Friday, 10 April 2015

Exploring the many faces of the Mornington Peninsula

There are golf courses galore; cellar doors with world-class restaurants and breathtakingly beautiful countryside. And best of all the Mornington Peninsula is just a one-hour drive south of Melbourne. 
The Green Olive at Red Hill

It is not so long ago that the peninsula was a sleepy hollow where Melbourne professionals had weekenders, or holiday homes. Other than over the busy summer holidays it was a haven of tranquillity.

But the secret hideaway of Melbourne’s movers and shakers is a secret no more. Over the past three decades winemakers and boutique food producers have descended – enticed by both the region's beauty and a cool-maritime climate.

The breezes from Port Phillip Bay and Bass Strait ideal for producing fine wines, growing olives and making artisanal cheeses.

Year round, exploring the peninsula will lead visitors to lively produce markets and roadside stalls selling seasonal produce.

The list of wineries is a roll call of Victoria's finest boutique producers: Hurley Vineyard, Ten Minutes by Tractor, Kooyong/Port Phillip Estate, Eldridge Estate, Foxeys Hangout, Ocean Eight, Paringa Estate, Paradigm Hill, Polperro, Stonier, Crittenden Estate, Garagiste, Main Ridge and Yabby Lake among them.

Lunch at Yabby Lake Vineyard
Today there are over 170 vineyards and more than 50 cellar doors as you wind your way round the confusingly zigzag roads that traverse Red Hill, Merricks, Main Ridge, Balnarring and Moorooduc – and the varieties range from pinot noir and chardonnay to less common varieties including arneis and sangiovese.

Many of the best gourmet producers are members of the new Wine Food Farmgate initiative showcasing the best of the area, which is today the most expensive vineyard land in Australia. 

And the vignerons have helped create an area that now boasts dozens of appealing eateries and a range of great places to stay.

And it is very much a region on the move with something new to discover every time you visit, from cider producers, craft brewers in most unlikely settings as well as hot springs retreats and mazes. 
Apples at Mock Orchards

Yet there are still surprises to be stumbled upon; think hidden truffle groves that can only be explored with the aid of companies like Mornington Peninsula Experience Tours, or craft breweries – with Mornington Peninsula Brewery and Red Hill Brewery leading the charge. 

Visitors can arrange tours of the industrial-style Mornington Peninsula Brewery and learn more about the complex combination of malted barley and hops. This craft brewery is hidden away in an industrial estate but is hugely popular with locals and visitors alike with a constantly changing range of beers. The Brewery Bar is known for its gourmet pizzas and features live music on Sundays.

Also check out Bass and Flinders Distillery. Founded five years ago, this tiny artisan distillery is tucked away behind the Darling Park winery and offers tastings of small-batch gins and vodkas, among a large range of spirits, all made using local products.

# Mock Orchards: A rustic farm gate operation where visitors can arrive by car, horse or bike to sample a range of biodynamic ciders and fruit juices. The Mock family has been growing apples since 1895.

# Polperro: Open just a few months on the estate previously known as Vines of Red Hill, Polperro has a bistro serving refined yet casual food, a tiny wine bar, wine tasting room and four refurbished studio apartments with spa baths and vineyard views. Think dishes like duck cassoulet and mushroom brioche, or delicious smoked fish croquettes and wines under the Polperro and Even Keel labels.
Vineyards at Port Phillip Estate  

# Green Olive: This 27-acre sustainable farm is the closest thing Australia has to an “agriturismo” experience. Guests are offered the chance to sample and eat produce grown or raised on the property; ranging from sheep to olives.

And these relatively new experiences are only scratching the surface of what the peninsula has to offer.

The recently inaugurated Wine Food Farmgate trail is the perfect introduction to the region's many gourmet attractions. 

For more information: Mornington Peninsula Tourism, (03) 5987 3078, www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org. See www.winefoodfarmgate.com.au

# A version of this story first appeared in Golf Magazine Australia 

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