List of The Year Awards. NS
STANDOUT WINE: 2010 Ten Minutes By Tractor 10X Pinot Noir, (A$32)
255 Grubb Rd, Wallington, (03) 5255 1255. Daily: 10am-4pm.
As you pull into Oakdene Winery’s driveway on the Bellarine Peninsula you should slow down and approach with caution. You may get a real shock when you see that its recently completed cellar door has been built to look as if it’s been tipped on its side and is in fact resting on its roof. After parking (not crashing) your car, head in and taste through a range of estate-grown wines that cover the region’s best-known styles of chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz and sauvignon blanc. There’s an excellent restaurant at Oakdene, one that is a popular setting for weddings and events, and accommodation is also on offer. NS
STANDOUT WINE: 2009 Oakdene Elizabeth Chardonnay, (A$28)
K Rd, Werribee, (03) 9731 4420. Daily: 11am-5pm.
The Shadowfax headquarters is located in Werribee, which is a handy stopover on the way between Melbourne and Geelong or the Torquay Surf Coast. It’s not so much a local winery as a Victorian collection (with an Adelaide Hills sauvignon for good measure) and is based on the model of looking to the best regional sourcing for each wine style. Not only do you get to taste wines from several regions at the cellar door, but there’s a seven-day-a-week menu of flavoursome wine-friendly fare on offer and live music on the weekends. The wines are excellent and reflect winemaker Matt Harrop’s ambition to deliver quality and personality in each bottle. NS
STANDOUT WINE: 2011 Shadowfax Riesling, (A$22)
All Saints Estate
All Saints Rd, Wahgunyah, (02) 6035 2222. Mon-Sat: 10am-4pm; Sun: 10am-5.30pm.
A magnificent obsession for founders George Sutherland Smith and John Banks, All Saints with its 1880s turrets, sturdy castle walls and landscaped English-style gardens, combines beauty both in form and in deed. Now owned by the Brown family, the spotlight is on local foods and wines that completely reflect north-east Victoria. The Terrace restaurant and Indigo Cheese Co offer some of the best eating experiences in the region, while the wines are led by Rhône varieties marsanne, shiraz and durif. The fortifieds speak for themselves. JP
STANDOUT WINE: 2008 All Saints Family Cellar Durif, (A$60)
Jones Winery & Vineyard
61 Jones Rd, Rutherglen, (02) 6032 8496. Mon, Thu-Fri: 10am-4pm, Sat-Sun: 10am-5pm.
Built in the Rutherglen tin-shed style, the Jones winery dates back to the 1860s. The half-lit interior, the smell and the atmosphere are pretty much the way it was back when Fritz Ruhe built it and kept largely unchanged by the Jones boys (senior and junior) who were responsible for some beaut fortifieds and shiraz from the 1970s onwards. These days Mandy Jones and brother Arthur are at the helm still making shiraz, albeit with more new oak content. They still produce the odd fortified but also with the addition of some smart white wines, notably marsanne. JP
STANDOUT WINE: 2010 Jones Winery & Vineyard Marsanne (A$25)
4861 Wangaratta-Whitfield Rd, Whitfield, (03) 5729 8321. Daily: 10am-5pm.
One family, an Italian heritage, a cool, high-altitude climate most suitable to sparklings and finely textured wines – that’s Dal Zotto Wines. Every Dal Zotto man and woman is involved in the winery during the week and in the trattoria at weekends. The food is savoury, so are the wines led by sangiovese, shiraz and barbera. Patriarch Otto Dal Zotto was born in Valdobbiadene in the Veneto, home of Italy’s favourite sparkling, prosecco. It’s logical then that Dal Zotto would help pioneer the prosecco grape in Australia. JP
STANDOUT WINE: 2011 Dal Zotto L’Immigrante Prosecco, (A$36)
6619 Great Alpine Rd, Porepunkah, (03) 5756 2356. Daily: 10am-5pm.
For years people would stop over at Boyntons on their way to the snowfields. These days the winery-restaurant-brewery is a destination in itself. You can even stay in a smart apartment taking in the vineyard’s stunning alpine vista across to Mount Feathertop. Kel Boynton is one of the region’s great pioneers, always in the vineyard. He’s a man who saw the potential for shiraz in the area where most thought the area too cold for the sunny-minded grape. They were wrong. Shiraz is now the Boynton flagship wine, but the range takes in the full gamut of cool-climate beauties. JP
STANDOUT WINE: 2009 Boyntons Feathertop Alpine Valleys Shiraz, (A$25)
Wangaratta Rd, Beechworth, (03) 5727 0420. Mon-Fri: by appointment. Sat-Sun: 10am-5pm.
Amulet Vineyard cellar door is 10 kilometres from Beechworth and the modern, glassed walled cellar door takes full advantage of the stunning views of nearby hills and bushland on the property through to the King Valley in the distance. The views span 180 from the north-east through to south-west. The cafe is open on weekends for light lunches. Sue Thornton and Ben Clifton have a passion for Italian varieties as well as some more slightly wayward drops. JP
STANDOUT WINE: 2009 Amulet Vineyard Beechworth Sangiovese, (A$21)
111 Best’s Rd, Great Western, (03) 5356 2250. Mon-Sat: 10am-5pm; Sun: 11am-4pm.
The name Best’s is a reference to the vineyard’s original name and owner, but for almost 100 years the historic winery and vineyard at Great Western has been run by the Thomson family. They remain custo-dians of a national treasure. Tastings, held in the hand-made 1869 Stables, offer a unique step back into that history. A tour of the underground cellars is a must, but keep in mind the Best’s legacy can be found outside too in The Nursery Block. No babies here – this block is home to some of the oldest vines in Australia: shiraz, pinot noir, pinot meunier and more. JP
STANDOUT WINE: 2010 Best’s Great Western House Block Riesling, (A$35)
36 Cemetery Rd, Great Western, (03) 5361 2239. Daily: 10am-5pm.
A visit to Champagne is not complete without a stroll through the underground drives where millions of dollars of wine are matured. The same applies to Seppelt. The sparkling drives don’t date back to Roman times but the atmosphere is repeated: dark, musty, scary. Those with claustrophobia can stay topside and take in the sparklings led by the easy-going Fleur de Lys and finishing with Salinger and sparkling shiraz. Seppelt is the historic home of St. Peters and Chalambar shirazes but don’t overlook the wines from the newer, cooler Drumborg region. JP
STANDOUT WINE: 2011 Seppelt Drumborg Riesling, (A$40)
448 Taltarni Rd, Moonambel, (03) 5467 2388. Daily: 10am-5pm.
The view from the glass-lined Dalwhinnie cellar door is superb, a good place to take in the land, in particular the mineral-laden soils that help produce stunning chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. Vigneron David Jones believes the soil provides great natural structure and is instrumental in blessing his wines with longevity. Chardonnays from the 1980s are still drinking well, a feat worthy of celebration in this country. JP
STANDOUT WINE: 2009 Dalwhinnie Moonambel Cabernet Sauvignon, (A$50)
339 Taltarni Rd, Moonambel, (03) 5459 7900. Daily: 10am-5pm.
Taltarni’s large, open, timber space features floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap around the front of the building. Here you will see artworks by Brett Whiteley, Robert Juniper, John Wolsely and Ronald Searle, all sourced from the owner’s private collection.The bar is made from recycled barrel staves, the coffee table from recycled old wine vats. Original winemaking equipment is also on display, including a basket press and bottle corker from the early ’70s. The surrounding gardens are planted to native flora and a petanque piste is available for a game. The Clover Hill bubbles, made in Tasmania, are among Australia’s best. JP
STANDOUT WINE: 2007 Clover Hill Brut Vintage, (A$47)
Crawford River Wines
741 Hotspur Upper Rd, Condah, (03) 5578 2267. By appointment only.
The Crawford River cellar door was built in 2000. Designed by architect Graeme Gunn, the building is clad in galvanised iron to blend in with the adjacent winery built in the ’70s. Situated less than an hour’s drive from Port Fairy and Dunkeld in the Western Dist-rict, it is perched high above the vineyard with commanding views of the vines and in the distant grazing sheep and cattle. You have to make an appointment but will be rewarded with a sensational tasting of rieslings. JP
STANDOUT WINE: 2010 Crawford River Wines Riesling, (A$35)
254 O’Neils Rd, Tahbilk via Nagambie, (03) 5794 2555. Sat-Sun: 10am-5pm; Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm.
There’s another world to discover at Tahbilk. The original 1860s winery, vineyard, underground cellar and majestic old barrels are extraordinary, not just for how well they have been maintained, but because they are still in use today. These picture-perfect scenes are yours to explore on a guided or self-guided tour. Wander the “township” and cellar yards, marvel at the original half hectare of 1860s vines, then emerge from the National Trust-listed cellars for a tasting of the current range in the original winery. TS
STANDOUT WINE: 2003 Tahbilk 1927 Vines Marsanne, (A$36)
98 High St, Heathcote, (03) 5433 2488. Wed-Sun: 10am-5pm.
There’s a rustic feel to Heathcote Estate’s cellar door, even though it’s only just celebrated its first birthday. The century-old bakery in Heathcote has been thoughtfully renovated to showcase its original features while creating a homely farmhouse setting with a big open fireplace and seating for 25. Grazing platters and coffee are on offer, but the wines remain the focus. Shiraz rules here, harvested earlier than many to capture the depth of the region while upholding the definition and finesse of individual vineyard sites. TS
STANDOUT WINE: 2008 Heathcote Estate Block A Shiraz, (A$83)
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF GIANT STEPS/INNOCENT BYSTANDER.
This article is from the April/May 2012 issue of Gourmet Traveller WINE.