If ever you were going to have a local, you'd want it to be like the Mornington Peninsula. What a perfect locale for a local ... and it lends itself to alliteration: peninsula, pinot, peace, perfect plentiful produce, pinot, pleasant people, pinot. You get the drift. Did I mention pinot?
As a getaway, it doesn't get a lot better ... not too far from the big smoke, but far enough to embrace all of the above and then some. And tasting the many wines on offer was a great portent of things to come for when the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association brought its best to Melbourne for the annual roadshow (more on that later). Oh, and a goodly dose of fresh air is a bonus. My trip for the weekend was as a guest of the association.
Your head spins (I imagine it's like being in The Exorcist) as you drive through the region ... so many cellar doors, restaurants, produce outlets, great views ... you name it, it seems to be there ... OK, even the occasional glass blower. And, of course, beautiful greenery/scenery every which way you look.
My GPS is seemingly from another century (OK, it is), hence I got lost. I phoned Lindenderry at Red Hill, which was to be my home for the weekend, misdialled by a digit and connected with a local woman (it was the first time in a fair while that I'd connected in any way with a woman), who was only too happy to set me on the path to its door. It turns out that I was on the right track anyway, just a couple of hundred metres off course. What a pleasant woman.
I parked out the front of the impressive complex, wandered in and front office manager Damien greeted me like a long-lost brother and then gave me a rundown on all things Lindenderry before opening my gift of a bottle of 2008 Lindenderry Reserve Pinot. "You look as if you'd enjoy one of these," he said. What a treat, what a welcome. What a magnificent first drop for what was to be a weekend of magnificent drops.
The room was huge, beautifully furnished and finished. The view from the king-sized bed through the wall of windows looked out to the wilds of the estate (OK wilds is maybe overstating it), with water from a dam and a lake, home to seemingly a million croaking frogs (if you can have birdsong, then why not frogsong?) and assorted birdlife - including a couple of huge, white resident geese - breaking up the greenery. What a view.
I did the sensible thing (not) on the way to the peninsula when I stopped to get petrol. Given that I hadn't has a smoke for a couple of weeks, buying a pack and a lighter wasn't what I wanted to do, but I did anyway ... after all I would be on it a bit (OK a lot) for most of the weekend and I was sure that cravings would do their thing. Shit, I enjoyed the first one out on the balcony before it was time to get ready for dinner.
And what better preparation for dinner than a soak in a really deep spa, its jets pounding away to relieve all the pent-up bodily anger that had manifested thanks to the abysmal snarls traffic getting out of Melbourne.
Suitably tubbed and scrubbed (and yeah, I put on a clean T-shirt), the Linden Tree Restaurant, under chef Phillip Edwards (he trained under Herman Schneider at Two Faces) beckoned and delivered in spades.
A shot glass of (nicely hot) sweet corn and basil soup got the tastebuds doing their thing. Then, a starter of seared scallops, lobster tortellini, sautéed shitake and enoki mushrooms, asparagus, tarragon and mushroom veloute, enjoyed while sitting with Damien (he was my dinner companion for the night given that I couldn't find anyone to accompany me for the weekend) alongside a gorgeous open fire was a cracker. Mains upped the ante: oven-roasted Flinders Island lamb rump, cooked to pink, moist perfection and served with stinging nettle and pea puree, confit potatoes and shallots and some sautéed green beans on the side. A glass or two of shiraz helped the cause, not that the meal needed any help.
After dinner, I did the sensible thing and retired to my room, put on the footy on the TV, and finished the most-excellent Lindenderry Reserve Pinot. It certainly helped the cause in terms of a good, no great, night's sleep.
I don't reckon there are too many better ways of starting a day than on the balcony with a good cup of tea, a smoke and the aforementioned birdlife, frogsong, beautiful views and fresh air.
Brekkie beckoned at about nine, so I headed for the restaurant and tucked in to the buffet ... a fruit platter, bacon, eggs and some super-tasting mushrooms, toast and a pot of tea was a great before hitting the road to Montalto, where I was due to be tasting at 10am.
For a change, the GPS got it right and pretty soon I was parking the car at the magnificent Montalto vineyard.
The view down the hill, across hectares of vines, lawns dotted with all sorts of sculptures to the wetlands was worth the price of admission.
The vegetable garden, when it's in full flight must be a sight to behold ... it was in a winter sort of hiatus and still looked spectacular, not to mention supplying goodies of all sorts for the menu.
I made myself known to Justin behind the bar and launched into a tasting of eight or so of the winery's finest, including a couple of single-vineyard chardonnays ... who said chardy's best days were past it? Elevenses took on a meaning of its own with the Eleven series chardonnays ... winemaker Simon Black’s summation: “Pale straw with green hues. Lemon, lime, tangerine and grapefruit combine with floral and mineral notes by way of slate and flint. Creamy aromas fuse with hints of almond, anise and oyster shell. There is subtle oak influence by way of coffee and hazelnuts with hints of struck match. The palate has a tight citrus focus balanced with some white stone fruits including nectarine. There is remarkable tension here and a long and focused palate with good mid-palate structure and oak tannins. Creamy mouth feel from both oak handling and lees influence adds richness through to the long nutty finish.” Me, I would have said “bloody fantastic”.
And just for the record, given that I was driving and that it went against the grain, I spat.
Justin explained that during the warmer weather, the vineyard packed hampers for guests to picnic down in the wetlands. That's certainly on my agenda before I depart the state.
I had a packed agenda for the weekend, courtesy of PR woman Betsy Pie, so pretty soon I was back on the road, bound for Willow Creek where the chardonnay, courtesy of diminutive and talented winemaker Geraldine McFaul, took centre stage (it was a starring role) for lunch at the splendid, view-endowed Salix Restaurant, with the equally splendid Karina, the Willow Creek marketing manager.
Weight gain for the weekend was always on the agenda given my food intake. Pan-fried veal, mushrooms, artichoke and a side of potatoes with rainbow chard was sufficient to sustain me before Karina's tour of the inner workings of Willow Creek, including the special tasting room and the mega-impressive barrel room.
She's a great woman (also a friend of Julia, my friend from down that way).
She's a great woman (also a friend of Julia, my friend from down that way).
During lunch we solved a few of the world's problems and got on like a house on fire. It was too soon time to hit the road again, but not before Karina gave me a bottle of chardy and a bottle of pinot gris to enjoy back at home.
Fortunately, my agenda had a few hours of R&R before my next dinner date, so an afternoon nap beckoned ... it worked.
Pretty soon, I was back in the spa, armed with a glass of pinot, and relaxing post-nap, before I put on my glad rags and greeted my chauffeur for the night.
If you’re in the area and tasting, it can be made so much easier if you have a designated driver. In my case when I had to travel for dinner, it was Chris Gregory, of Your Shuttle. She’s a local and loves the area. “Everyone should visit here at least four times a year,” she said in reference to the seasons.
She is a splendid woman, who arrived on time and spirited me to Paringa Estate, home of some of the area's best pinots (its restaurant got its first hat in The Age Good Food Guide a couple of weeks after I visited) for dinner with the owner and winemaker, Lindsay McCall.
Lindsay makes some of the world’s best pinots (ask cricket great Ian Botham if you’re in doubt. Beefy’s a regular customer). He (McCall, not Botham) was a great dinner companion. Great and dinner go hand in hand here: chef Julian Hills (ex-Courthouse Hotel, North Melbourne) is to food what McCall is to winemaking. It was a new menu and triumphant. Lindsay started with wallaby, me a soufflé. So far, so (so) good. For mains, Lindsay ordered the rare-cooked wagyu; I went for the hare compilation (hare four different ways. Who would create hare baklava?). It was ably assisted by the Paringa Estate Single Vineyard pinot. At meal’s end, I said (without a hint of pissing in Lindsay’s pocket), “that’s the best meal I’ve eaten. Ever”.
The next morning ritual was the same as the one before ... cuppa, smoke and view time on the balcony before the brekkie buffet, a shower and packing, ready to hit the road bound for Darling Park Winery for some more early-morning tasting. I bade Damien a fond farewell (he was a wonderful advertisement for Lindenderry), banged my destination into the GPS, pointed the ute in the right direction and gunned it.
As I walked towards the tasting room at Darling Park, it was with some trepidation as I got to the door. I met winemaker Judy Gifford and I said to her: "I'm not too sure my body is up to a 10am tasting. I don't usually drink this early (OK, not often)." I'm sure she's heard it a million times before, but she smiled and after introducing me to all the staff, she eased me into it, explaining the finer points of each wine as we went (and, believe me, there are many fine points). Judy is a very special person, one with whom I really felt connected. She has five adopted daughters, runs a vineyard and is the chief winemaker to boot, so she has pretty full days, not that you'd notice. She's amazingly pleasant, friendly and has a great sense of humour. Her wines – 2011 Rose, 2010 pinot, 2011 reserve pinot, 2012 shiraz, Cane-Cut Late Harvest Pinot Gris, 2011 sauvignon blanc, 2012 pinot gris, Olivarni Single-Vineyard Pinot, reserve chardonnay and Hercules Chardonnay – they were very, very good, especially the 2010 pinot, a wine for which I'd leave home. Think spice and plum on the nose, Morello cherries, a touch of oak and fine tannins. Judy says it’s drinking well now but will evolve beautifully in the bottle until 2018. Although I was doing the right thing and spitting, there was no way the 2010 pinot was heading for the spittoon. Swallow, man, swallow. It was simply too good to spit.
All too soon, it was again time to hit the road, sadly, given that I had an appointment to share a plate of cheese (thankfully no wine ... never thought I'd ever utter those words) with Red Hill Cheese cheese maker Trevor Brandon. Judy walked me to the car to farewell me, I promised to return, and I was off.
The cheese place was down a really pretty dirt track (bravo GPS) and soon I was chatting all things cheese with Trevor, figuring out which cheese went with which wine and the like. I sat with him and tasted 10 delicious cheeses. Try the buttery Granny’s Blue or the fetta, which I’d almost leave home for. Trevor has forgotten more about cheese than most people will ever know.
Trevor’s cheeses are crackers (ha ha) and, given the throng of tourists wandering around the place, very popular. I'd happily have sat there all day, but, alas, PR woman Betsy's itinerary had one final stop for the day on my agenda ... Port Phillip Estate for lunch (like I needed anything to eat). The cheese stop ticked all the boxes, so it was then back to the GPS and time to punch in Port Phillip Estate to meet Kate, the PR woman there, have a bite and sample some of its pinot.
It's just down the road from Darling Park (the roads were getting somehow familiar by this time). It's a huge place and this lunchtime it was packed. I finally caught up with Kate and she took me on a tour of the accommodation. Magnificent adequately describes it. The views from the two-bedroom suite were to die for.
We made our way upstairs and Kate said: "What do you feel like for lunch?" A quick squiz at the menu and I opted for an antipasto plate with beautiful olive oil, some Calabrese sausage and some very good bread. Even the thought of wading through the antipasto was daunting, given the amount I'd eaten and sipped during the weekend. "The fried whitebait with aioli is terrific," she said. "Do you like whitebait." What's not to like about whitebait? "Sure," I said, "but it's thanks, but no thanks. I really couldn't eat it." Didn't seem to matter because she brought it anyway, along with a glass of Port Phillip's single-vineyard pinots (it's $75 a bottle), which made it all better again. "I'll catch up with you in about 30 minutes and give you a tour of the winery," she said. The wine was super, so too the food, which, despite tasting terrific, was a struggle. I nursed the glass of pinot for an hour while I waited for Kate to reappear. Every time I saw her she was flying hither and tither ... there was a huge crowd in. Finally, it was time to put the cue in the rack. She was obviously too busy to get back to me (I understood) and I finally caught her attention and told her I had another appointment and couldn't wait any longer (OK, it was a white lie) and that I had to go. She understood. I thanked her for lunch and punched home into the GPS ... I was done.
I headed for the sanctuary of Chateau Mick, well satisfied and then some that I'd had one very, very special weekend. I'd eaten extremely well, tasted some magnificent wines (I spat far too much for my liking, but that's what you've gotta do when you're driving and you're responsible) and met some very special people.
The Mornington Peninsula is indeed in very good hands.
STAY AND EAT HERE
LINDENDERRY AT RED HILL
142 Arthurs Seat Road, Red Hill. 5989 2965
SALIX RESTAURANT at WILLOW CREEK VINEYARD
166 Balnarring Road, Merricks North.
Paringa Estate Restaurant
44 Road, Red Hill South. 5989 2324
33 Red Hill-Shoreham Road, Red Hill South. 5989 8412. www.montalto.com.au
DARLING PARK WINERY
232 Red Hill Road, Red Hill. 5989 2324. www.darlingparkwinery.com.au
RED HILL CHEESE
Red Hill Cheese, 81 William Road, Red Hill. 5989 2035. www.redhillcheese.com.au
PORT PHILLIP ESTATE
263 Red Hill Road, Red Hill South. 5989 4444. http://www.portphillipestate.com.au
GET CIGS HERE
RED HILL GENERAL STORE
(They were in the process of closing up as I arrived hell bent on buying more cigarettes. Like, it seems, everyone on the peninsula, the woman was as cheery as all get out and only too happy to be helpful.)
It didn’t take long for the wine roadshow to hit town … at Comme Restaurant in the city … and it was a bit like old home week.
I headed there with my friend, Emily (she drove and subsequently spat because she’s responsible), who was the tallest woman at the show (the transvestite dressed in grey didn’t count). And I also caught up with PR woman Betsy for the first time. Great woman.
There were 20-odd wineries there and, for a pleasant change, there was no spitting involved on my part. So many great wines, so little time.
It was great to catch up again with Lindsay from Paringa Estate and Judy from Darling Park to shoot the breeze. All the winemakers were on song and only too happy to speak of the virtues of their drops. And there were so many virtues.
In a couple of weeks, Em and I are heading to another wine launch, this time Naked Wines, which is putting several winemakers front and centre. The great thing is it’s about a 10-minute walk from the office.
THE BEAUT UTE
Life on the road is looming fast (there’s so much to do) and my LandCruiser has had my full attention.
I had some new wheels and tyres fitted … it now looks like a beast.
I also got a multimedia station fitted in the dash … it’s a computer, sound system, phone system, GPS (at last a new one), DVD player, reversing camera … it does everything except make coffee (although I haven’t yet read the manual. Maybe it makes coffee).
I’ve also booked it in in a couple of weeks to have a canopy fitted and a roof rack. Can’t wait.
Regular readers will know that I don’t visit the supermarket very often, but last week was one of those times.
It was a gorgeous day in terms of weather, so after I’d put the shopping away, I thought “what the hell should I do now?”.
Bugger it, I thought, I’m gonna get another tattoo, so I went to see Simon at my nearest parlour. He wasn’t bust, so after a while looked through his books of designs, I settled on some Sanskrit characters that say: “One life, one chance”.