Before every Plunge Wine Tour I gather local delicacies from across the Mornington Peninsula. Sunny Ridge strawberries are delicious and purchased direct from the farm-gate with flavours to calibrate your palate to the region’s fine Pinot Noir
Darrin Gaffy’s approach to winemaking is a singular pursuit of excellence. In recent vintages he has made complex wines that speak from the soil of his exceptional vineyard site in Main Ridge. Plunge visitors can’t help but be charmed by this gregarious man, Ralph his dog and his lovely wines.
There are wine tours and there are gourmet experiences. There are tour operators who hang out the front of the cellar door strangling mobile phones with stale tobacco breath and there is Arthur O’Bryan, a regional authority who offers personalised adventures and wine commentary that goes way beyond your average cellar door crawl.
After twenty years of thoughtful and questing wine tastings, Arthur knows what people like to drink. Knowing what to look for is the key, as there are plenty of wines out there but only a few truly great ones. As Mornington wine tourism matures, Arthur's personalised tours introduce visitors to a world where inside knowledge and contacts turn a day-trip into a fabulous wine adventure.
Inspired by regionality and the synergy between local produce and wine, Arthur organises a visit to a winemaker's vineyard followed by a tasting in their barrel room. A short drive to Flinders and Harry’s mussel boat, moored at the pier, provides a feast of fresh mussels, cooked and served in a restaurant with other local delicacies and paired with the perfect chilled wine. After 20 years in the wine industry, Arthur sees himself as a facilitator for people wanting the finer things in life. “I aim to create unique experiences, so all people need do is relax and enjoy. They get in-depth knowledge and access throughout the region.
She cruises the Victorian coastline; a rolling mass of salty cobalt curls and a powerful force that through the green fuse drives vines to flower, grapes to ripen and fruit to harvest.
Bass Strait is a glorious wonder; an unpredictable crucible to the winemaker’s creativity. Her DNA flows deep throughout the land where her mark is grapevines sheathed in briny. Her tempest is a roller-coaster as fruit slowly ripens before winter’s cloak descends.
Her maritime climate moderates the growing season; she’s the architect of a terroir that produces nervy Chardonnay and spicy Pinot Noir. Along the coast, a patchwork of slopes are sprayed and splattered by showers that give ancient soils energy to produce great wines.
Bass Strait laps around the Mornington Peninsula. A crab-claw pincer of rich volcanic soils that produce vigorous growth and fruity, lightly-structured wines. There are plenty of nice wines here; plenty of spice, and fragrance but only a few have the strength of signal to be called great.
Great wines dance to their own beat whether it’s a tango in a restaurant or a rave in the great outdoors. When people pass an evening together under the stars, they commune with nature, sharing wine where the spirit of place is stored and amplified. Great wine is a response to all the elements of nature’s majesty. The greatness of Bass Strait produces wines from the Mornington Peninsula that can be savoured anywhere you like. Seek out wines of individual vitality that engage both for food and for thought; wine released from volcanic soils surrounded by Bass Strait.
Owned by one of Australia's richest businessmen, John (Chaddy) Gandel, I managed to spring a private tour of Point Leo Estate before it opened (thus avoiding the $10 entry fee) to see the type of restaurant and sculpture Park $40million could build.
The building is a concrete, glass and stainless-steel structure that rises toward the sea on a grassy knoll overlooking Western Port Bay. The surrounding vineyard and ornamental lake slope to the north of the restaurant's front which is dominated by a floor-to-ceiling curved glass wall that allows nature inside with views of the ocean and the surrounding sculptures.
In the grounds are significant works by internationally acclaimed Australian artists such as Inge King, Clement Meadmore, Anthony Pryor, Deborah Halpern and Lenton Parr. The permanent collection is displayed against the coastal backdrop. This really is an extraordinary place with the restaurant menu full of local flavours.
The beaches are empty, ice cream vans silent and the deck chairs stacked away but tourists, many of them Millennials, are still flocking to the Mornington Peninsula in droves. Peninsula Link goes part-way to explaining the surge but the real kicker is found in beautiful winter images amassing on social media.
Millennials love to travel, and their wanderlust for wine, food and adventure is found in imagery that connects people with Western Port, the new go-to-place for a winter escape. It's cold, the sky is grey and nature is all delicate and fragile yet they come to the bay with a gorgeous greenness and wide-screen palette of soft oily colours and evocative light. Visitors roam around, wrapped in furs and hanging around cellar doors, sculpture parks and flowering gums. Winter feasting has embellished the region on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with streams of wintery snapshots celebrating drinking cool climate wines while wearing a beanie.
Just outside sleepy Balnarring, the $50million Jackalope Hotel is full of cutting-edge design and dark cosy corners. Here, the Rare Hare cloakroom, festooned in rabbit pelts, is the most photographed cubic-metre on the Peninsula. Hot spots such as Foxeys Hangout, Polperro and Port Phillip Estate also create a warm pictorial narrative on Instagram and Facebook.
Wine tourism is a bit like social media. If you are all alone on Facebook it’s of no interest. But if you are many, and the offer is exciting, things start to happen. Jackalope and other new eateries have got Peninsula visitors buzzing. The $40million Point Leo Estate winery, sculpture park and restaurant opened with ex-Rockpool chef, Phil Wood on the tools, in a dining room overlooking the vast ocean beyond Western Port Bay. The more wineries, restaurants, hotels, and shops that are involved and cooperate, the better it works. The wine pioneers of this region remain a close-knit and collaborative group. It’s been a long wait, but now there’s genuine excitement about the offer and they are all saying, 'bring it on!'
A bright Sunday morning during the Winter Wine Weekend saw us pulling on sturdy walking boots and venturing into the Endeavour Fern Gully in Red Hill South. Amongst the remnants of this cool temperate rainforest, we saw giant ferns, peppermint gums and southern sassafras trees surviving in a deep glade made more spectacular by a feast of local cheeses and chilled Willow Creek sparkling.
Later, we walked the Bridal Trail (the old railway track) from Red Hill to Merricks. Where, on the Merricks ridge, we met David Chapman in his vineyard with 2015 Allies wines. This beautiful vineyard (planted in 1983) produces fragrant and complex Pinot Noir and bone dry Chardonnay full of grapefruit and stonefruit flavours. The Allies Merricks site is unique, producing wines David attributes entirely to terroir. Later, we visited Stonier, the Merricks General Wine Store and finished the day enjoying wine in the barrel room at Willow Creek. The weekend had the Mornington Peninsula humming with thousands of visitors out and about in cellar doors but on this day, scenic walking allowed us to taste alone.
My wife, Geraldine McFaul is one of the region's most successful winemakers. She makes wines of purity and grace. Having learnt from the best and after twenty-plus vintages, she makes good wines better. Her wines are the pride of any MP Plunge Tour.
FLAVOURS OF THE SEA, FLAVOURS OF THE VINE
Harry Mussels runs a mussel farm in the cold pristine waters of Western Port Bay where Harry’s boat is tied to the Flinders’ Pier. Visit Harry to watch him prepare mussels from his Conchilia van while enjoying a local wine and views across to the Nobbies.
CHIN, CHIN, IT’S GIN TIME
The region’s first distillery, Bass and Flinders produce a range of gin, vodka, grappa and limoncello. Refined grape spirit is used to make triple-distilled gin with distinctive flavours. A gin-making workshop allows you to craft your own herb infused gin.
WINTER WINEMAKER FOR A DAY
A tasting at Willow Creek Vineyard allows guests to experience the quiet solitude of the winter barrel room and meet one of the region’s premium winemakers. Taste wines from barrel to learn about winemaking styles before braving the elements for anafternoon vineyard ramble.
Mornington Peninsula Chocolate is a gourmet emporium in Flinders and the place to indulge in freshly made sweets. For cold winter days, Chocolatier, Milton has conjured a brilliant hot chocolate drink which is the yummiest mouthful of sweetness you’ll try.
During the Winter Wine Weekend, the regional tasting has fifty cellar doors bunched under the one roof. On this day, wine buffs can enjoy bold and adventurous new flavours and taste whole-bunch pinot noir from across the region. The stars of the show are wines with savoury flavours and firm tannins that are perfect with winter stews. Plunge in!
Finding the magic of alchemy in Mornington Peninsula wines
The creative genius behind the Jackalope Hotel has woven alchemy as the dominant narrative in the hotel's decor and art. In the adjoining Willow Creek winery, alchemy serves as a metaphor for the winemaking process. Geraldine McFaul is half chemist half alchemist making individual wines that offer sublime drinking pleasure.
On a mid-autumn day, four stylish Jackalope guests took the Plunge to visit seven Mornington Peninsula wineries. After years of thoughtful and questing wine drinking, these people knew exactly the kind of wines they like to drink, finding at various cellar doors Pinot Noir of textural wealth with complex aromas and flavours and Chardonnay with minerality, citrus flavours and aromatic intrigue.
With a clear understanding of their own preferences, they hunted down some of the most outstanding single vineyard wines in the region. The wine orders mounted and by the end of the day, the final tally was a staggering thirty-two dozen. All wines to be shipped to Sydney's northern beaches.
The Mornington Peninsula is in the midst of transformation. Hip, stylish and happening, Jackalope is the most talked about new hotel project in Australia and is having an amazing influence. A new frontier of premium wine tourism is part of a magical alchemy that could yet see cellar doors turn to rivers of gold. Plunge in...
At the beach end of Point Leo road the salty air fills with aromas of surfboard wax and suntan oil and in an old-fashion surf shop, floorboards groan under racks of wetsuits and bristle with surfboards stacked to the ceiling.
Trigger Brothers surf shop is a place for surfers who follow a lifelong pursuit of the perfect wave. This Western Port outpost once bore witness to surfing’s most exciting evolutionary period, the wondrous transition from longboards to short. Now, you squeeze past beachwear and historic photographs to get to the backroom shaping bay. Only a hard-bitten sea dog could enter here without humility. In a corner, Phil Trigger wears a protective mask while circling with a sander that belches white powder while in the adjoining shaping bay, surfing maverick, John Jolly is stooped over a freshly minted surfboard, a pot of resin in hand.
In this cramped, industrious space, the human element is the dominating factor. Thirty years of glassing has dripped resin into colourful anthills, speakers blare songs from the anti-establishment hymn-book and against the wall, broken boards await repair. Each ding is a tale of anguish- an errant kook or a close encounter with the reef. Shattered glass is patched to a lustre as 'ding master', Al applies his polished finish.
Phil and Paul Trigger’s store holds a special place in the hearts of many Peninsula board-riders. This is not just a surf shop, it’s a sacred site where skilled craftsmen and design innovation fuse for aquatic liberation. It's for surfers who invest in hand-shaped, high-quality fibreglass and resist cheap, mass-produced, pop-out rubbish.
Literally, thousands of local surfers have, over decades, paddled out on a Trigger Brothers’ surfboard. They have spent some of the most delirious moments of their lives looking down at a Trigger Brothers’ logo, surfing waves as diverse as Gunnamatta, big Cactus or perfect Kirra. Today in the line-up there are two generations whose daily stoke still rests in the brothers’ capable hands.
The ultimate Locals, the Triggers are the very best sort of surfers; surfers for their family, their friends, their beaches. They continue to give back to the local community, (footy clubs, charities, schools) because that—not simply the next wave—is what really matters to them. Any surfing safari on the Mornington Peninsula should always include time spent inside their wondrous store.
On the Mornington Peninsula, investment in outdoor art guides us from Melbourne’s urban grey to fields of green and ocean blue. Once upon a time, a sculpture was the thing you backed into when admiring the 'real art' on the wall. How things have changed. Sculptors have now become the darlings of the affluent art collector. Baillieu Myer AC says they are worth supporting as ‘they work harder for their money than any other visual artists.’ Today sculpture has changed the Mornington Peninsula landscape, and the growing number has helped cement this region’s claim as Australia's capital of outdoor art.
Driving along Eastlink, Perth businesswoman and arts benefactor, Janet Holmes a Court has made a lasting statement with a multi-million-dollar collection of public artworks that includes Emily Floyd’s landmark sculpture of a gigantic bird pecking at a yellow block. This always sparks debate on family trips to the beach. “That’s a chip,” says someone. “No, it’s a worm!" chip/worm/chip/worm… Backseat critics aside, the work brings spontaneous appreciation for its size and originality.
For the roving adventurous, a visit to the outdoor gallery at McClelland Sculpture Park gives an opportunity to explore great art in the wild. This collection is largely the legacy of the philanthropist, Dame Elizabeth Murdoch AC DBE who helped create the major outdoor sculpture collection within an Australian landscape. McClelland features work like Phil Price's kinetic Tree of Life alongside many other notables and is Australia’s largest all year sculpture exhibition, often with over one-hundred artists displayed throughout the bush setting. The inside gallery sees the most prized piece, Ron Mueck’s, Wild Man, a three-metre giant who sits butt-naked and gripped in existential fear. Big and imposing, this bloke would attract controversy wherever he sat in the world.
Down the road in Moorooduc, the Kirby family (of Village Roadshow fame) have set an array of large modern sculpture on the grounds of their Yabby Lake Vineyard. Save our Souls, is a towering bamboo structure by Cave Urban alongside a colourful mosaic by Deborah Halpern. Voyager features a boat laden with heads that stare comically through the Cellar Door windows.
Another of Halpern’s mosaics, Wild One rears up to split the canopy of Tony Hancy's biodynamic vineyard at Prancing Horse Estate. Across from the cellar door, Hancy has commissioned a herd of tin cows that graze in a side paddock. And in the cottage garden, Blue Trees, an environmental art installation by Konstantin Dimopoulos Is a poignant reminder of the fragility of our natural surroundings.
On his family property in Merricks, Baillieu Myer AC has spent a lifetime accumulating a superb collection of major works by many of the nation's finest sculptors. Today, the biggest names in Australian art surround his Elgee Park vineyard. In recent times, more private collectors have embraced Mr Myer's long-term vision of a bold sculptural narrative amidst the coastal landscape. There's now an abundance of art to behold while enjoying a glass of cool-climate Chardonnay.
John and Wendy Mitchell and their family are the trailblazers who created Montalto, a fantasy theme park for lovers of wine, food, and art. This year’s Sculpture Prize walk is the best to date, with twenty-three stunning works including a golden tree, a gigantic parasite, and suspended bronze curtains all exhibited within the vineyard and ajacent bushland. The creativity is made more glorious by a glass of delicious estate Pinot Noir.
Further south, John Gandel (whose fortune was made at Chadstone Shopping Centre) has employed renowned Art Collector, Ken Scarlett to scour the globe for new works reserved for the grounds and gardens of his Point Leo Estate. Above the amphitheatre of ornamental lake and surrounding vines, a yet-to-be-opened restaurant takes advantage of panaromic ocean views and large sculptures by Clement Meadmore, Geoffrey Bartlett and Anthony Pryor.
The entrance to the new Jackalope Hotel at Willow Creek Vineyard features another striking Emily Floyd work. A gigantic black Jackalope crouches, seven-metre-tall, like a sentinel at the front of Rare Hare restaurant. The Jackalope reflects the imagination of 28-year-old owner, Louis Li, a collector and bold visionary who has ensured the work of the world’s hottest contemporary artists, from Somers to Soho, furnish his hotel.
Jackalope is the new Bauhaus school of aesthetics where you can wake up surrounded by art in a luxurious suite overlooking the plush Willow Creek vineyard. All the glamour of a five-star hotel includes an infinity pool floating over vines, an inspired collection of brilliant chandeliers by Jan Flook and lit ceramic and glass objects. Li trained in filmmaking before building his hotels and in the front cocktail bar, Flagadoot, the collection includes gold Edra leatherworks chairs, a Ric Owen timber bench festooned with stag antler and a breathtaking array of glass including Leisa Wharington decanters, all combining for a powerful and extremely exciting design narrative.
There is no debating the fact that waking up in a gorgeous location, wandering around looking at millions of dollars’ worth of beautiful art is pretty incomparable. This is the new frontier of Mornington Peninsula’s tourism. The region is widely known as a place of relaxation and regeneration for people in the city in need of a rest. Today the region sits at the crossroads of urban sprawl, vineyards and ocean views. The future is with fine wine and significant developments that embrace art and design like Jackalope, Port Phillip Estate and visionaries like Baillieu Myer AC and Louis Li who furnish the region with a spectacular and bright future in art, design and sculpture. My advice: Plunge in…
Mr and Mrs Panteliadis, own Epirosa, the largest cheesery in Greece annually producing 25,000 tonnes of sheep and goat's milk cheese sourced from 1,500 farms. As they also own a supermarket chain, Plunge (after a visit to McClelland Gallery) gave them a tour of Elgee Park before morning tea with Mr Baillieu Myer AC and his wife, Sarah Myer. Greek-Australian relations were strengthened by a glass of delicious Elgee Park Chardonnay, warm sunshine and the Myer's gorgeous vineyard and garden in full bloom.
Later they visited the Greek Orthodox Church in Red Hill and sampled a selection of Feta and other cheeses at Red Hill Cheese with Jan and Trevor. Their favourite was the Merricks Mist which they enjoyed with a glass of Willow Creek Sparkling wine.
Plunge Tours Delve Deeper
A private tasting with the winemaker reveals lots about a wine's personality: The vineyard, the growing season, and the techniques used to create something delicious. Exclusive tastings with Geraldine McFaul at Willow Creek and Tod Dexter at Dexter Vineyard amplifies the individual character of the vineyard.
Stonier is one of the most highly regarded wineries in the region with a reputation for making exceptional single vineyard wines which have won a number of international awards. Cradled between surf and bay beaches in the sleepy hollow of Merricks, Stonier winemaker @MikeSymons sticks to what he does best, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a little bit of Sparkling and Rosé. The Pinot is of elegant intensity and the Chardonnay tight and refined.
Mornington Peninsula Plunge takes guests into the cellar door for a variety of special events including a mid-summer oyster and sparkling festival. We can enjoy a glass of wine under the verandah or on a picnic rug overlooking the vines.
Lindsay McCall received yet another top trophy at the 2016 Mornington Peninsula Wine Show yesterday. Red Wine of Provenance for the 2009, 2014 and 2015 Estate Pinot Noir. The trophy is awarded to the winemaker who shows consistency and excellence across 7 years of production.
When Lindsay McCall retires there will be a collective sigh from the bevy of top winemakers he's kept off the Mornington Peninsula trophy dias. He's the Bradman of our region. No question!
These are Willow Creek winemaker, @Geraldine McFaul's boots. The runner-up to Stephen Henschke in Australian Gourmet Traveller QANTAS Winemaker of the Year Award, she's one of the region's most talented and respected winemakers. On a Mornington Peninsula Plunge Tour you can meet Geraldine (my wife) in her favourite domain; the barrel room of the #Willow Creek Winery.
Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove is an icon of the region. The brainchild of ex-marketing guru, John Mitchell, it's one of the Mornington Peninsula’s most exciting and dramatic wineries; an experience unlike any other with so much to see, taste and enjoy. The estate features a striking rammed-earth tasting room, piazza café and restaurant. Overlooking vineyard, olive grove, and Sculpture Park it is all relaxed elegance where the beauty of the property sets the mood. Montalto’s top class wines made by Simon Black can be enjoyed in the restaurant which holds a Chef’s Hat from the Age Good Food Guide. The Piazza and Garden Café offer a more casual dining experience while summer picnics are a fabulous way to spend a lazy afternoon. It all adds up to an unparalleled winery experience.
It’s always nice when a father can share his passion with his offspring. My guests today run a national nuts and bolts business and while the father oversees the national operation in Sydney, one son recently moved to Melbourne to manage the Victorian branch. Both these men simply love wine... in fact, they are besotted by it and so they booked a Plunge Ultimate Wine Lovers' Adventure to explore wineries together.
The dad lives in Woollahra where he enjoys what sounds like an impressive, well-stocked Australian wine cellar. His son, having recently moved to Mt Martha, hasn't got a cellar yet but does have a thirst for knowledge and a taste for local wines.
The previous week, James Halliday’s 2017 Australian Wine Companion hit the bookstores and, as usual, a bunch of the region’s wines received very high scores. On a gorgeous winter’s day, we set off on a customised tour; looking for wines awarded 95 points or more.
First stop was Elgee Park where Brand Manager, Pat Kettlewell met us in a timber rotunda beside the historic Elgee Park vineyard. Here a tasting of the entire range of wines included a 2013 Elgee Park Cabernet (awarded 96 points) enjoyed with a picnic hamper of local cheese, bread and olives.
Next stop was Pinot Noir at the Willow Creek Vineyard cellar door in Flinders. Here we looked at a flight of 2012 to 2015 vintage wines that showed the consistency and quality of recent vintages. A highlight was the beautiful 2013 O’Leary Block Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, awarded 96 points by Halliday.
Afterwards, we drove to Stonier for a tasting of the Windmill Vineyard 100% Whole Bunch Pinot Noir (95 points). This was followed by a drive to the old Stonier family home and a chance meeting with the new owners of the property. The views across the paddocks and vines to Western Port Bay and Bass Strait were stunning on a day when there wasn't a zephyr of wind to speak of!
Lunch was at Paringa Estate where my guests each had a glass of 2012 House Block Chardonnay (95 points) and 2014 Peninsula Pinot Noir (94 points). They ordered entree and matching mains which both enjoyed unreservedly.
Next we drove to Tod Dexter’s property in Merricks North for a walk amongst the vines and a lesson on cane and spur pruning techniques before tasting 2010 and 2015 vintage wines. Around the Dexter's kitchen table, the fresher Chardonnay had more fruit-weight and greater complexity as borne out in Halliday's top scores: 97 points for the 2015 Dexter Chardonnay and 96 points for the 2015 Pinot Noir. Both wines were beautifully balanced, rich and full of flavour an opinion echoed throughout our group.
The last stop was Moorooduc Estate where we met the region’s great wine educator, Kate McIntyre MW and her winemaker father, the endearing Rick McIntyre. Here is another passionate wine family. All the Moorooduc wines were given scores of 95+ in Halliday’s book and the cellar door was buzzing as a result. The McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay received 96 points and the Pinot Noir 97. Both on tasting, they proved absolutely delicious for flavour, structure and texture.
They may run a successful nuts and bolts business but today it was the Mornington Peninsula's turn to show these manufacturers the nuts and bolts of hand-crafted precision-made wines. The Plunge mobile left the region filled with cases of fine single vineyard wine, all highly rated in Halliday's 2017 Companion. I can’t wait for the 2018 edition and a return visit!
Some years ago, a chap wandered into the Stonier cellar door looking for a gift. An extraordinary series of events resulted in him buying an entire Barrique (25-dozen) of Reserve and Single-Vineyard Pinot Noir. He walked away having shelled-out $14,000 for a share of one of the region's better vintages.
I was reminded of this extravagance when reading about Willamette Valley winemakers hosting their first-ever trade auction, The Pinot Noir Barrel Auction. This inaugural event was held in May 2016 and raised a whopping $722,000 for the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. The afternoon saw sales of various lots of wine, from 5-case lots (one of which sold for $10,000) to a single barrel that sold for $19,500. All proceeds went to supporting the marketing and branding efforts of the local vignerons’ association.
The event was driven by a leadership group who spent years ensuring its success. They held back the launch until the right vintage came along so they could open the show with a bang. 2014 was a vintage that would tell the world how good the wines from Willamette Valley are.
Having also had a brief but similarly dynamic viticultural history as Oregon, the Mornington Peninsula wine community sits in a unique moment of time where pioneers and young visionaries are at the same table raising Pinot Noir quality year-to-year. Is it time to launch an industry auction here as well?
With plenty of wine still in barrel, there's lots of excitement around the 2015 vintage. Even guarded winemakers slip a knowing wink about their wines. It’s a vintage that seems to have delivered wherever vines grow. From the volcanic to lighter loam soils, the wines are all singing from the same happy clapping hymn book.
I’d love to see the MPVA establish a dedicated steering committee to work toward a Mornington Peninsula Barrel Auction. With 2015, the quality would be assured. It’d be exciting to see how much money could be raised and the media coverage the region would achieve from such a prestigious and exciting event.