With Easter fast approaching and our families overseas, Phil and I were keen to do something a little special for the long weekend. Naturally there needed to be good wine. We chose the King Valley food and wine region, famous for its Italian varietals.
The King Valley
Three hours North-East of Melbourne, stretching out above the Alpine National Park on route to Wangaratta, is The King Valley. This U-shaped geographical wonder was carved millions of years ago by the King River. The rich and fertile soil has been used to grow crops since the 1880s, originally hops and tobacco. However, when the trend for smoking cigarettes waned, the inhabitants – mostly European migrants, had to get creative. They planted vineyards and the varietals chosen are a definite nod to their Italian and Spanish descent. Now the region is famous for its Sanigovese, Babera and Nebbiolo amongst some delicious others.
I love a road-trip. With free tea at the ‘driver revivers’ on route and some glorious weather, our arrival to Moyhu in the heart of the valley was perfect. Coloured signs all around indicated that this quiet little town of around 500 people was getting ready to celebrate Easter in style. A party in the park opposite the Moyhu Hotel, our home for the weekend, was planned for tomorrow.
The Moyhu Hotel is a friendly pub with an extensive international and local wine list, an ever changing menu and some basic but comfortable accommodation. Merkel Wines owns the pub, which also doubles as their cellar door.
Centrally located, the pub is in perfect reach of the two main patches of wineries. The first to the South towards Whitfield includes, Dalzotto, Pizzini and Christmont. The alternative to the North, between Oxley and Milawa is most famous for Brown Brothers.
King River Estate
Keen to really experience the best of what’s on offer in the valley, we had just enough time to reach our nearest winery, King River Estate. Established around twenty years ago by owner and winemaker Trevor Knaggs, this bio-dynamic wonder produces some exquisite wines. A labour of love and and real lesson in simplicity. Trevor, a small band of travellers and close friends produce a wide range of varietals within a relatively simple winery. Sustainability is key to his ethos for making great wine. The grapes are wild fermented with next to no additives.
Can you imagine our delight when we had the fortune to meet Trevor himself? Palpable. He spent at least an hour walking us around his winery, allowing us to taste brews at all stages and demonstrate his methods. I even got suck into a bit of plunging – its all done by hand here. An amazingly informative afternoon.
Daytime temperatures over the weekend were above twenty, but the imminent Autumn was more obvious in the chilly evenings. Dinner in front of our first log fire of the year was most welcome and delicious at our hotel.
Stand out wines: 2014 Vermentino, 2014 Sangiovese, 2014 Shiraz (amazing white pepper notes) and the amazingly juicy 2008 Merlot Reserve
After a delicious lay-in we enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast at the iNeeta cafe across the road. We had designated Sunday as our ‘main’ wine day, so today was all about exploring the local area. First stop the Moyhu farmer’s market to soak up a little of the local ambience.
Paradise Falls and Power’s Lookout
Both beyond the Wangaratta-Whitfield Road towards the Alpine National Park, the sunny Autumn day was perfect for such an adventure. Well, in the case of the falls, almost perfect – meaning that it was more like a spray than a waterfall. Paradise none the less. The kilometre round trip down some steep steps was worth it to enjoy a post-clamber picnic of local fare on the rocks below.
Power’s Lookout didn’t disappoint either. Two platforms offering panoramic views over the King Valley and the high country mountains beyond. Harry Power used this place as a vantage point to lookout for advancing troopers at the end of the nineteenth century. Apparently he was a buddy of Ned Kelly himself – another local celebrity!
Brown Brother’s Winery
Well it would be rude not to take in at least one little winery…
With a family Easter festival in full swing, it seems we had picked the perfect day to to visit one of Victoria’s most famous wineries. Such an extensive tasting list requires a little forethought, but we picked well. Despite the hustle and bustle of this busy day, the atmosphere was buzzing and the enthusiasm of the winery staff to share their knowledge was infectious.
Brown Brothers was first established in 1889 by John Francis Brown and their wines are now internationally recognised. They have a wide range of varietals, some exclusive to the cellar door. On the way home we had just enough time to nip into Milawa Mustards for some more treats for our take-home collection.
Stand out wines: 18 Eighty Nine Chardonnay 2015, Cellar Door Release Carménère (minty, juicy fabulous with lamb) and the Shiraz Mondeuse & Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Party in the park
Back in time to join the party. Opposite the hotel a flatbed truck had been turned into a makeshift stage for local performers and a range of businesses had set up stalls. We enjoyed a glass by the local Red Feet Wines before entering the community raffle.
River Tribe Adventures
Who doesn’t love wine tour? There is nothing better than being able to taste wines without a car. I always refrain from tasting wines when I am driving you see. Luckily we managed to find one, even at such short notice. River Tribe Adventures is a family business that mostly deals with kayak tours, but they also offer a range of land vehicles to take you between destinations. Our driver was David in a fabulous vintage BMW.
First stop and another Easter festival! These King Valley Wineries know how to cater for the crowds with extended tasting areas and entertainment for the kids. Dal Zotto prides itself on its Prosecco, and without doubt they are delicious, but we were pleasantly surprised by their extensive range of other varietals. Most of the varietals are Italian, reflecting the heritage of the family that still owns and takes great pride in this lovely winery.
Stand out wines: Cloudy Col Fondo Prosecco 2014 (secondary fermentation in-bottle, the traditional way), Barbera 2015 and Sangiovese 2015
According to James Halliday the cellar door at Christmont is one of the best to visit in Australia. With stunning views over 250 acres of vineyards, it is easy to see why. The wine list was equally stunning with the LaZona range from the King Valley as well as other Australian wines. Christmont is also famous for its fine dining.
Stand out wines: LaZona Fiano 2016, Christmone Petit Marsang 2013 (perfect for Thai food) and we had to have the Reserva Il Ré Nebbiolo 2005
Mountain View Hotel
Time for lunch! A boutique gastro-pub in Whitfield; the Mountain View Hotel is owned by the Pizzini family. The broad menu offers something for everyone: Italian-style salads, schnitzels and German sausages. The wine list is also extensive, but it was time to cleanse our palates with a cheeky beer.
King River Estate – take 2
After a lengthy lunch we were running out of time on the meter. I know perhaps we should have tried to discover another winery, but the call of an early favourite was too strong. Knowing that Trevor had hired a musical duo form Melbourne and was having a little Easter soiree too, we returned to King River Estate.
It was the right decision. Sharing a bottle of reserve Merlot from 2008 in the last of the afternoon sunshine, whilst listening to the band was wonderful. The previous hospitality afforded to us was repeated as we sat chatting to some of the locals. To top off the perfect afternoon, our new friends gave us a lift home.
On the steady drive home we had time to reflect on our weekend. Not only did we taste some delicious wines in the King Valley, but the atmosphere and hospitality of the region will keep us smiling for a long time. Easter seems the perfect time for winemakers to celebrate the end of the vintage with their devotees and show off to the wine tourists.
For a relatively small wine region, we still feel like we have much to discover. I can’t wait to return and discover some more; some of the smaller wineries perhaps? I would definitely spend more time exploring the local towns and maybe expand my wine adventures to the surrounding regions like Rutherglen.
Thank you King Valley.