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.

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.

 

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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.

 

The cellar door at Yabby Lake is closing for a month, to reopen again in early July.  The plan is to build a new cellar door away from the main dining area, and to increase the size of the restaurant.

Having shut up shop at Willow Creek, Salix has reappeared close by in a more casual form.  The vineyard that was Merinda Park, and then Mrs Nicks is now re-branded as Barn & Co.  The plan is for share plates, pizzas and a few more substantial dishes with a wine list not restricted to the vineyard.  This is on Myers Road between Stumpy Gully and Balnarring Road.  I look forward to trying it out.

The Mornington Peninsula Winter Wine Weekend is in full swing.  Just about all the cellar doors on the peninsula will be open, many with special offers and their own “entertainments”.  I was up at the Red Hill shed yesterday and it was buzzing.  It gets a little squashy in there by 1 pm, but the range of wines available to taste is huge.  The food was great this year too – excellent rabbit baklava from Paringa, superb Italian pulled pork burger from Red Hill Epicurean and Salix Barn came up with slow cooked beef.  There is still time to head on down.  Do be careful with drinking and driving – Victoria’s finest will be out in force.

Best value diningNorthway Downs.  It remains the same crazy Austrian themed carry-on that it’s always been, but you can guarantee a good time, great oompah music and the best schnitzels on the peninsula.  A most excellent afternoon out.

Best fine diningSalix at Willow Creek.  This is unfortunately a celebration of things now lost.  Last week Salix shut up shop at Willow Creek as the new owners of the property push ahead with their plans to build a conference centre.  The restaurant has been running there for around eleven years – I remember being emotionally moved by venison sausages and puy lentils, and a fabulous scallop dish.  Amazing food, a great venue and excellent service.  I for one will miss you Salix – so long and thanks for all the confit!

Best Sparkling Wine at a cellar doorStonier.  Their 85% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir blend is brilliant.  The Rose is fabulous too.

Best Chardonnay at a cellar doorYabby Lake.  The thing about the cellar door at Yabby Lake is that it is consistently good – no matter what you ask for.  Dropping in for a Chardonnay on the way home from Mornington is a real treat, and it doesn’t get much better than the Yabby Lake Single Vineyard Chardonnay.

Best Pinot Noir at a cellar doorHurley.  The Garamond – stunning.  You just know when you’ve found something special, and this is it.  A great flagship wine for the Mornington Peninsula.

Best other white at a cellar doorTucks Ridge.  For just about everything non-Chardonnay really.  The winemaker, Michael Kyberd, has produced a great range of whites which are excellent examples of their varietals – Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Savagnin.  If you’re not sure how these should taste, head on down to Tuck’s Ridge.

Best other red at a cellar door100 Hunts Shiraz.  This was available at the Merricks General Store, and is a great example of a Mornington Peninsula Shiraz.

Best overall cellar door experience – Merricks General Store.  An inspirational example of what you can do with an old shed on a country road.  It has a good range of wines to taste, coffee, food and a produce store – and it’s all so gorgeous darlink!  Honourable mentions in this category have to go to: Polperro, Stumpy Gully Vineyard, Moorooduc Estate and Paringa.

Hastings Rules – we don’t count Main Ridge Estate.  Nat and Rosalie White are icons and would win most things most years, so they remain vinblue legends and do not have to fight it out with the rest of them.  But if you haven’t been to Main Ridge, then don’t delay.  Nat and Rosalie are moving on.

Best shed – I’ve taken out the best shed award this year – because I’ve run out of sheds to give it to.  everybody is going up market.  The best sheds are of course Elan Vineyard, Merricks Estate, Miceli.  Myrtaceae might count as a shed – it’s a very smart shed.