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Wine Traveller Mornington Peninsula

Just an hour’s drive from Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula is a slice of paradise with its alluring blend of calm bays, eucalypt forests, farmland and surfable southern swells. It is also a mecca for quality produce, from strawberries to apples, olives to cheese, and of course, wine. The cool maritime climate allows for elegant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, along with a host of alternative varietals, and it is the recognised birthplace of Pinot Grigio in Australia.

While wine has long attracted visitors, the region’s culinary offerings have also been garnering plenty of praise of late. Many are located in wineries and one of the first you’ll find just off the Mornington Peninsula Freeway from Melbourne is Yabby Lake. Winemaker Tom Carson is renowned in these parts and his award-winning wines provide the perfect match to the delicious seasonal fare served up by chef Simon West at their relaxed cellar door and restaurant. Think asparagus and gorgonzola tart enjoyed on the verandah overlooking the vineyards. 

Not far down the freeway near Dromana is a man and a place of legendary status – Garry Crittenden from Crittenden Estate. Garry planted one of the first vineyards in the region over 35 years ago. These days, his son Rollo is winemaker, producing classy flagships and unique alternative varietals. On the picturesque Crittenden Estate, you’ll find gorgeous lakeside villas and the delightful Stillwater at Crittenden Restaurant. Originally a small café built by Garry’s wife Margaret, it was taken over by dynamic duo Zac and Jacqui Poullier, who impress with a menu of shared plates and a la carte dishes such as corn fed duck breast with boulangere potato, pumpkin puree and local cherries. 

Just up the road sits Foxey’s Hangout. Two decades ago, brothers Michael and Tony Lee made a tree change, trading in their Melbourne-based hospitality business for a life making wine on the Peninsula. Pop in for a wine tasting, then grab a deck chair on the verandah and enjoy seasonal shared plates while overlooking the sloping vineyard.

Everything and anything

You’ll find both ends of the food spectrum in this amazing region. Rebecca Ettridge started Wombat Café, the Mornington Peninsula’s first all vegan café, which sits in a row of shops opposite a series of walking trails towards Dromana. It serves breakfast, lunch and a range of take home meals as well as awesome organics smoothies such as the High Roller – banana, chia seeds, peanut butter, vanilla and almond milk topped with peanut crumble. 

Up the rise to Red Hill and along Arthur’s Seat Road, you’ll find one of the Peninsula’s new gems behind an old Liberty service station; Red Gum BBQ – a low and slow American-style barbecue joint run by enterprising young couple Melissa and Martin Goffin. What started out as barbecues for friends grew into pop ups at markets and finally, they took the leap, left their jobs and opened Red Gum in an old truck mechanic shed. Big, open and with a rockin’ country music sound track, it is fun for the whole family. Try a range of local brews while sampling smoked specialities such as beef brisket and pulled pork with sides of cornbread and Melissa’s secret slaw recipe. 

Perfectly paired

From Red Hill, head towards Merricks  and you’ll come to the impressive Polperro, where unflappable owner and winemaker Sam Coverdale has created a triple treat: stylish wines, luxurious villas and a stunning bistro. It has outdoor seating for the summer and a cosy fireplace in the winter to enjoy dishes such as grass-fed beef fillet with truffle custard, pea purée, asparagus and beef jus. 

Not far away is a winery and restaurant of renown, Paringa Estate. Chef Adam Beckett presides over a seasonal menu that has earned a chef’s hat for five straight years. His King George whiting with pea crumb, broccoli and half turned potatoes is nearing acclaimed status.

Ten Minutes by Tractor is equally revered in the dining stakes. Chef Stuart Bell’s Fromagarie Menu is perfect if you’re on the go, or settle in for his eight-course degustation if you have all afternoon. 
If you’re keen for food and activity, head towards Shoreham to Montalto. They have quality wines and a recently renovated restaurant that makes use of produce from their vege patch. They also have an amazing sculpture-in-the-vines trail through their vineyards, which is a great way to walk off a decadent lunch. 

Jumping Jackalopes

Without doubt, the most talked about development on the Peninsula in years is  Jackalope Hotel. Built onto the existing structures at Willow Creek Vineyard at Merricks North, it offers super high end accommodation, whose every hallway and open space is a veritable art gallery. It is also home to the mind-blowing Doot Doot Doot restaurant, where chef Martin Webster’s edgy cuisine is wowing diners and has already scored a hat. Its 1200-bottle wine list is simply stupendous. If you’re looking for something a little more relaxed, the same venue hosts Rare Hare cafe, whose wood-fired oven signals more casual but still impressive lunch fare.

Not far from Jackalope is the iconic Merricks General Wine Store, which is a welcoming café, cellar door and an art gallery all in one. Then head south to the hamlet of Flinders. Here, you’ll find a quaint General Store, whose shelves stock gourmet goods and local beers, Georgie & Bass, a café and cookery school, and  Mornington Peninsula Chocolates.

If you’re down this way, follow the  southern coastline past world famous golf courses and the RACV’s spectacular state-of-the-art resort at Cape Schanck (due to be completed in April) and head towards Rosebud to find Blue Mini Eatery & Emporium. Owner and all-round go-getter Tracey Fleming has filled an old bowling alley with eclectic furniture and works by local artists (most of which are on sale) to create a place where you feel instantly at home. Chef John Ward dishes up a menu of fresh, zesty organic fare, while Tracey, who caters events all over the Peninsula, has recently launched Boneo Road Roasters, roasting her own coffee using ethically sourced beans. 

Peninsula Produce

If you’re keen to get more intimate with the amazing food of the region, there are plenty of places where you can sample produce fresh from the source. 
At Benton Rise at Tuerong, Ryan and Deb Sharpley have a perfectly balanced aquaponics system sustainably farming veges and salads alongside rainbow trout. Ryan also grows exotic mushrooms, which he supplies to local restaurants. In addition, every weekend, they host the local farmers’ markets in an old ‘red rattler’ train carriage. Get there early, as once the produce is gone, it’s gone.
And there’s lots more. You can sample an amazing array of bee delights at Pure Peninsula Honey, try fresh goat’s cheese (and pat baby goats) at Main Ridge Dairy, pick berries at Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm, crunch on fresh apples and down ciders at Mock Red Hill, or taste estate-grown olive oil over lunch in a gorgeous setting at Green Olive at Red Hill. 

The more time you spend on the Mornington Peninsula, the more you appreciate this remarkable region, its glorious produce and the wonderful characters plating up perfection.
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Wine
Margaret River’s 50th
Words by Danielle Costley on 12 Nov 2017
As WA’s Margaret River wine region celebrates its 50th anniversary, we celebrate the pioneers who brought it all to fruition. A hundred years ago, a couple of Italian immigrants arrived in the south west corner of Western Australia with some cuttings of a little-known grape variety called Fragola. These vines produced the first wines to be sold in Margaret River for the hefty price tag of two shillings a flagon. Fondly dubbed ‘red dynamite’ by the enthusiastic community, this wine was in high demand at the local dance halls where it was sold from the back of a truck. And it was said to pack quite a punch. Times have certainly changed since then and while other growers produced small batches of wines in the ensuing years, it wasn’t until the mid 1960s when agronomist Dr John Gladstones published a report identifying Margaret River’s vast potential for viticulture, that the region, as we know it today, was born.
The Gladstones report attracted the attention of budding vignerons and medical practitioners, Thomas Cullity and Kevin and Diana Cullen. In mid 1966, the Cullens organised a meeting in the Margaret River township of Busselton inviting Dr Gladstones to speak. It was the final push those attending needed. Soon after, the Cullens, in partnership with Tom Cullity, and Geoff and Sue Juniper, planted vines in Wilyabrup, which unfortunately didn’t survive. It was left to Cullity, who in 1967 purchased a mere eight acres of land, to plant Margaret River’s first commercial vines – Cabernet Sauvignon , Shiraz , Malbec and Riesling . He named his venture after French sailor, Thomas Vasse, who had drowned in Geographe Bay. Hoping for better fortunes than the Frenchman, he added the Latin word for happiness – Felix. His first crop, too, was all but a disaster, decimated by birds and succumbing to bunch rot. Undeterred, but determined, Cullity persevered. In 1972, Vasse Felix won a gold medal at the Perth Show for its Riesling. The following year, gold for its Cabernet. Happy days, indeed. The Cullens also persevered. In 1971 they planted vines on their own land where their current vineyard still thrives. At this stage, Moss Wood had been established for two years and within another two years, Cape Mentelle, Leeuwin Estate, and Woodlands had also been established. In what was a fledgling industry at the time, these founding wineries worked tirelessly to forge the region’s reputation as a premium wine producer. “I pay tribute to the winemakers and grape growers of Margaret River,” says Dr Gladstones, who is still a proud member of the Margaret River community today. “It’s one thing to have an idea and put it forward, it’s another this to be brought to fruition. The work and financial commitment that had to go into it has been a big factor in bringing Margaret River to its present world-class status.”
Left: Bob Hullock. Right: Cullen Wines co-founder Diana Cullen  An American influence While the pioneering wineries may have simply dreamed of making good wine, there was a certain Californian who knew of Margaret River’s enormous potential – Napa Valley wine baron, Robert Mondavi. As the story goes, Mondavi was searching the globe for the next great wine region. His search took him to Margaret River and a patch of land owned by Denis Horgan, a chartered accountant, and his wife Tricia. Today, it is Leeuwin Estate. “Mondavi arrived on our doorstep wanting to buy the place,’ says Denis. “We weren’t the selling type, so he became our mentor in setting up a winery. He and his son and winemaker, Tim, came out on numerous occasions to advise on what varieties we should plant, where to plant them, about oak treatment and so on.” Mondavi’s advice was also greatly accepted by Cullity and Kevin Cullen, who Denis befriended and met up with regularly to discuss all things wine. “You would have sworn you were in a dog fight,” Denis says of the trio’s rendezvous. “They used to swear and curse and talk about one another’s wines, and then we’d all sit down and have lunch like we were the greatest of friends.  “They were fabulous guys. It was the best education I could have had because they didn’t pull any punches. They set out to make wines that ranked with the best in the world, and they damn well did it.” A region evolved
Three generations of Credaros in their Woolston vineyard Fifty years on, Margaret River is indeed a world class wine region. While it only produces three percent of Australia’s wine, it contributes 20 per cent of our premium wine production. It is recognised internationally for exceptional Cabernets and Chardonnays, and also produces a stylish signature blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The handful of wineries have now boomed to over 200 with most of them producing the flagships, while also experimenting with other varietals and blends that suit the Mediterranean climate, cooling sea breezes and rich gravelly soils. In the northern districts lies the family-owned Credaro Wines, where some of the region’s first vines were planted by the pioneering Meleri and Credaro families to produce the ‘red dynamite’. These days, they have over 140 hectares of vines spread across five vineyards and alongside the legendary Fragola, and Chardonnay, Cabernet and SBS, they are doing well with Pinot Grigio, Shiraz and Merlot. Thompson Estate is renowned for its Chardonnays and Cabernets, but is also finding favour with its Cabernet Merlot, Malbec and famed Four Chambers Shiraz. The 20-year-old vines are organically grown and produce impressive wines under the watchful eye of Bob Cartwright of Leeuwin Estate acclaim.
Hay Shed Hill, Margaret River At Hay Shed Hill, whose vineyards were first planted in the 1970s, the Block 6 Chardonnay is the star. Dry grown and located on a steep south facing slope, it is lean, light and fresh, but also has “flavour, aroma, body and textural interest,” says winemaker and owner, Michael Kerrigan. In concert with the Block 6, he is also giving plenty of attention to a stunning Cabernet Franc, as well as an intoxicating Shiraz Tempranillo blend. In the cooler, southern parts of the Margaret River, Sauvignon Blanc really finds voice as a single varietal. In close proximity to the Indian Ocean, you will find Redgate Wines, a winery that takes its name from a nearby property that once had a prominent red gate and was known for the production of a rather powerful moonshine. This estate, established by the Ullinger family in 1977, produces a sublime Sauvignon Blanc that is layered with gooseberry and lime. Their Cabernet blends are also beguiling, and they have a Chenin Blanc that is also turning heads. Even further south lies Hamelin Bay Wines, a quaint winery with a simply breathtaking outlook. It produces one of the region’s finest Sauvignon Blancs – fresh, vibrant and tropical, while their Rampant Red, a blend of Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet, is winning fans. Something Totally New When Moss Wood winery was sub-divided in 1982, architect Bruce Tomlinson purchased the land and established Lenton Brae winery. Putting his talents to use, he built a striking rammed earth winery and cellar door with two towers that are home to quintet bells from Westminster and chime on the quarter-hour. A few years ago, the Tomlinsons introduced a new varietal to the region, Pinot Blanc. This unassuming grape is a mutation of Pinot Noir, yet genetically similar to Chardonnay. Winemaker, Edward Tomlinson, says he was drawn to the subtle charm of this early ripening variety. “Essentially, it is a Sauvignon Blanc for grown-ups,’ he says. “The decision to plant Pinot Blanc was a big call. Having seen my father wrestle with the implications of uprooting two hectares of Pinot Noir in the early days, I was amazed at how supportive he was for me to take a punt on Pinot Blanc.” And these are not the only newcomers to the region. There’s been an influx of plantings of Mediterranean varietals in recent years, with Fiano, Vermentino, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese finding favour amongst the growing band of winemakers. A Fitting Half Century
As the 50th celebrations kick off in earnest, it is heartwarming to see much love given to the traditions of the pioneers. Vasse Felix’ s ‘tractor bucket’ party recreated the spirit of founding producers who celebrated each of those crucial early vintages in style with tractor buckets turned into eskys, filled with ice and wine and enjoyed out amongst the vines, even serving as a bed on some occasions. “Anniversaries such as this are an opportunity to share with the world just how special Margaret River is. It is a wine paradise,” says current Vasse Felix owner, Paul Holmes a Court. The single remaining bottle of the 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec is on display in the Vasse Felix vault and to celebrate the winery’s 50th anniversary, they have released a Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec made from those original vines. I am sure the good doctor would approve. And while he would be astounded to see how big the region has grown, he always knew how good the wines were going to be. “I knew because Mondavi told me so,” says Denis Horgan. “He always said that Margaret River was going to make wines that ranked with the best in the world. It was his catch cry.” The best is still yet to come says Dr Gladstones, who fittingly gets to have the last word. “I strongly believe that we’ve only seen the beginning,” he says. “This region has tremendous natural advantages for grape growing to produce top quality wines. “With its environments, experience and now increasing vine age, Margaret River is undoubtedly ripe to walk with the greatest.”
Life
Be still my Indian heart
Words by Kathy Lane on 14 Jan 2016
It was love at first sight, smell and taste. My sensory affair with India began when I visited just over a year ago and I’ve been besotted ever since. I was lucky enough to travel to India for the first time with Melbourne’s Epicurious Travel, experiencing a customised version of their ‘Indian Odyssey’ adventure.   When I headed back six months later, I added a side order of Kolkata and opened my heart even further to the joys of this incredible country. One of the greatest sources of my adoration for India is her food, which is prepared with care and tradition after daily trips to the market. At our first stop, Delhi, breakfast is a revelation. There is the delicious simplicity of the masala omelette, featuring a creamy eggyness that plays with the acidic tang of tomato and the subtle heat of chilli. Then there’s the savoury melange of the breakfast masala dosai, a rice and lentil batter fermented overnight then fried and served as a long, crisp pancake roll stuffed with a spicy potato curry. Black mustard seeds, fenugreek and fresh curry leaves deliver a gentle punch in the potato, while the dosai is served with a colourful array of sambars and chutney that are like nothing I have ever tasted. The crunchy coconut sambar and spicy tomato chutney are unbelievably fresh with a lingering depth of spicy, exotic and addictive flavours. Chandni Chowk bazaar in Old Delhi is a crazy, mysterious labyrinth of narrow laneways that all seem to lead inwards, while its main drag is a frantic explosion of cars, trucks, taxis and trolleys, where vendors sell their wares with vocal abandon and a sea of people crush the pavements. In the depths of the market streets, fruit and vegetable sellers perch on their haunches, or lie resting, their fresh, bright produce by their sides. Young men push flat-bedded trolleys of melons, gourds and greens, looking for the next buyer. Fresh watermelon juice is pressed and loaded with ice, giving some relief from the stifling heat. Pots of oil splatter as they cook delicious jalebi – a saffron-tinted disk of pastry with hints of cardamom and rosewater that play with the lingering sweetness. Vegetable samosas are the ultimate savoury street food. Potato and peas mixed with an array of aromatic spices: cumin, garlic, ginger, chilli and turmeric, their crisp pastry delicious and satisfying. We eat chicken kebabs fresh from the tandoor, strung onto metal skewers with onion and green capsicum, covered in a spice mix of cumin, turmeric and garlic, and served with a pot of bubbling dal. India has a love affair with dal, its shades and flavours unique to each region. In northern India, dal makhani features an array of dark beans and lentils flavoured with chillis, garlic, ginger, onions and unique spice mixes. When ours arrive, a knob of garlic butter has been placed in the bottom of the copper serving pot. The steamy dal is placed on top, its heat melting the butter and creating a lava-like explosion of flavour as its garlicky goodness infuses the beans. Rich, textural and highly complex, its lasting flavours linger in my memory. The bustle to the iconic From Delhi, we travel by bus to Agra, enjoying the countryside, where villagers barter at their local market, tend their land and mend things. Indians can fix anything it seems – including our broken down bus – with garages and workshops in every town, faces and hands stained from the grimy work, the air heavy as the scent of automotive oil mingles with village life. The ultimate monument to love, the Taj Mahal, is a sight to behold. Its majesty at sunrise breathtaking in its beauty, its painstaking construction a work of symmetry and wealth, the ultimate jewel in Agra’s – and India’s - crown.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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