Magical Mornington

Written by
Winsor Dobbin
February 16, 2017
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Nowhere in Australia is vineyard land more expensive than the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, which has emerged over the past three decades as one of Australia’s finest gourmet regions. It is not so long ago that the Mornington Peninsula was the sleepiest of sleepy hollows, but the secret hideaway of Melbourne’s movers and shakers is a secret no more.

Major drawcard

Over the past three decades, winemakers and boutique food producers have arrived in large numbers, enticed both by the region's beauty and the cool maritime climate. Breezes from Port Phillip Bay and Bass Strait fan the area, making it ideal for producing fine wines.

Today, the Mornington Peninsula is one of the most popular wine destinations in the country, with 50 cellar doors and dozens of appealing eateries and boutique guest houses.

Many of the Mornington producers are still boutique operations; often family owned and run. As you’d expect, they tend to specialise in cool-climate varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although varieties from Pinot Gris to Gamay are also grown with considerable success.

The conditions here, including sometimes red, rich soils, generally produce wines with high natural acidity and cool-climate elegance. There are distinct micro-climates around the hinterland villages of Red Hill, Main Ridge and Moorooduc, and Merricks, Balnarring and Dromana along the coast.

This is very much a region on the move, with the winemakers having been joined by cider producers, boutique distillers and craft brewers, serviced by the hot springs retreats and world-class golf courses.

Star names on the Peninsula

Some of Australia's most successful small producers can be found on the Peninsula, including Port Phillip Estate/Kooyong, Yabby Lake, Ocean Eight, Ten Minutes by Tractor, Willow Creek and Paringa Estate, along with big names owned by corporates, including Stonier and T'Gallant. Tuck’s Ridge, Eldridge Estate, Foxeys Hangout, Paradigm Hill, Crittenden Estate, Moorooduc Estate, Hurley Vineyard, Red Hill Estate and Quealy are among the other star producers. 

Several of them have spectacular on-site restaurants, including Ten Minutes by Tractor, Port Phillip Estate, T'Gallant, Stillwater at Crittenden Estate, Salix at Willow Creek and Yabby Lake - but if visitors head off the beaten track, there are also local discoveries to be made – think hidden truffle groves and tiny cheese producers.

With the new freeway, the Mornington Peninsula is now within a one-hour drive south-east of Melbourne, making it an ideal day trip or short break destination from the Victorian capital. You are indisputably in the country here, with lush farmland and winding country lanes leading from vineyard to vineyard.

It seems remarkable, given the familiarity of so many of the names, that it was only 30-odd years ago that producers like Dromana Estate, Main Ridge Estate, Stoniers Merricks and Hickinbotham were regional viticultural pioneers.

Although vines were planted at Dromana as early as 1886, the industry had failed by the 1920s and the vineyards had been abandoned. The first commercial winery of the modern era opened at Main Ridge in 1978 and its first fruit was picked in 1980.

Stellar Mornington wines

Today there is no doubt that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Mornington Peninsula are of a world-class standard. Yabby Lake winemaker Tom Carson is an industry leader and trendsetter, and his wines cover the style spectrum; from the bright, lively Red Claw Pinot Noir to the complex, food-worthy Yabby Lake Pinot Noir. Also try to sample the Paringa Estate Pinot Noir from veteran winemaker Lindsay McCall, as well as Geraldine McFaul's outstanding Willow Creek Pinot Noir

When it comes to Chardonnay, try wines like the Ocean Eight Chardonnay, crafted by talented young winemaker Mike Aylward in the style of French Chablis, with bright citrus and mineral notes, or the richer, more nutty and intense Kooyong Farrago Chardonnay.

Pinot Gris/Grigio was pioneered on the Peninsula by Kevin McCarthy and Kathleen Quealy at T'Gallant. Both have departed, but now combine to produce the intense and Alsace-influenced Quealy Musk Creek Pinot Gris. Quealy also makes the first commercial wine produced from the Italian grape fruilano in Australia. A total style contrast comes from the fresh and invigorating T'Gallant Juliet Pinot Grigio; very much made in the fresh northern Italian style and designed for immediate enjoyment.