The Concierge at Sofitel Melbourne rang to ask if I could look after an important guest. The guest, a celebrated Belgium surgeon, had been aggrieved while dining at a city restaurant and a trip to the Peninsula seemed just the tonic to recover from a rude waiter’s tactless diplomacy. I had one day to give this good doctor a reason to smile again, as the following morning he was to deliver a lecture to three-hundred urologists.
Who could imagine that a day out with a world renowned urologist could be such fun? Amongst his many interests were: wine and food, rare dog breeds, classical music, cinema, renewable energy, snakes, luxury cars and Marx Brothers films which gave us both the giggles. Stopping first at Tully’s Apple Espresso, we decided to visit McClelland Gallery for a wander around the Sculpture Park with our coffees.
We all have opinions on art and the vast living, breathing outdoor gallery of McClelland is a great place to air them. After contemplating a range of sculptures amidst the lake and bush setting, the seamless movement of the kinetic, Tree of Life, got our nod before we decided it was time to go and taste some wines.
We drove across the Peninsula, to Western Port Bay and onto one of the region’s oldest and most loved vineyards. Stonier is where winemaker Mike Symons has been in top form and a tasting of his latest release wines drew us outside to look at the vineyards. We drove to the top of the property to visit the home of the founder, Brian Stonier AO and his wife Noel whom greeted us in their garden with a chilled bottle of Cuvee. Brilliant sunshine, sea views and rolling vineyards filled this stunning vista where Brian popped the cork and an exotic butterfly (pictured below) almost stole the show with its maiden flight over Merricks.
From Stonier we visited Paringa Estate Restaurant where the food and wine matching (a mint and baby pea entree with Paringa Chardonnay was sublime) and graceful staff provided a near-perfect dining experience. Winemaker, Lindsay McCall joined us for a chat about cricket and his latest vintage. We then drove to the clifftops of Cape Schanck for views to the Point Nepean National Park and a bracing Southern Ocean breeze. One-hundred metres below, waves crashed against the rocky coastline. From our craggy outcrop, the Doctor spoke of the joy of watching the film, Hotel Budapest six times. Obviously a man of expansive taste!
We then headed to Flinders, which for foodies is a town easy to fall in love with. At the town’s centre, Mornington Peninsula Chocolates offer sweet treats of all shapes and sizes. As my guest was Belgium, we decided to have a chocolate taste-off. After selecting four chocolates each, we wandered down to Flinders cove for a park bench view of Flinders Pier where sail boats and scuba divers bobbed and an enormous oil rig platform was towed by tugs through the heads. The brilliant sun dappled sea only added to this glorious setting, perhaps the best spot in the world to conduct a chocolate tasting where the dark chocolate orange brittle topped the Lime Ganache and made us crave more.
From Flinders we headed to the leafy hideaway of Red Hill Cheese and a tasting of their artisanal goat, cow and sheep milk cheeses. Our tasting was hosted by Di Chapman, a passionate advocate of ash-coated chevre. As we left, the doctor introduced his theory on the ritual of wine tasting… "Sommeliers and wine tasters use an algorithm (or a decision tree) based on their vast knowledge of wines and winemaking to classify wines in blind tastings." The brain's tasting database can.literally trace a wine back to its vineyard.
Our final visit was to my favourite cherry orchardist, Tess, for a bag of Main Ridge apples- a fresh, juicy crunch for the ride home. The Red Hill region was once famous for apples. The now derelict Red Hill Railway would cart crates of them down to Melbourne. Today there is only a handful of orchards left but the quality of the apples remain unsurpassed.
On our return to the Sofitel, the Doctor told me his son Bruno, once held a senior position at The Dorchester and is currently Director of Sales at Mandarin Oriental, two of the swankiest hotels in the world. His day ended in a hotel room high above Melbourne, primed for his lecture the next day. A complex paper on surgical procedures, no doubt, delivered with a smile.