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Wine

Riverina: Farming, Food And Wine

The Riverina region has undergone a renaissance that’s seeing its established traditions given a fresh makeover. The result is a dynamic food and wine experience presenting local produce with European flair.

The Riverina has long been referred to as Australia’s food bowl. This south western region of New South Wales between Griffith and Wagga Wagga is abundant with citrus and stonefruit, grapes, figs, olives, nuts, lamb, beef, chicken, wheat and rice. What is not so widely known is that there is a shift happening in this rural farming centre. It’s being led by a growing number of innovative chefs, winemakers and growers dedicated to providing new and unique wine, food and agritourism experiences.

Dining Out

The wealth of fresh produce available in the Riverina, combined with a strong history of Italian immigration following the World Wars, means there is no shortage of quality places to dine.

Chef Luke Piccolo, who owns and runs Griffith’s renowned Limone Dining, cut his teeth at Sydney restaurants Pilu at Freshwater and Pendolino before returning home to Griffith to open his own fine-dining establishment. Luke, who is of Italian heritage, won the Council of Italian Restaurants Australia (CIRA) Young Talent Award in 2013.

His nonna, who cooks beautiful rustic Italian food, was the first to show him the ropes in the kitchen.

“When he left school, Luke came to help at our family restaurant and we were blown off the planet with what he could do,” his father, Peter reveals.

“We were blind to what had been going on for the past decade. Then all of a sudden there he was in the kitchen at 16 years of age with amazing cooking skills, work ethic and creations.”

Luke’s nonna taught him about the no waste policy, which you can now see woven into Limone Dining. The place is built almost completely from recycled materials and Luke offers an evolving seasonal menu featuring local produce. Think fresh tagliolini with spring lamb ragu followed by char-grilled quail with pancetta finished off with blood orange almond sponge and lemon custard.

For full-blown Italian dining in Griffith, visit Zecca Handmade Italian in the old bank building. Run by returning locals, Ben, Michaela and Daniel, Zecca’s regularly changing chalkboard menu is packed with delicious Italian staples.

Their Maltagliati, casarecce and pappardelle pastas are lovingly made by hand each day. Plates of house-made antipasti are packed with olives, salumi and baccala from local Murray cod.

Another restaurant not to pass by is Pages on Pine in the main street of Leeton. It is a stalwart of the area, run by French-born chef Eric Pages and his wife Vanessa. They serve up French fare with a creative twist and are huge supporters of local producers, including Coolamon Cheese, Bruceron pork, Riverina lamb and Randall Organics. They also offer a three-course set menu, matched with Leeton wines from Lillypilly and Toorak.

Coolamon Cheese

A nirvana for cheese-lovers has been formed inside an historic 1920s co-op building in the main street of Coolamon. Cheesemaker Barry Lillywhite and his son Anton Green have filled the space with top-of-the-line cheese making facilities, a commercial kitchen, deli and generously sized dining area.

All their cheeses are handcrafted on site using just four simple ingredients: local Riverina milk, starter culture, rennet and salt.

“By hand-making our cheeses in small batches we can tend to them more closely, watch them mature cheese by cheese and release them to our customers at exactly the right time,” Barry explains.

Barry’s signature collection of native Australian-flavoured cheeses pack a punch. Right now he has lemon myrtle, river mint, bush tomato and alpine pepper cheeses on the menu.

Other cheeses available include vintage cheddars and oil-infused fettas, blues and runny Bries and Camemberts.

His soft cheeses are a far cry from varieties you find in the supermarket.

“Our soft cheeses are not stabilised and this is why they are soft and gooey and have a mind of their own,” he explains.

“In fact, the only preservative we use in any of our cheeses is salt.”

Visitors to Coolamon Cheese can taste test the cheeses or sit down to a cheese-inspired meal from the cafe menu. Here the cheeses are served with a range of gourmet accompaniments like tempura saltbush, cold roast lamb, pickles, onion jam, sticky prunes and balsamic strawberries. Guests are also invited to take a tour of the factory led by one of their cheese makers.

“We want visitors to understand where their food comes from and the processes it goes through to get to their plates,” Barry says.

Wine a plenty

The Riverina is home to 20,000 hectares of vines, making it the largest wine producing region in NSW and the second largest in Australia behind Riverland in South Australia.

The region is well established, having been pioneered in 1913 by the famous McWilliam family of the Hunter Valley.

Riverina wineries are largely family owned with many having Italian heritage including Calabria Family Wines, Mino & Co, Lillypilly Wines and De Bortoli.

Some of the families behind these labels actually began making wine out of necessity when they first migrated to Australia, so they could enjoy a glass with their meal as they would have back home in Italy.

“At the end of the long working day, my grandfather found he looked forward to a glass of home-made wine,” Elizabeth Calabria of Calabria Family Wines explains.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t have the money to invest in all of the necessary equipment to make it, so he took over my grandmother’s laundry tubs and improvised,” she continues. “Soon enough, he was producing wines for the local Europeans who had also made Griffith their home.”

Ideal conditions

The Murrumbidgee Irrigation scheme, coupled with rich red soils and a warm Mediterranean climate, allows most varieties of grapes to grow well.

Although the area was once looked upon as a producer of table wines, successful Italian varieties are fast becoming the star.

“What is exciting is what we are learning about alternative varieties, such as Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Aglianico, Vermentino and Pinot Bianco,” chief winemaker at Calabria Family Wines, Emma Norbiato says.

“By controlling the yield and the canopy, we are seeing some beautiful fruit and making some exciting wines.

“In the next five years, I would like to think we will see more thoughtful viticulture and winemaking in our alternative varieties. Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Pinot Bianco are new to our region and haven’t even reached their potential yet.”

Vermentino has also been a successful addition to Lillypilly Wines. Their first vintage of the dry Italian white was released in 2015 and went straight on to win the trophy for Best Dry White Varietal at the Perth Royal Wine Show and another gold at the Small Vigneron Awards in Canberra.

General manager of Mino & Co, Nick Guglielmino says while Italian wines are not new to Griffith, there is now a higher demand for them.

“We are experiencing a time where these varieties are being more accepted by consumers,” he says.

“Griffith indeed has a rich history of Italian culture, so it makes sense for us to follow the style of wines we are familiar with, that of Italian authenticity yet grown in Australian conditions similar to that of their origins.”

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A guide to the best Yarra Valley wineries and cellar doors
Plan the perfect escape to the Yarra Valley wineries with our carefully curated guide, list, and map to this premier cool climate wine region.  There is a stunning array of Yarra Valley Wineries and Cellars doors within an hours drive of Melbourne's CBD. To help plan your trip to this spectacular cool climate region we’ve selected a collection of wineries that provide the best cellar door experience plus we’ve included a handy interactive  Yarra Valley map down below .  While the region is famous for it’s  Chardonnay ,  Sauvignon Blanc , and  Pinot Noir , there’s also a stunning selection of  Sparkling wines  and innovative savoury  Rosés  on offer. You can find out more about the wines on offer in our  Yarra Valley region guide here  . Yarra Valley Wineries to Visit Oakridge
Opened in 2013, the striking, architect designed Oakridge cellar door is a sight to behold with its sleek industrial lines in bold contrast to the surrounding vines that creep right to the cellar door windows. The exceptional restaurant headed by executive chef Matt Stone formerly of Melbourne’s Silo and sous chef Jo Barrett from Tivoli Road, serves a local and sustainable menu showcasing the best of Yarra Valley produce. Yet, the true star at Oakridge are the wines, and they are among the region's best.  864 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream - view on our Yarra Valley Map Open daily 10am to 5pm Visit the Oakridge Website   Coombe Farm
The enchanting Coombe Farm cellar door is set within the grounds of the historic Melba House, constructed in 1912 by famed opera singer Dame Nellie Melba. The exquisite gardens, restaurant, providore, Melba Gallery and High Tea that’s held at 2:30pm every Wednesday, all combine for a terrific addition to any visit to the Yarra Valley. Furthermore, the estate grown, limited production wines are elegantly varietal and regionally expressive. Tasting Panelist and wine show judge, Trent Mannell  says, “Coombe Farm is  a remarkable winery and destination with a real sense of history.” 673 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream  - view on our Yarra Valley Map Open 9:30am to 5pm Monday to Friday,  9am to 5pm Saturday to Sunday Visit the Coombe Farm website Punt Road Wines
The Punt Road Wines cellar door is the perfect place to sample a fine selection of single vineyard, estate grown wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, and Chardonnay, in particular, are all exceptional. Relax outdoors on the back garden lawn with a Gundowring ice cream or unwind with a quick game of bocce.  Tasting Panelist, Adam Walls  is rather fond of the Punt Road cellar door  – ‘It has a warm and welcoming feel and the quality of both the cider and wine on offer is very high!” 10 St Huberts Road, Coldstream  - view on our Yarra Valley Map Open daily 10am to 5pm Visit the Punt Road Website Domaine Chandon
When leading champagne house Moet & Chandon established Domaine Chandon, it gave an overwhelming stamp of approval to the Yarra Valley as a leading location for the cool climate Champagne grape varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.  Designed by architectural firm Allen, Jack + Cottier, the cellar door and winery melds traditional Champagne architecture with modern Australian design. The cavernous 72,000 bottle climate-controlled riddling hall, stunning colonnade wall joining the original homestead and the gorgeous cellar door and restaurant overlooking their Green Point vineyard are all world class. Yet, what makes Domaine Chandon a must visit during any trip to the Yarra Valley is their terrific self-guided tour of the winery. The informative trail allows visitors to examine up close the full winemaking process from the expansive winery, barrel and riddling halls, all with informative interactive guides. 727 Maroondah Hwy, Coldstream - view on our Yarra Valley Map Open daily 10:30am to 4:30pm Visit the Domaine Chandon Website  Giant Steps
Located in the township of Healesville, the Giant Steps complex is truly spectacular and is a must visit. It’s a remarkable venue featuring a restaurant, cafe and cellar door built directly within their working winery separated by floor to ceiling glass. Giant Steps allows visitors to be surrounded by the winemaking process. Tastings are held in the newly refurbished barrel hall tasting room allowing you further insight into the happenings of vintage.  Address - 336 Maroondah Hwy, Healesville VIC 3777  - view on our Yarra Valley Map Open 11am to late Monday to Friday. 9am to late Saturday to Sunday Visit the Giant Steps Website Dominique Portet
Embrace a slower pace during your visit to the Yarra Valley at the delightful Dominique Portet Winery. The charming cellar door and Mediterranean inspired terrace cafe overlook rolling vineyards and are the perfect place to relax while sampling their exceptional Rose, Sparkling, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon on offer.  870 Maroondah Hwy, Coldstream  - view on our Yarra Valley Map Open daily 10am-5pm Visit the Domonique Portet Website Rob Dolan Wines
Rob Dolan , a Yarra Valley winemaking stalwart of 25 years, launched his own label in 2010 and won the  James Halliday Best New Winery Award in 2014 . Rob’s new cellar door combines  The Farm (an events space) , Stone & Crow Cheese and the Rob Dolan Winery. Located in Warrandyte, just 30 minutes from Melbourne’s CBD, this charming cellar door makes for the perfect start or conclusion to any visit to the Yarra Valley. 21-23 Delaneys Road, South Warrandyte - view on our Yarra Valley Map Open Daily 10am to 5pm Visit the Rob Dolan Wines Cellar Door Website De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate
De Bortoli Wines is an Australian wine industry institution established in Griffith, NSW, in 1928. The Yarra Valley vineyard, established in 1987 and helmed by Leanne De Bortoli and husband Steve Webber, is set in a truly stunning position completely surrounded by vines in every direction. This vineyard has produced excellent wines with De Bortoli winning the coveted Jimmy Watson trophy in 1997. Apart from a wide range of wines, what makes De Bortoli a particularly nice winery to visit is the marriage of wine with cheese. The extensive selection of local and imported cheeses in this friendly cellar door is outstanding and perfectly complements De Bortoli’s excellent cool climate Yarra Valley wines and those from their other regions. The Locale Restaurant offers an authentic Italian dining experience with a menu designed to reflect the best local seasonal produce featuring veggies from their own garden, home made pasta and authentic Italian risotto.  58 Pinnacle Lane, Dixons Creek  - view on our Yarra Valley Map Open daily 10am to 5pm Visit the De Bortoli Yarra Valley Estate website Yering Station
No visit to the Yarra Valley is truly complete without a visit to Yering Station . This winery is a destination in and of itself with an exceptional architect designed restaurant and bar, historic cellar door, art space, underground barrel room, local produce store, monthly farmers market and stunning grounds. The first vineyard in Victoria was established on this site in 1838. That history is clear and enshrined in the old winery that now serves as the cellar door and gallery.  The monthly farmers market held in Yering Station’s historic barn is the oldest farmers’ market in Victoria and is a must if you are fortunate to be in the area. Be sure to check the  Yarra Valley Regional Food Group’s page  for more details on the market. 38 Melba Hwy, Yarra Glen  - view on our Yarra Valley Map Open daily 10am to 5pm  Visit the Yering Station website Seville Estate
This charming winery is situated further southwest towards Yellingbo. With a charming casual aesthetic overlooking a classic Australian bushland setting, the Seville Estate cellar door makes for the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon. One of the oldest continually operating wineries in the Yarra Valley, Seville Estate’s famed Shiraz and Pinot Noir are excellent examples of the region’s terroir.  Tasting Panelist, Trent Mannell agrees,  “Seville Estate is a Yarra Valley icon, the higher elevation of the estate’s vines allow the grapes to ripen slowly to produce elegant cool climate wines perfect for Pinot Noir.”  65 Linwood Rd, Seville  - view on our Yarra Valley Map Open daily 10am to 5pm Visit the Seville Estate Restaurant Tarrawarra Estate
The spectacular TarraWarra Estate cellar door, built into the earth of the wineries’ rolling hillside is a truly stunning place to sample their high-quality wines. The renowned restaurant complete with vista further cements TarraWarra as an exceptional Yarra Valley winery experience.  Tasting Panelist, Trent Mannell   has this to say, “Situated on 400 hectares of prime land beside the Yarra river, TarraWarra’s wines are meticulously grown, hand picked, vinified and aged on the estate,” he says. “There are so many great cellar doors in the Yarra Valley, but TarraWarra must be on your short list.” 311 Healesville-Yarra Glen Road, Yarra Glen - view on our Yarra Valley Map   Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm Visit the TarraWarra website Helen's Hill
Nestled at the bottom of its eponymous hill, this 100% family-owned and operated vineyard and cellar door is a must-visit for those interested in the inner workings of the winemaking process. With floor to ceiling views of the winery and barrel hall, this relaxed cellar door allows a unique experience and sense connection. The nearby Vines Restaurant is exceptional and the perfect match to the wineries premier wines. 16 Ingram Road, Lilydale  - view on our Yarra Valley Map Open daily 10am to 5pm  Visit the Helen's Hill website  Yarra Valley Wineries Map Planning a trip to the Yarra Valley? Our interactive Yarra Valley winery map is the perfect way to plan your next trip.  To save on your browser or device click here . Explore The Best Yarra Valley Wineries Today For more information on visiting the Yarra Valley be sure to visit the  official Yarra Valley visitors website . Why not sample some of the wineries listed in this guide before you visit  – explore our wide selection of Yarra Valley wines and find out more about the wineries listed in this guide in our  Meet the Makers section  . Here you’ll find further information on: With our Wine Selectors Regional Releases you’ll experience a different wine region each release with all wines expertly selected by our  Tasting Panel , plus you’ll receive comprehensive tasting notes and fascinating insights into each region.  Visit our Regional Releases page to find out more!
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Cellar Doors Italian style
Words by Alessandro Ragazzo on 20 Aug 2015
Like most producers in the world, Italian wineries are constantly looking at making better quality wine. In Italy in recent times, this search has become a study of the ‘fashion of form’ – uncovering the intricate concept of structure of wine to help conceive that perfect drop. This thinking has also extended to ‘Turismo Enogastronomico’ (food and wine tourism) with spectacular results. Old estates have been transformed by a collection of famous Italian architects, so that the cellar door and winery has become as much the centre of attraction as the wine. It is a union between tradition and modernity, a road map that directs guests and the curious to an unexpected and beguiling journey. These new concept wineries have been designed by architects and engineers in conjunction with Italy’s most famous contemporary sculptors, and using biodynamic principles so their designs are at one with their environment. Gone are the boring rusty tinned walls of decaying estates, ushering in is a new era of engineering that utilises the natural shape of the landscape as the centre of attraction. Buildings don’t just go up, they also flow out, around and even down inside the earth. Natural inspirations The choice of materials, most of the made from recycled or sustainable products, and the sensitivity for the surroundings have been critical elements in this architectural revolution. The most precious inspiration for Arnaldo Pomodoro, one of Italy’s greatest contemporary sculptors and designers, was a turtle, a symbol of longevity and stability. In this case, the shell of the turtle became the domed copper roof of the Tenuta Coltibuono di Bevagna , a winery in Umbria. Pomodoro had produced many sculptures in his time, but this was the first for the wine industry and the success of the project reverberated on an international scale and set the tone for the design wave to come in the Italian wine industry. Other wineries followed suit, embracing the art of the concept and seeing it as a way to reinvigorate tourism to the wine regions. Designers and architects Paolo Dellapiana and Francesco Bermond des Ambrois collaborated to conceptualise the Cascina Adelaide di Barolo in Cuneo, Piemonte. This amazing structure has been built into the hills, and from a distance it almost disappears into the countryside, perfectly camouflaged with the rest of the habitat – almost like a Hobbit house full of wine, if you will. Structure and form While many of the structures are dazzling from the outside, just as much thought and design has been applied to the internal workings. Everything from barrel halls to crushing rooms have transformed wineries’ inner workings into virtual exhibition halls. The new Antinori Cellar Door in the Chianti Classico area near Florence is a perfect example. Designed by Mario Casamonti it is a truly unique structure. With a surface area of 24,000m2, it took eight years to construct, with an investment of 40 million Euro. The structure is developed horizontally rather than vertically, with the winery hidden in the earth. The production facilities and storage are spread across three stunning levels. And the interior design is simply breathtaking with terracotta vaults to ensure perfect temperature and humidity levels.   The new world order Where Italy once had wineries they now have monuments. And while there are still plenty of the old style ‘casale’ with moulded walls and giant dirty barrels, the way forward is for large, clean, bright and spacious structures with areas dedicated to each individual phase of wine production.   This concept of wine and design seems to be resonating around the globe with architects working on amazing structures   from California to Chile, from Spain to France, from Alto Adige to Sicily, and even right here in Australia – think Chester Osborn’s big Rubik’s Cube plans for d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale. The future is now and it is an exciting time for those who appreciate design in architecture and in their wine glass.
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Meet Tom Carson of Yabby Lake
With the popularity of Australian Pinot G continuing to climb, we chat with Yabby Lake general manager and winemaker, Tom Carson, whose Red Claw Pinot Gris 2016 is so deliciously food-friendly. Along with being an award-winning winemaker, you’re also heavily involved with the Australian wine show circuit – including holding the position of Chairman of the Royal Melbourne Wine Show. What’s exciting you most about Australian wine? Australian wine is in a wonderful period at the moment, there are so many small producers producing stunning wine. As we have seen at the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards, this year a Grenache won the most coveted Trophy in Australian wine, the Jimmy Watson Trophy. Grenache is a wonderful variety and produces stunning wines, particularly from the incredible old vine resources of South Australia – couple this with a modern, sensitive approach to winemaking and we are finally realising the potential of this variety. You’ve worked in multiple wine regions across Australia and France, and this year celebrate ten years at Yabby Lake –  what drew you to Yabby Lake and the Mornington Peninsula?   Yabby Lake is a stunning property and is an amazing vineyard site. It was the unrealised potential of this site that really drew me in – just imagining what was possible with this vineyard had me hooked, and 10 years on that hasn’t changed. Fruit for the Red Claw Pinot Gris 2016 was harvested in early February 2016, which is quite early for the Mornington Peninsula! How’s vintage 2018 looking?  Yes, 2016 was the earliest vintage we have ever experienced here, picking 10 days earlier than ever before. 2018 is shaping up nicely and we should be harvesting late February this year! Both Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio have really found their place in the Australian wine market – what is it about Pinot G that makes it so popular? It is a wine that is easy to connect with – it’s subtle, finely detailed, but also wonderfully drinkable and really suits that summer weather when you are craving something refreshing but also interesting. What makes the Red Claw Pinot Gris stand out from the crowd? Red Claw Mornington Peninsula Pinot Gris captures the variety and region in a way that just draws you in and makes you an instant fan. What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? I remember when l was very young, maybe 5 years-old, treading grapes in a garbage bin and thinking what great fun it was getting covered in wine and grapes. It’s funny how things work out! Other than your own wine, what is the wine that you like to drink at home? I am massive fan of Yarra Valley Chardonnay, particularly from Oakridge, old vine McLaren Vale Grenache from S.C. Pannell, and Nebbiolo from Italy. What is your ultimate food and wine match? Chinese roast duck and Pinot Noir! Yes, it is a bit of a cliché, but have you tried it? What do you do to relax when you’re away from the winery? On a golf course! Well, l try to anyway, but that depends on how the game is going! Your must-do for visitors to the Mornington Peninsula. Peninsula hot springs in winter. Beach in summer. Golf in autumn and spring.
What is your favourite… Book ? Girt by David Hunt – every Australian should read this book and True Girt. Movie ? Alien. TV show? Game of Thrones. Restaurant?  Kisume. Breakfast ? Coffee. Lunch?  Long. Dinner? In summer a barbeque eating outside and enjoying a few nice wines. Time of day/night?  Morning. Sporting team?  Essendon FC. Beer?  Proper Italian brewed and canned Peroni Nastro Azzurro – not that rubbish they brew and bottle here, it is a scandal and should be exposed.
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