Travel

The secret gems of Victoria’s Moorabool Valley region

It flies under the radar but is home to some of Australia’s vinous high achievers.
Lethbridge Winery, Victoria

You don’t have to blink to miss the Moorabool Valley. The celebrated wine region is just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, but its rolling hills and green valleys are invisible to nearby highway commuters. “Hardly anyone knows it exists,” says Terry Jongebloed, owner and winemaker at Clyde Park. “It appears to be a flat piece of land between Geelong and Ballarat. It’s not until you get off the main road that you see how unique it is, with a beautiful river running through a dramatic landscape.”

Clyde Park winery has sweeping views of the Moorabool Valley, a toasty fireplace and a vast selection of share plates, woodfire pizza, mains, desserts and wines to match. Image: Supplied,

As spectacular as it is secretive, the little-known wine region punches above its weight. Its complex and refined pinot noir, chardonnay and shiraz can be found on high-end wine lists across the globe, while the intimate cellar doors and restaurants of its boutique, family-run wineries make it a region ripe for discovery.

First planted by Swiss immigrants in 1842, the dry, cool climate region is notable for its low-yielding rocky limestone and basalt soils that produce grapes full of character. “We have three different soils and three different micro-climates,” says Jongebloed. “That’s the reason we have all these single block wines, which allow us to express the unique character of each of the sites.”

A sustainable ethos pervades the Valley. A flock of black faced Suffolk sheep assisting weed removal in the Clyde Park vineyard an provide an arresting view from the Barrel Hall restaurant above, where wood fired duck pizza marries perfectly with the estate pinot noir. Before you sit down, a visit to the cellar door’s American oak tasting bench is in order — especially when an Enomatic system allows even the premium Single Block wines to be sampled from the estate’s 20-plus wines.

Another Moorabool Valley winery rated five stars by James Halliday, Lethbridge manages its vineyards according to organic and biodynamic principles (as befitting an estate founded in 1996 after a three-year search for the perfect terroir by scientists-turned vignerons Ray Nadeson and Maree Collis).

Lethbridge Winery has a flavour for every palate. Image: Supplied.

Their unique strawbale winery was designed to recreate the controlled environment of cellars and caves that has been fundamental to the creation of great wines for time immemorial, while the cellar door delivers the bucolic feel of a Tuscan farmhouse — just add cheese and salumi platters for an afternoon on the covered terrace. And there’s every chance Nadeson himself will talk visitors through a tasting of the estate’s top drops, including their flagship Allegra chardonnay, which are loved by sommeliers near and far.  

Lethbridge wines are produced on site in a unique load-bearing strawbale winery, designed for its ability to recreate the controlled environment of cellars and caves, pivotal in the maturation process. Image: Supplied. 

Austin’s Wines head winemaker Dwayne Cunningham discovered the Moorabool Valley after 10 years working in the Barossa Valley. At the Sutherlands Creek winery he’s embraced the unique characteristics of the region’s pinot noir. “Pinot here is a lot more earthy, dry and savoury… it’s medium bodied, there’s tannin and spice, grip and structure.”

Rustic charm, wine and cheese tasting and long lunches make Austin’s Winery a must-visit. Image: Supplied.

Austin’s corrugated iron shearing shed turned cellar door and restaurant delivers more of the Moorabool’s unique character. As well as offering grazing platters and the current Texan barbecue pop-up, Cunningham has crafted the “Woolshed” series of wines exclusively for visitors. “I’m trying to make really high-quality pinot noir and chardonnay – the best four barrels for the year just for the cellar door.”

All the more reason to set the GPS for Victoria’s secret valley.

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