Archives for posts with tag: Willow Creek

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


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.

Things really do seem to be getting busy at Willow Creek.  Their function and wedding business is just going gang-busters.  This time of year they are doing up to three weddings a weekend.  But you can already see that work has started on their new 39 bed “hotel”.  Trees have been cleared in preparation for a build starting sometime in the new year.  There is talk of closing the cellar door for a year while the work goes on – and I imagine that the whole nature of the Salix operation is going to have to change too.  If you’ve got people staying in the hotel, they are going to need breakfast, lunch and dinner – unless there is a new dining facility going in.  So all change there.  It is definitely the case that if you want dinner – or lunch – at Willow Creek ring first.

Over in Red Hill, Port Phillip/Kooyong has established itself as a true Peninsula icon, and quite rightly so.  It is a magnificent building.  Emma, super cellar door person, has moved on.  She has popped up in another interesting venture with Kate McIntyre MW (no less) to offer the WSET level 2 wine course at Moorooduc Estate.  Now if you ever thought about doing a wine course, this is a good one to look at.  It is part of the journey you need to go on to get to MW (Master of Wine).  Ironically out of the UK (not exactly known for its fine wine production) it is supposed to be a very good.

Anyway, back to Port Phillip.  The thing I found a bit alarming is that the cellar door is still pushing the 2011 Pinot Noirs.  I asked when the 2012s would come out and was told there was still a lot of the 2011 left.  Now there is probably a reason for that, given that particular year.  I would suggest that they need to move on a bit there.  Hopefully they have a plan …

At the other end of the Peninsula, Jones Road continues to do good business with its English themed lunches on Sunday.  They too are picking up good wedding business.  Jones Road is always good value – no “three scallops and weird foam” there.

A time of panic! Elan Vineyard has run out of 2010 Shiraz at the cellar door, and the next vintage hasn’t been released yet! For a moment I was quite overcome, but regained composure enough to make it down to Ritchies Balnarring where I was able to pick up half a case – with a discount. It was tense there for a while. No such problems with the Vale and the 2010 Tempranillo – they still have that wine available, although the cellar door is running on a “by appointment only” basis for the time being.

In my last post I mentioned that Main Ridge Estate will be on the market soon. It appears that Darling Park is also up for sale. Darling Park is a beautiful little vineyard, that has always produced good wine. I hope Judy Gifford and the wine making team find a sympathetic owner.

Tomorrow is Melbourne Cup Day – a huge day for the horse racing fraternity – and the wineries are getting in on the act. Pier 10 is offering a three course lunch for $60, with extended opening hours across the long weekend. Port Phillip/Kooyong is offering two courses at $78, three at $95 and the Cup race televised – and Cup Specials on wine sales. Willow Creek is pushing the edge of the envelope with four courses for $75, the race on a big screen TV, live music and a 10% discount on the ’08 Brut. OMG! And they have the Justin Yap Band playing live blues in the Barrel Hall on Friday 21st November. Yabby Lake has just released a swag of 2013s, all most excellent.

Ritchies IGA (Australian supermarket chain) have formed a relationship with an outfit called Red Rabbit for on-line wine sales. Vintage Cellars is offering the SC Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah 2013 – this years winner of the Jimmy Watson Trophy – along with a couple of interesting looking Bordeaux. Over in the Barossa, Kaesler announced the release of the 2012 Alte Reben Shiraz – limited stocks apparently, at $150 a bottle, but that does come with free delivery (!).

In between all this we managed to bottle our own 2013 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at the weekend.

It’s all happening down on the Mornington Peninsula, and the weather at the moment is fantastic.

I am very pleased to announce the vinblue 2013 Mornington Peninsula cellar door awards – Hastings Rules apply.

Best shedMiceli. Its unmistakeably a shed, with wine in it.

Best value diningDarling Park. Sigi’s at Northway Downs, and Jones Road remain good value for money but Darling Park are doing great things with their platters, simple lunch plates and pizzas. Good wine selection to go with the food.

Best fine dining – Not awarded this year. It’s my own fault – I just haven’t been to enough places to be able to give you a considered opinion.

Best Sparkling Wine at a cellar doorElan Estate Sparkling. I’m giving this to Selma for a second year running, for her 2011 vintage. There are a lot of sparkling wines available now on the Peninsula, but Elan still has it. Prices have gone up a little to $28, but it still represents great value.

Best Chardonnay at a cellar doorParinga Estate Chardonnay. A beautiful example of Mornington Peninsula Chardonnay – fruit perfectly integrated with a touch of new oak.

Best Pinot Noir at a cellar doorPhaedrus Pinot Noir. Phaedrus get the award for being able to pull a really decent wine out of a horrible year – 2011 – and at a price of just over $20. The Mr Wolf is worth trying too. Honourable mentions are Bluestone Lane and Stumpy Gully.

Best other white at a cellar doorWillow Creek Pinot Gris. This was one of the harder decisions, because there are a number of worthy contenders including the Paringa Reisling, Yabby Lake Pinot Gris and the Darling Park Olivarni Pinot Gris.

Best other red at a cellar doorElan Shiraz. Loved the 2010 vintage, which is just about sold out now unfortunately. Rich flavours with white pepper – a great example of a cool climate Shiraz. The 2010 Tempranillo from the Vale vineyard is still available and is still great value.

Best overall cellar door experienceYabby Lake. Brilliant – I went in one day and had a simple plate of terrine with glass of Red Claw Sauvignon Blanc and then a Pinot Noir. Delicious food, great atmosphere, good service and excellent cellar door staff, reasonable prices and they picked up the 2013 Jimmy Watson trophy for their Block 1 Pinot.

Hastings Rules – we don’t count Main Ridge Estate. Nat and Rosalie White are legends in their own underwear (and probably everybody else’s too). They would win most things most years, so they remain vinblue legends and do not have to fight it out with the rest of them.

A little while ago I mentioned that Stephane had left Willow Creek and Salix to start up on his own in the place in Balnarring vacated by Ricca when he moved to Stumpy Gully.  Well, I went to try Le Bouchon and was most impressed.

Stephane has lifted the decor – it’s much lighter and brighter and there is now one big comfy bench along the main wall which adds extra seating and brings a warmth to the place.  There is also seating outside in a little garden area.

The menu – very simple, very French and the prices are not outrageous.  Starters include seafood and charcuterie platters to share, with rich terrines and pâtés.  There are four basic main courses: confit du canard, steak (two types with a variety of sauces), poisson (of the day) and pork belly.  And then a selection of desserts including mousse au chocolate and crème brûlée.  Specials were available including calamari.

The wine list is not huge and features French and local Mornington Peninsula wines.  Prices start at around $40.  The Bordeaux I had, a Château Le Tros was $63, and very good too.  A little too much Crème de Cassis in our Kirs when we got started was the only minor fault in that department.  It’s BYO ($10 corkage) on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The food was good – confit, steak and belly pork all most excellent, as were the starters and desserts.  Prices for starters, from $12.  Main courses are typically under $30.

Le Bouchon

Le Bouchon

So a great new addition to Balnarring and well worth trying.  If he can maintain his quality then I think Stephane will have a hit on his hands.


The bread basket at Le Bouchon

The Chinese and their money are now a major force in the world of wine.  For proof look no further than the film Red Obsession.  My biggest concern in all of this – given that there are now quite a few seriously wealthy Chinese people in the world – is that they leave some wine for the rest of us.

It seems that the long arm of Chinese money has reached as far as the Mornington Peninsula.  The word is that a Chinese gentleman has bought Willow Creek vineyard – the home, as I have written about before, of very fine Chardonnays – and actually the 2013 Pinot Gris is particularly fine.

So what does this mean?  Well not a lot in the short term apparently, but the vineyard has had planning permission for a forty bed hotel and conference centre on the books for a long time, and with new money it might just become a reality.  The vineyard is on a good road, close to Balnarring and now not that far from PenLink – it’s a pretty good site.

And in a related move, Stephane, long time Salix restaurant manager, has decided to go out on his own and open a restaurant “Le Bouchon” in the Balnarring premises previously occupied by Ricca.  That will definitely be worth trying.

I should have got this out much, much sooner, but my own vintage got in the way, and there are so many good cellar doors to visit.  It’s more fun being at a cellar door than writing about it.  Anyway, I am very pleased to announce the vinblue 2012 Mornington Peninsula cellar door awards – Hastings Rules apply.

Best shedMerricks Estate.  A true and wonderful thing, full of ideal shed compatible items including the venerable George Kefford, one of the original Mornington Peninsula winemakers.

Best value diningJones Road.  Sigi’s at Northway Downs is still an absolute riot, but you can’t go anywhere to better Jones Road for good value dining.  Roast lunches, excellent pizzas from their wood fired oven and generous starters, combined with a reasonably priced and excellent range of wines.  The place is comfortable, relaxed and Rob and the team do a great job.  Please visit.

Best fine diningTen Minutes by Tractor.  Simply exquisite.  Expensive with touches of Blumenthal, but in a sea of over-priced mediocrity, this is an island of salvation.  Salix at Willow Creek, last years winners, have mislaid their mojo just a little bit.

Best Sparkling Wine at a cellar doorElan Estate Sparkling.  Selma at Elan keeps on re-inventing, and this is a beauty. $25 of superb value Chardonnay based fun and fizz.  But don’t think this is fizzy nonsense – it is a great sparkling wine.  In my opinion it easily competes with bottle shop French champagne selling for twice the price.

Best Chardonnay at a cellar door – has to go to Geraldine McFaul and the team at Willow Creek.  The Chardonnay Project was a wonderful thing, as is Willow Creek Chardonnay.  Personally I’m still smarting from the loss of the WCV range, but you can’t have everything.

Best Pinot Noir at a cellar door – Garamond 2010 by Hurley Vineyard.  You would be forgiven for wondering  whether the $60 you spent on a bottle of Pinot Noir wouldn’t have been better spent on three bottles of $20 Pinot Noir.  After the first few glasses would you notice, or even care?  Well the Garamond is a wine that is so good that you can see why it costs $60 plus.  Expensive, but still good value for money – that is how good this is.  Warning – you must appreciate good Pinot Noir and Burgundy to enjoy this wine.  Avoid if “Shiraz is your thing”.  You won’t get it at all.

Best other red at a cellar door – is also probably the best value red wine on the Mornington Peninsula.  It is the 2010 Tempranillo from the Vale vineyard.  A beautiful red wine – John and daughter Caroline are doing a great job.

Best other white at a cellar door – this was one of the harder decisions, because there are a number of worthy contenders.  In the end it goes to Jones Road and their Jones Road Junior Pinot Grigio.  For around $20 you get a delightful, fresh, flavour filled wine – just brilliant as the first bottle with a Jones Road lunch.

Best overall cellar door experience – has to go to Gary and Dromana Estate.  Dromana had a lot going for it – great location, a good variety of wines, an interesting building, art works – and Gary who worked very hard to make sure people had a good time.  I’m not sure how it will turn out for Dromana Estate – we wish them well.



Hastings Rules – we don’t count Main Ridge Estate.  Nat and Rosalie White are legends in their own underwear (and probably everybody else’s too).  They would win most things most years, so they remain vinblue legends and do not have to fight it out with the rest of them.

I’ve had two very successful cellar door visits recently.  The first was to Phaedrus, a small vineyard on Mornington-Tyabb Road.  The cellar door itself is an unassuming, but attractive little building – very simple, and there is a very strong chance you will be served by the winemakers – Maïtèna or Ewan.  What I really appreciate about Phaedrus though is value for money.  I find the wines to be excellent – some quality in depth here – but at $20 a bottle for the whites (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris) and $24 for the reds (Pinot Noir, Shiraz) they are a real bargain.  There is a reserve Pinot Noir at $45.  Highly recommended.

Contrast Phaedrus with Hurley vineyard on Balnarring Road.  Hurley is a premium Pinot Noir producer – that is all they make – different wines coming from different areas of the vineyard with different pinot clones.  For me the stand out wine was the Garamond 2010.  At $63 a bottle you would hope for something a bit special, and this I think does deliver.

And finally, something I have enjoyed from Willow Creek – a great idea from Geraldine McFaul – the Chardonnay Project.  Four chardonnays made from the same juice, but treated in different ways.  There are genuine but subtle differences between the wines and it’s fun trying to work out what they are.

I’ve been quite busy searching out Pinot Noirs from 2011 and it’s as I feared – they’re really not that good.  Everything from $16 up to $34 is showing as very disappointing.  But one glimmer of hope – Bluestone Lane.  In a part of the Mornington Peninsula that generally gets hotter summers than “up the hill” in Red Hill and Main Ridge, this vineyard does seem to have produced a reasonably decent wine – same goes for the rare Pinot Meunier – and at $26 a bottle it is currently looking at being the best value I’ve found so far.  And the cellar door is great fun, especially when full of a coach load of strippers from Richmond, but that really is another story.

Two other really good cellar door experiences recently – Moorooduc Estate and Willow Creek.  I tasted across the range at both cellar doors and came away with a good feeling from both.  At Willow Creek the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris are well made with lots on the front palette – really pleasant fruit – but nothing that is going to linger.  In absolute terms probably over priced, but good, easy drinking.  Very interesting chardonnay – I love the “chardonnay project” – have a look at their website for details.  Pinot Noir (not 2011) is great.  Everything at Moorooduc is worthwhile – I ended buying a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – the last year apparently.  Its a disappearing thing from the peninsula.  Worth getting when its good.