As new additions to Australia, we could think of no better way to spend Australia Day than exploring a new wine region – the beautiful Bellarine Peninsula.
Around ninety minutes south-west of central Melbourne, the Bellarine Peninsula is easy to get to by car, or even ferry. Phil kindly stepped up as our designated driver. However, next time we might have to check out the ferry, which connects to a hop on – hop off bus around the wineries. Like the other two sub-regions of the Geelong wine region (Surf Coast and Moorabool Valley), the Bellarine is famous for the maritime climate often reflected in the wines. However, it has the highest population of boutique family-owned wineries of the group. Depth of colour, flavour and bouquet are most notable in wines from these regions.
With views to die for, breakfast at Jack Rabbit is a great place to start a day trip to the Bellarine. The little tasting bar, set amidst an array of random and eclectic souvenirs (not all wine related) had a good selection of their wines. (No tasting fee) Most notable, the Cabernet Sauvignon, would have been a wonderful accompaniment to a Sunday roast with lamb. Tomato leaf and prunes on the nose give way to rich berries and mint on the palate. Good value for drinking now.
Warmed up and ready for the day, we nipped across the road to Bennett’s. The family-run open-air cellar door, with is array of old couches and shade sails, is reminiscent of a festival chill out zone. We knew straight away that this would not be a flying visit.
They have a few select wines on tasting for $5 add the two reserve wines for $10, which is only refunded if each person buys a bottle. However, the friendly staff and enthusiastic winemaker, Jamie, who was most keen to share his excitement over the coming vintage, made it hard not to buy. Ensconced in a dusty couch we paused for a while to enjoy a lovely chilled bottle of Chardonnay.
Wines of note were the Chardonnay and Shiraz. The Chardonnay with 15% new oak had a hint of creaminess, but a crisp refreshing finish. Mouthwatering flavours included stone fruits and orange melon. Their Shiraz had sweet ripe black fruit on the nose, a juicy delicious palate, balanced acidity and a long length. We just had to take one home.
A stone’s throw from Bennett’s, the kitchen of a pretty cottage, hosts the pop-up cellar door for Kilgour wines. Only open during special events or by appointment, this little wine label is no newcomer to the area. Kilgour was established by Ann Timms, pioneer of the Geelong wine scene. Her warm welcome and wealth of local knowledge is astounding, and the cellar door well-worth the visit if the opportunity arises.
The winning wine for us was the Pinot Gris; seriously elegant with crisp citrus and stone fruit notes, an amazing front palate and long finish. They also had the wild card wine of the day – a sparkling Merlot. Quite savoury and green on the nose; the wine gave way to ripe berries and prunes on the palate. It would be simply dreamy with game or duck – I had to have one for such a menu occasion. (Small tasting fee refunded on purchase)
Time for lunch! A range of platters are usually on offer at Scotchman’s, but we were lucky to be recipients of their stunning Australia Day platter. It featured a delicious selection of charcuterie meats, cheeses dips and breads, as well as fruits, nuts and some amazing Port Arlington smoked mussels. Live music played on the beautiful patio overlooking the vines, as we relaxed in the sunshine, soaking up the atmosphere.
Scotchman’s has a wide selection of wines available to taste, under several labels. With help from a friendly bartender, we decided to stick to a select cluster of Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays – in search of the most appropriate pairing for our platter. Finally we settled on a Scotchman’s Hill Chardonnay. It was that kind of day! (No tasting fee)
Our final wine destination of the day was Oakdene, possibly the kookiest winery and cellar door I have ever visited. The whole place is like a huge art installation and just what we needed to wake us up after a lazy wine lunch. The estate features a couple of restaurants and a rather wonky cellar door full of brightly coloured delights.
By the time we made it to this point, there was no time to tackle the entire extensive list, but all the wines we tasted were lovely. Most stunning of all, however, was the late harvest Riesling. Sweet? Yes – but it had a bright citrus acidity that cut through the sweetness, leaving you salivating for another sip. It was the perfect wine to finish the day and we had to have a bottle. I am looking forward to perhaps trying it with a splash of soda and some fresh fruit for a lovely summer cocktail. ($5 tasting fee refunded on purchase)
We’ll be back..!
Full bellies and a full boot, it was time to return to Melbourne. The Bellarine is a great day out for wine lovers, but I would love the opportunity to stay a while, really sample the delights on offer and chat to more winemakers. More information about the ferry and the hop on – hop off bus can be found here.
I would like to thank Andrew Urquhart – best course-buddy, for taking the time to guide us around his favourite wine region. We had a brilliant day.