The Mornington Peninsula is right on the edge of the sea and so there’s an ancient conversation between the ocean and volcanic rocks going on. Winemaking here is alive with possibilities. There’s a huge wild invitation to extend the imagination and make wines alive with perfume and power from sea splattered vines. On a Plunge Tour we seek out the finest wines produced from across the region - wines of texture, density and fragrance. Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir mainly, all there to compare and contrast over a day’s touring fun.
An organic and biodynamic Plunge wine tour is all about innovative ideas when we visit Mornington Peninsula winemakers who are part of a global crusade that reject conventional thinking and push the boundaries in their vineyards and wines. Thirty years ago, winemakers Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy founded T’Gallant Winemakers. From a rustic winery/restaurant in Main Ridge, this dynamic duo thrust Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio under the collective nose of Australia’s wine cognocenti to create excitement and demand for aromatic wines perfectly suited to the spicy cuisine of the day.
Having sold their original family brand, Kevin and Kathleen now own one of the oldest pinot noir vineyards in the region where Quealy Winemakers continue their rebellious questioning ways. Located in Balnarring, the line-up of wines include a succulent Sangiovese blended red named Rageous (after a pet mule) and a lively north-eastern Italian white named Turbul Friulano, fermented in terracotta amphoras. The wines are available in a sunny tasting room at the front of a big iron-clad winery where dogs and cats roam. It’s the spot for progressive wine drinkers who love bold flavours and wine with attitude.
Further South, on an elevated north-eastern slope of rich volcanic soil, Kevin and Kathleen’s son, Tom McCarthy and his business partner Lucas Blanck make some of the most interesting natural wines in the region. At Kerri Greens three giant concrete water tanks have been converted into a winery, barrel room and funky rotund Cellar Door where aromatic Riesling and Gewürztraminer are the aperitif to the Hickson Chardonnay alive with savoury struck match and flint character. These lads also make a natural Pinot Noir, with confectionery flavours and free of additives, oak manipulation and other trappings of conventional winemaking. These wines are aimed squarely at a new generation of drinkers who drop their picnic rugs across the front lawn, enjoy scenic views and a carefree attitude and take selfies in sunglasses that somehow make everyone look cool.
On Stanley Road Merricks, Avani Wines’ winemaker, Shashi Singh is the torchbearer for minimalist intervention and biodynamic principles. Shashi’s approach has unintentionally become a sort of conscience to progressive wine drinkers who ask questions that go beyond taste to issues of health, morality and philosophy. Shashi makes biodynamic natural wines that range from delicious to profound. Her cloudy, peach-coloured Pinot Gris wraps around your palate with texture and unadulterated flavours while her Avani Syrah is a wine lovers’ grail. This joyous expression of cool climate Shiraz has rich flavours of eye-closing beauty.
From vineyards tended with love for the future, free of toxic chemicals pesticides and herbicides, Quealy, Kerri Greens and Avani succeed in making juicy, delicious wines that are gaining a loyal and enthusiastic following. Plunge in…
The Mornington Peninsula is the heart and soul of Australian Pinot Noir. This region is renowned for boutique wineries, verdant countryside and stunning ocean views.
Plunge Wine Tours’ host, Arthur O’Bryan has lived and worked in the wine industry here for over twenty years. His tours are like a personal sommelier guiding you through the region’s great wines, vineyards and winemakers.
Over winter, Plunge offers a wine masterclass on wheels; a fun and interactive day’s adventure that typically includes meeting winemakers, tasting out of barrel, and vineyard walks.
Public vs. Private Tours? Public Tours combine people with other groups on a shared (public) day’s experience. Importantly, Plunge Wine Tours only offer private wine tours these are exclusively curated to the couples who have booked the day’s adventure, allowing the privacy and personal attention you deserve.
The winter time itinerary is all geared toward enhancing wine knowledge and ensuring the most memorable experiences.
A Mornington Peninsula wine tour offers an exclusive experience within the quiet solitude of barrel rooms during winter. At Willow Creek Vineyard, meet one of the region’s premium winemakers, Geraldine McFaul who also happens to be the wife of your tour host. Together, taste wine from barrel and learn about various winemaking styles. Brave the elements for a vineyard ramble and then spend the day visiting other cellar doors to see how wine is made over a private tasting.
To drink Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir is to contemplate an ancient volcano with a cool sea breeze at your back. The Peninsula’s crab-claw like coastal stretch is washed by three waters; mildly gentle Port Phillip Bay, soupy, rough Western Port Bay and turbulent Bass Strait the lifeblood of vineyards and tasty, supple wines, tense with tannins and alive with acidity.
Across this region, winemakers learn and better understand the rich diversity of this landscape through the lens of the Pinot Noir grape. Their wines reflect volcanic soils in vineyards bound by sea and bathed in bright sunshine.
Filmmaker, Fred Schepisi grows Pinot Noir in Red Hill while across the ditch, his old mate, New Zealand actor/winemaker, Sam Neill hugs his pig while making Central Otago’s brooding and sorrowful wine. The sun is a stark signature of the Australian cinema that these men have created and just as terroir is traceable in wine, brilliant light provokes a sense of place in films shot in this hot and fragile land.
As film lovers we watch cinema from all corners of the globe. As wine lovers, we feel privileged to drink foreign made wines. As they have piqued our interest, the French have owned our palate with Burgundy wines of density and perfumed grace. French cinema explores psychology through images shot in soft, diffusing light. The cultural existence the sun plays above has Mornington Peninsula wine expressed as bright Pinot Noir with burnt berry scent, cherry-fruit and soft and silky tannins.
The hills around Main Ridge to the sea feature fertile volcanic soil formed by granulated tephra forty-five-million years ago. Today they are bathed in sunlight as brilliant as a cinematic spotlight over land. Winemakers dream of making greater wines, but they can’t just dial-up Chambertin, as these coastal slopes bear little resemblance to the revered Côte d'Or. Imitating Burgundy is not an honest interpretation of Mornington Peninsula terroir. Winemakers should seek a pure expression of complex soils, salty air, and hot summer days. Pinot Noir with energy and complexity defined by a gentle sea breeze, bright fruit and sunshine in a glass.
Volcanic soil and coastal climate are the lifeblood of tasty wine with great acidity
Close-planted Pinot Noir vineyards are the colourful kite surfers of the wine world- they’re expensive and complicated to run but, in ideal conditions, the results can be mesmerising. Driving around the Mornington Peninsula, there are close-planted vineyards at Merricks Creek (est. 1998) and Ten Minutes by Tractor (est. 2016), while a tour of Victoria finds the typically stumpy vines planted at Punch Vineyard in the Yarra Valley, Bass Phillip in Leongatha, Bindi in the Macedon Ranges and at Australia’s oldest close-planted vineyard in Bannockburn. Here, the Serré Vineyard (est. 1986), produces one of the country’s most celebrated Pinot Noirs with superb length and energy. Its fruit density and savoury tannins formed from whole-bunches means it’s a wine comparable to Cru Burgundy with great ageing potential.
Turning off the water plays a critical role in a close-planted vineyard’s success as dry grown vines limit yields and increase fruit intensity. Amongst Burgundy’s Grand Cru sites, the old vines at Domaine Dujac’s, Clos de la Roche in Gevrey-Chambertin reign supreme. This vineyard is capable of producing wines of beguiling complexity. In the New World, close-planted vines typically produce wine with more power as the vines age. In younger sites, such as those on the Peninsula, the rich volcanic soil and coastal climate presents extra challenges. Dense foliage and tight bunch frames are prone to disease pressure like powdery and downey mildew from ocean-borne humidity which also increases weed activity and vigour. Also, the back-breaking task of picking grapes along knee-high vines in high humidity is a job few would ever wish for.
Forever chasing the holy grail of Pinot Noir, the vast majority of Mornington Peninsula vignerons have trellised their vineyards with Vertical Shoot Position (VSP) but a small band of resistance farmers have opted for a more interesting post and wire configuration. The V-shaped Lyre trellis, which straddles vineyards in Main Ridge, Red Hill and Merricks is most distinctive for producing wines with plenty of intensity and power. Across double-spaced rows, a broad and airy canopy reduces disease pressure and filters sunshine to ripen fruit slowly. At the vine’s base, the trunk is split close to the ground ensuring short arteries deliver nutrients closer to the source. Paringa Estate’s The Paringa, (est. 1989) and Stonier Wines’ KBS Vineyard (est. 1985) are two of the Lyre’s finest work. The Paringa having received many trophies and acclaim from wine shows and critics in Australia and internationally. Once they reach maturity, it will be interesting to see how the close-planted vines stack up against these local wines grown on the big V.
The London-based Bibendum Hunting Party visited the Mornington Peninsula after touring wine regions throughout Australia. These lads were wined and dined by the nation's most iconic wine brands, so how does the Peninsula go about entertaining six wine hunters who sell over £20 million of wine annually? They pull-out the big guns.
To ensure an unforgettable experience, event organiser, Arthur O'Bryan asks Captain Johnny Wrout, a local fisherman with property on Flinders Island, to fly freshly caught crayfish to his secluded beach-house overlooking Balnarring Point. Here, one-hundred metres offshore, out on Western Port Bay, a padlocked underwater pen is where the Captain’s giant crayfish are fattened up for the pending feast.
A glorious day greets the Hunting Party on Balnarring Beach as they roll-up their trousers and sip Stonier Cuveé while splashing about in the shallows. Out on the water, bare-chested Captain Wrout (wearing his budgie smugglers) rows a wooden dinghy out to hunt and gather lunch. After locating the wire pen, he untangles the scaly crays from their watery lair, returning to the beach with four massive creatures splayed out on the bottom of his boat.
The lads enjoy a flight of Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay as Chef Guy Mirabella cooks the orange crustaceans over an outdoor fire, serving them on a white linen-draped table loaded with garden fresh salads, roast vegetables and kipfler potatoes drenched in local mayonaise. Feasting on fresh crayfish while the swell rolls across a sun-dappled ocean is without doubt the Peninsula's finest moment.
During summer, the Mornington Peninsula is a glorious location for winemaking. The Southern Ocean wedges this crab-claw of rolling hills, volcanic soils and leafy vineyards on three sides so it's constantly cooled by the maritime breeze. Occasionally this secret spot is shared with the rest of the world. The UK Bibendum Hunting Party left the region with three pallets of Mornington Peninsula wine bound for high-end department stores like Sainsburys and London restaurants like Hibiscus, Sketch and Jamie Oliver's Fifteen.
A senior executive from Barclays of London toured the Mornington Peninsula after watching his horse run in the Melbourne Cup. Here's what he had to say...
Ex-Lord Mayor of London, Rt Hon Dr Andrew Charles Parmley and his wife took the Plunge on a sunny summer's day in mid-January. Andrew is President of the Worshipful Company of Vintners in London. With over five-hundred members, and founded in 1363, the Company's origin is steeped in the history of the City of London and the import, regulation and sale of wine. The Company continues to maintain strong links with the UK Wine Trade. Vintners' Hall is known as the London Wine Trade's spiritual home. Amongst the people Andrew met was Stonier Winemaker and CEO, Mike Symons who explored the possibility of hosting the renown Stonier International Pinot Noir Tasting at Vintner Hall next time it travels to London.
There is a moment when the spirit of the vineyard is revealed. One may think one knows wine and yet, on this day, one truly discovers it.
Out on a perfectly still autumn day, two couples on a tailor-made wine-lovers tour dropped into a few wineries to taste freshly minted 2018 Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir.
Tasting young Ocean Eight and Principia Pinot Noir out of barrel brings focus to winemaking styles; structure, aroma and flavour. But young wines drawn from their oak treasure chests also provide insight into the growing season and the terroir of the vineyard.
These wines (both MV6 clone) showed traits defined by their unique terroir. The Ocean Eight exhibited a perfumed, plucky cherry character while the Principia was richer, dark fruited and more succulent. These differences can be traced to the warmer, seaside down-the-hill site and the cooler up-the-hill Main Ridge vineyard.
When these Pinot Noirs are bottled, they are sirens for the place from where they came. Throughout the journey, terroir is a fascinating stamp on a distinctive regional character of lighter, elegant Pinot Noir.
Plunge Wine Tours delve deeper into the Mornington Peninsula to reveal the secrets of the cellar, the vines and the wines.