Yabby Lake remains one of the best places on the Mornington Peninsula to have lunch.  The wine is terrific and the different price points mean it’s easy to find something to suit your budget.  I rarely find the need to go past the Red Claw range – that Pinot Noir is just brilliant lunchtime quaffing wine and to be honest, describing it in those terms is doing it an injustice.

The menu is simple.  Thankfully it lacks all that fussiness you so often find on the Peninsula.  Whatever you pick is going to be good.  Then there is the restaurant space itself which is part of the landscape thanks to the huge wall of glass that runs its entire length.  You are in one of the Peninsula’s beautiful valleys with a squadron of kangaroos making the odd unannounced, relaxed appearance.  Everything about Yabby Lake is relaxed except for the service which combines just the right amount of attentiveness with “OK, I see you just want to be left alone”.

I went there recently.  Worked my way through the delicious salumi board and then had the Confit de Canard – with a bottle of that Red Claw Pinot Noir.  Fantastic.  Good food and wine just makes you feel better, and that was certainly the case with that lunch.

Another weekend, another lunch, but this time I headed up Stumpy Gully Road to Stumpy Gully Winery and Regardz, the current operations centre of one Bernard Ricca.  Anybody who knows the Peninsula will know that Bernard is a legend in his own underpants.  I was with three other people so we decided to order and share.  All I can say is what a feast!  To start – terrine and pate, banana prawns and pork belly.  A fantastic combination of flavours and textures.  Then the Salmon and Steak dishes.  You can tell that a lot of thought had gone into the sauces which were sophisticated without being over bearing.  For once the steak actually tasted of steak – how many disappointing steaks have you had recently – and paid a lot of money for?  To finish we rounded up a Creme Brulee, a lemon and lime tart and the Belgian Chocolate Souffle – Kapow!  What a meal.


The cellar door at Stumpy Gully Winery complete with Regardz, the restaurant of Bernard Ricca.

Like everybody, chefs have their good and bad periods.  At the moment Bernard is definitely firing on all cylinders.  Much like Yabby Lake, Stumpy Gully offers wine at different price points, which makes having two bottles almost justifiable.

You couldn’t put Yabby Lake or Regardz in the “cheap eats” category.  Starters are up to $20 and mains are touching the $40 mark.  But I think in this case it would be fair to say that you are getting value for that money.  The food, the locations, the service, the wines make these two excellent lunch venues.


I’m annoyed with myself that I haven’t posted anything for such a long time, but as you know, life can seriously get in the way.  The cellar doors on the Mornington Peninsula still exist and are very much open for business.  To my dismay though Northway Downs has shut up shop, for the time being at least.  This was a brilliant cellar door – only open one Sunday a month, but when it was you get could lashings of superb Austrian themed food at very reasonable prices and live music thrown in for good measure.  It always turned out to be a great afternoon at Northway Downs.

Northway Downs closes but an iconic venue opens for business in the form of Point Leo Estate.  The architecture of this estate is truly magnificent.  The entrance alone – passing through the “sound torus” – is very impressive.  The cellar door space and restaurant have a superb outlook over Westernport Bay.  And just when you’re getting your head round that, there is a sculpture park to visit with some very significant works.  In terms of the Point Leo wines on offer at the cellar door – well they aren’t as magnificent as the surroundings to be perfectly honest.  There is room for improvement there, but I’m sure that will come with time.  The restaurant and Laura, the fine dining restaurant, have been pretty much packed out since the opening, which is a testament to the cuisine on offer.  Definitely worth trying, but all this magnificence comes with an appropriate price tag.

All this coming and going of cellar doors set me thinking about a different kind of cellar door “map” – one not based on physical location, but rather on when they were open.  So I gathered together all my MPVA maps going back to 2003 and began to plot it all out – and for my 100th post this is what I hoped to be able to present to you.  Unfortunately it still needs work to be attractive, but I can tell you I have identified over 100 cellar doors recorded at different times on those maps.  There are five “Red Dragons” – cellar doors that have been open every day since the 2003 map.   There are ten “Cellar Door Legends” – places that have been open in some form since the 2003 map.  It also reveals the comings and goings of cellar doors and thus to an extent, the dramas of their owners.  Some exist but simply live “off map”.  Some simply shut up shop, some transition to new owners and new names and some burn down!  Still a work in progress.

To end on a very positive note, the 2018 vintage was most excellent.  Across the board the vineyards were reporting low disease pressure, great fruit and lots of it – so much so that a lot of fruit became available for sale.  I think the wineries, in some cases, had more than they could process.  So when the wines appear next year I am hoping for great things!

Mornington Peninsula Vineyards small v01

Those Peninsula vineyards …



Whinstone is a very attractive vineyard, tucked away in a little valley on Dunns Creek Road in Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula.  Vineyards can be beautiful, and be in beautiful locations, but in terms of what they produce, that absolutely depends on the people who look after them and their craft in wine making.  With Whinstone the vineyard remains rooted to the Red Hill soil while in recent times the people have come and gone.

The original vineyard was planted in the mid 1990s and wines under the Whinstone label first became available around 2003.  One of the original Whinstone websites is still on-line at this link.  A few years back the owners sold to a Chinese investor who uses the house but leased out the vineyard.  This was at the time that Darling park was also changing hands to become Mont Rouge as it is today – which recently went back on the market again.  The very experienced ex-Darling Park winemaker Judy Gifford leased the Whinstone vineyard for a short while to continue making wines under the Darling Park brand, but now the mantle has passed to Eammon Donnelly and his brand – Fenian.


So there is still an operating cellar door at 295 Dunns Creek Road, and it’s open the first weekend of the month.  There you will find Eammon and some most excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – ironically not all sourced from that vineyard for the time being, but there are plans to change that.

Then, just when things were beginning to settle down, the Chinese owner has decided to move on and put the whole property on the market.   Who knows what future that means for Fenian, but hopefully Eammon will find a way to keep making good wine.


Just as I was complaining that there didn’t seem to be much new out and about on the Peninsula, Jackalope lands and what a thing it is.  If you remember Salix and the Willow Creek cellar door, well think again – it is all changed, and I mean really changed.  Just getting your head round the names is a challenge that requires several glasses of Pinot Noir.

As I understand it, Jackalope is the name of the hotel itself, which has 46 rooms, from the standard “Terrace” room up to the much larger “Lairs”.

Doot Doot Doot (and no that is not a typo) is the name of the super snazzy restaurant in Jackalope.

Jackalope 1

The Jackalope hotel on the site of the Willow Creek vineyard.  I’m very glad they kept the old house – that has become the new hotel reception area.

Rare Hare is the bit you might recognise from the old cellar door and Salix restaurant.  They’ve lowered the floor to one level across the building.  Diners sit at long tables, and the food is very much inspired by the things you can cook in a wood fired oven.

Rare Hare 1

The dining room at Rare Hare.

The Willow Creek cellar door has taken rather a step back in the midst of all this shiny newness.  I did manage to get a tasting, and Geraldine McFaul is still doing a great job with the Willow Creek wines.  The Rare Hare thing has allowed her to produce two new wines under that label – a white blend and a Pinot Noir rose both of which were most quaffable and at $28 a bottle a good price for the Peninsula.

Reports are that the food in Rare Hare is pretty good, although while the staff are getting the hang of the place keep an eye on where your orders are going.  I heard one story about a Kangaroo tartare (yes, that’s a thing) ending up on the wrong table.  The diners there, although well into their desserts, didn’t question the appearance of this dish and happily got stuck in.  Maybe they thought it was a rhubarb compote?

This kind of investment means that prices within Jackalope are not going to be cheap.  The word is that some rooms within the hotel are $650 a night.  But there are people out there who can afford it.  More importantly though it represents a huge show of confidence in the Mornington Peninsula as a destination, and it’s employing far more people than the old operation.  I hope it works out well for the new owners.  I’m just glad that Willow Creek wines are back in their old home albeit under very different circumstances.

Jackalope 2

The monumental statue of the Jackalope

Vraison grapes

A time of change on the Mornington Peninsula?

I haven’t written for a while and that is because I’ve been searching for something new to write about.  I have been doing a lot of cellar door visiting.  Prices are going up.  The number of visitors cellar doors are getting seems to be going up.  People are spending large in the cellar door restaurants and it seems that everybody wants to get married on the Mornington Peninsula – which is great.  But what is new?  Not a huge amount.  But that is not a bad thing for a wine region.  The Mornington Peninsula is hitting its “mature time” – a time when all the pioneers are getting old and thinking of selling up, if they haven’t done already.  Family vineyards are passing to the next generation or closing, or leasing out to the “big boys”.  It’s a time that will really test what this region is all about.  Will the Mornington Peninsula settle on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and just be the best it can?  Or will a new generation try and push for something different?  There is a lot to be said for building a genuine tradition for fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and yet as anybody who has been in a Melbourne wine bar knows – people are always on the look out for something funky.

This is probably what the average visitor to the Peninsula doesn’t see – it can certainly do both.  God Forbid that Main Ridge, Stonier, Paringa, Yabby Lake, Port Phillip should ever cease in their quest for great wine, but there are enough mavericks at work, enough alchemists producing small batches of weird vintages to add a significant frisson to the region.  The challenge is seeking them out.  In my opinion The Vale vineyard used to produce one of the finest Tempranillos anywhere, and Quealy at Balnarring – well assume nothing.  But go further – seek out the true Garagistes.  That I think is where the righteous wine adventure lies.  It’s the wine you cannot know, unless you already know where to buy it.

The vintage for 2016 is now well and truly over for everybody on the Mornington Peninsula.  It seemed to come with a bit of rush, and then a few false starts, with Shiraz and Merlot drifting on a few weeks after the Pinot Noir was safely tucked away.  The general concensus is that it was a good year with sugar and acid levels just where they should be and little disease.  2016 is going to be a year of great wines and lots of them – so long as everything goes well in the barrel.

Picking Pinot

2016 – picking Pinot Noir

Now we enter that quiet time – that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – before the work of pruning begins.  Now is the time to head down into the cellar and have a rummage around.  Pull out a few of those bottles that you’ve been laying down and enjoy them on an afternoon with the last of the Autumn sun.  I think today should be such a day – cheers!

Sometimes you just don’t feel like eating Argentinian tapas served up by young punks in a converted garage.  Every now and then it makes a nice change to dine in a place where the interior décor is not based on rusted barbed wire and reclaimed industrial scrap.  On occasion you need a comfortable chair, a well presented table and a touch of splendour.  If you’re feeling that way now then throw an overnight bag in the car and head off to the Vue Grand in Queenscliff.

Vue Grand Queenscliffe

This iconic old building sits on the main road and dates back to 1881.  It seems to have been burnt down and rebuilt and refurbished a number of times.  To me it looks exactly as it should – a grand Victorian.  But the real treat is the Vue Grand Tasting Menu.

Vue Grand Queenscliffe menu

Now, not being a great fan, anybody who can feed me with gnocchi and octopus to the extent that I not only enjoy it but really like it has to be doing something right.  This menu was fantastic.  The octopus was sous-vide’d and the result for me was spectacular.  But everything was a real treat.  The wine pairings worked very well too, and it is a very grand dining room.  So if you feel like something a little special, dress to kill (Miss Fisher’s Murders style), pack a gold pistol in your knickers and go for your life with the Tasting Menu.

Vue Grand Queenscliffe 2

And if you do head off to the Bellarine and are looking for somewhere for lunch, you could do a lot worse than Mr Grubb at Oakdene Estate.  It is a very buzzy bistro and the cellar door is in a house the wrong way up (literally).

Mr Grub Oakdene



I spent a bit of time in Europe recently and one of the most remarkable phenomena I came across was Madrid’s fascination with the Gin & Tonic.

A quick search on the web reveals that this is not a new thing – its been going on for a few years now, but it’s quite something to witness first hand.  For a start they serve these drinks in huge wine glasses with loads of ice, juniper berries, assorted fruits and lots and lots of gin – at as much as 17 Euros a pop!

Madrid style Gin & Tonic

Madrid style Gin & Tonic

The range of gins available is also pretty impressive.  There seems to be a movement to create speciality and craft gins around the world.  It’s a far cry from the stuffy old G&T gents would quaff down at the 19th hole.  It will be interesting to see if this craze makes it to Melbourne.  If it does remember that the Mornington Peninsula has its own Gin Wizards in the form of Bass & Flinders.

A while ago I mentioned that Bernard and Rachael from Salix had moved from Willow Creek and set up Barn & Co at Merinda Park (Mrs Nicks) on Myers Road.  Well the good news is that it’s great – seriously.

Barn & Co.

Barn & Co.

It’s not as formal as Salix – it is in a fairly rustic barn after all – but the food and the concept work really well.  I’ve tried a couple of glasses of wine late on a Friday afternoon, a snack of terrine and Pinot mid-afternoon, a multi-course dinner in the evening and a couple of decent lunches.  The menu has a range of small dishes – terrine, pate, scallops and pork cheek – bigger things like pizzas – and then a number of excellent mains.

The bar at Barn & Co.

The bar at Barn & Co.

It does sell the Mrs Nicks range of wines but you’re not limited to that.  The wine list is pretty good.  Barn & Co is open every lunchtime except Tuesdays and Wednesdays and for dinner on Friday and Saturday.  And yes – Rachael is doing weddings, and the grounds of Merinda Park are very attractive.  So Barn & Co is definitely worth a visit – most excellent.

It is a strange thing, but in Australia we have a public holiday so that we can celebrate the birthday of the Queen of the United Kingdom.  Now I grant you that she is still the Australian head of state, and in terms of ruling things she does a pretty good job, and she has been ruling things for a very long time – but this is something they don’t even get time off for in the UK!  Not that I am complaining – I’d much rather have Queenie (God bless you Ma’m) as head of state than some hideous Abbott-Berlusconesque character as President complete with Bunga Bunga parties hosted by good catholic virgin girls.

I digress.  The sound people of the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association (MPVA) have picked the Queen’s birthday long weekend as the time for the Winter Wine Weekend – a festival of fine Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the latest in ModOz cooking.  This year 49 wineries assembled their wares in the shed on the Red Hill show grounds to showcase their wines.

Inside the Red Hill shed - Winter Wine Weekend 2015

Inside the Red Hill shed – Winter Wine Weekend 2015

One of the most important skills you need to take with you into the shed is the ability to swirl, slurp and then spit.  Technique is everything.  You will be swirling and slurping with some of Melbourne’s most fanatical and fastidious wine bores – it’s just as important to have the correct glass action as it is to have your Hunter wellies in this season’s colour or your hipster beard trimmed to perfection.  Of all these skills however, the spitting is the most important, for this simple reason – if you don’t you’ll end up so drunk that you probably won’t remember how the day ended – and chances are it will not have ended well.  The maths tells all.  There are 49 wineries.  Imagine you were able to get round them all and taste everything.  You’re looking at roughly half a glass of wine per winery, so say 25 glasses in total.  25 glasses of wine equates to about five bottles.  Five bottles of wine over lunch is a huge – but dangerous – achievement, so back to the spitting.

Most people find the spitting a bit unpleasant – it doesn’t feel very polite, and it’s hard to remain chic and elegant when you’re lining up to douse the spittoon.  All I can say is that it comes down to confidence.  Spit with confidence.  Announce to the world “I do this all the time!” and let rip.  Add a flourish at the end.  There are only two major risks with spitting – the first is that you don’t form the correct shape with your teeth and lips and manage to shoot the wine down your chin and onto your shirt – very messy.  The second is that you miss the spittoon completely and hit the glass of the person standing next to you – very embarrassing.  While you are getting the hang of it, there is no reason why you can’t move the spittoon to a place where you can guarantee a hit.  But with the spittoon in your hand, NEVER feel tempted to do a Sideways, no matter how desperate the urge.

Winter Wine Weekend 2015

Winter Wine Weekend 2015

I tried quite a number of wineries.  The ones I was most interested in were those that don’t have a cellar door.  Yal Yal put on a good show.  Very well made wines.  The Chardonnay is of that acidic style – no malolactic fermentation.  I think my preference is for the rather more traditional and softer Chardonnays, but alternatives are always good.  Principia also showed some good wines.  My feeling was that they needed just a little longer in the bottle to settle and integrate.  I bought Phaedrus Chardonnay to go with lunch, and Elan’s sparkling was superb as always.

A good day out.  May it continue for many years.