I’ve talked about home before. If you’re a new reader to the hedonista, I’ll fill you in. I’m from Melbourne, Australia, but have been living in Dubai for the past three and a half years. So now, you might say I have two homes – the one I call home, and the one where all my stuff is. But I don’t have two homes, I have three, and the third is the one where I am meant to be, and that is Red Hill, on the Mornington Peninsula, about an hour South East of Melbourne. I have this eerie connection to the place, some corporeal link with the rusty soil, and I just know it’s where I’ll end up. I can talk about villas in the south of France, retirement in the hills behind Byron Bay as much as I like, but I’m sure my own body and fate itself will have me settling there.
Several times, Hambone and I have come close to buying property in this little-England-by-the-sea, but Australian Land tax keeps on setting us back. We have rented two separate places full-time, and now have this mental map where our 5-acre market garden and goats will live alongside our transported wide-verandah-ed Queenslander, rolling fields and native gardens mixed with gargantuan pines and fragrant eucalypts. Hambone even wants a “folly”, about a half-acre under vine – let’s see how he goes with that one – I’m going to stick with herbs and vegetables.
This incredibly diverse region has three elements that are very dear to us: 1. Nature – the sea (just down the hill at Dromana or Point Leo), mountains (albeit very little ones) and great big forest gums. 2. Community – an arty yet lush bunch of hippies cross yuppies that many probably hate, but I love. And 3. Food and wine – possibly the best in the state. It is a designated “green wedge”, land that is protected fiercely against subdivision and development by the government. It’s a wonderful place, and it’s never going to change (at least until the climate does).
High quality small-run wine has been in the area since Main Ridge Estate started producing in 1980, making it a relatively new wine region, with the highlights being Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In recent years, this has also grown to include many other varietals – wine growers on the Peninsula are adventurous and experimental, and it is now possible to find (amongst others)Tempranillo, Arneis, Verduzzo, Sangiovese, Gamay, even Lagrein, but the shining newcomers are peppery and savoury black Shiraz, and fairly reliable Pinot Gris. There is no real bulk wine production on the Mornington Peninsula, making it a wine-lover’s paradise.
One of the finest producers is Port Phillip Estate, which must be visited for not only its wines, but the newly built restaurant – an architectural sandy-coloured igloo that folds itself into the hillside, and provides breathtaking views over the vines and Westernport Bay. Chef Simon West is no stranger to working at vineyard restaurants, and is more than adept at creating a menu to match the region’s produce and wine. We dined very happily at the bistro – not cheap, but still excellent value considering the quality. Cheeses can be eaten at the bar while tasting the incredible wines of both Port Phillip Estate and Kooyong, made by the exceptional Sandro Mosel. His 2008 Morillon Pinot Noir physically made me weak at the knees, and at $50, is far better than any Burgundy I have tasted in the same price range. (yes I know, big call)
A few days after dining at Port Phillip Estate, we ventured into a new place for us, Veraison, at Bluestone Winery. I’d heard of neither the label or the restaurant – a family venture by the Poulters. As is standard, we assessed the vinous selection at cellar-door pre-lunch. It’s a very well priced range, all around the $20 mark, with a vibrant Chardonnay, spicy plummy Shiraz, and a great Pinot at only $24. I mentioned I had just recently had a mind-blowing Pinot at Port Phillip Estate, and it turns out they sell fruit to the same. It’s a small world on the top of this hill.
Meals at Veraison were similarly great quality and value. They are made by a chef with a lusting for modern cuisine, and considering it’s back-block location and obscurity, I found in the main pleasing. Some dishes were still making their way to the perfect balance between delicious and science experiment, but others, in particular the aerated violet parfait with honeycomb and vanilla floss have already hit the mark. The wines are priced as at cellar door, making for a very cheap lunch considering the near-deluxe experience. Have a look at the menu online – it’s making me hungry just thinking about it.
Where to go:
The region is both haphazardly wooded and pristinely vined, with a peppering of quaint wooden cottages, horse trails and tea-rooms. Other highlights include the red hill brewery, red hill cheese, the glass blowing workshop, the Pig and Whistle country pub with micro-brewery and spectacular (if slightly overpriced) pies and a beer garden to die for, the Merricks General Store, and just about any antique or art dealer you pass.
Have a picnic at Seawinds on the cusp of the national park atop of Arthurs Seat, with the sounds of the birds, the smell of the bush and the view of the bay fighting your basket and company for attention.
Drive the back lanes and explore the wineries – some of the best ones, Main Ridge, Paringa, Scorpo, and Yabby Lake are well off the beaten track, so you will need a brochure from the Tourist information or download the map here to help you find the way. If you have the kids with you, hit T’Gallant, Montalto or Tucks Ridge for lunch, and divert at the Enchanted Maze Garden. Most cellar doors are open all weekend and sampling is free, or a minimal charge written off with purchase.
Where to stay:
Stay at Langdons B & B or Lindenderry hotel, or use stayz.com.au, and find a holiday rental in Red Hill or Arthurs Seat. We stayed at the Studio and adored it. Rentals are generally very professionally run, happily rent out for short stays (e.g. one night) and include sweet perks like breakfast baskets.
Before you go:
Make sure you check for events – there are regular markets, food and music festivals – all a bit of fun. You could also look at mpgourmet.com.au, which provides plenty of ideas for filling the belly. If the beaches are more your thing, Flinders, Portsea and more are within a half-hour drive. St Andrews is a secret wind-swept millionaires’ hideaway if you like to be away from it all, and kids will love the gentle bay beaches from McCrae all the way down to Sorrento.
If you are anywhere near melbourne and you like to eat and drink, you MUST visit this region. I’m sure before long you will be planning retirement too.
Below, my map with highlights.