Australia is a country with so much to offer the traveler. Hip cities, hot beaches, an organic foodie culture, and a spectacular and cutting edge wine industry that hasn’t lost sight of its earthy and rustic roots. Nowhere can that be seen more easily than in the state of Victoria centered around a true world capital city, Melbourne.
I had a trip planned to Australia and beyond in Asia and had never been to Melbourne. After adding a nicely timed visit there to allow for some fresh urban investigating, a bar crawl to the many small venues in alleys and byways, some time at the nearby ocean and a visit to the wine regions just 45 minutes to an hour away, life intervened and I had to shorten my visit to just one day and two nights. Ugh! What to do? After flying nearly 18 hours via Aukland on the greatest airline on earth, Air New Zealand, I realized that I couldn’t do it all. What a shame! The city is vibrant, gorgeous and fresh, yet with an exciting underbelly. Think San Francisco with a gorgeous river cutting it in half instead of a harbor in terms of look, feel and excitement but really it is a city unto itself. But, with all that choices needed to be made.
I felt that the only choice really was to plan a return to Melbourne to experience the city but focus this time on the Winelands so close they seemed to be calling out demanding a visit. Fortunately, I had previously been in contact with an incredibly wine-knowledgeable private guide, Michael Sturgeon. Mr. Sturgeon very brilliantly runs the aptly named “Mike’s Wine Tours” out of Melbourne. Mike not only really knows the way around Melbourne’s three major wine regions, the Yarra Valley (most well known–think Napa), the Mornington Peninsula, and the Macedon Ranges, but specializes in the latter. Since I only had one day, a friend and I elected to focus on Mike’s specialty region and what a great day we had.
Mike picked us up in a new BMW at the brilliant, both in location and feel, Crown Metropol Hotel (part of the Crown complex of shops, tons of restaurants, and even a casino) on the Southbank of the Yarra River in the heart of Melbourne. He offers both private and public tours but since this was a one day affair, we elected the private tour. The tour began with a nice explanation of Australian wine and the differences of the Victoria regions. Jumping ahead, my friend and I had tried a beautiful Shiraz from the Heathcote sub-region of the Macedon Ranges the night before so we knew a bit of what to expect.
But there were surprises galore during the day. Our first stop was at the beautifully placed Hanging Rock Winery next to the park that houses the “ill-famed” hanging rock that was made famous in the Movie “Picnic at Hanging Rock” which put the world on notice of Australian cinema. The winery produces spectacular sparkling wine and darn good whites and Shiraz. It is definitely worth a stop and has a very friendly cellar door tasting room, dog included. In fact, one of the wineries’ dogs made the cover of the Wine Dog book–a book dedicated to those that protect, guard and serve throughout the Australian wine regions whether near Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth. As the visit was timed right before New Years, we left the winery with some of their world champion sparkling and reserve Shiraz (which didn’t last much past January 1!).
After the visit, we went to the Hanging Rock park and ate a brilliant lunch at the cafe. Honestly, while rustic in feel, it probably was some of the best food we had on the trip to Australia–an amazing place right in the national park. After lunch, we took about an hours hike (needed after lunch and lots of bubbles), up the mountain to the Hanging Rock and took the obligatory pictures. From there we visited two more special wineries, Paramoor–winning many Cellar Door awards due to the hard work, smarts and geniality of its owners Will, a former Chemical Engineer, and his charming wife Kathleen. Paramoor not only has great reds and whites, it is located in a cute barn where they have pizza parties each week on the grill and offer a real cosy wine tasting experience. The wines are named after family members and we were given a treat to try some that had not yet been out for sale. Of course, we took a half a case with us (despite the flight to Sydney the next day). These were too good to pass up. Interestingly, the winery is self-limited in production as Will believes in doing all the work, from planting to picking to winemaking to bottling to selling by family members. The winery is definitely worth a visit.
We finished at one of the originals for the Macedon Ranges, the brilliant Cope-Williams winery helmed by Gordon Cope-Williams. These are wines with some age and experience but Gordon is not one to rest on his laurels. He is constantly trying new techniques, varietals and has a thoughtfully expansive range of wines–even a brandy that was particularly good and snuck into my suitcase along with several of his wines! Gordon was our host and pretty much poured all he had and he had a lot. One of the great charms and great experiences of the Macedon Ranges is that it is still small and rustic enough that the winemakers often helm the Cellar Doors for tastings and explanations.
We arrived back to Melbourne around 6:00 pm well tired, happy and ready for a great dinner and yet another bottle of Heathcote Shiraz. While the trip gave well too short a shrift to Melbourne, it really racks up as a perfect one day in Victoria. I am very glad to have met Michael Sturgeon, Will, Kathy, Gordon and the “wine dogs” protecting their great gifts. And, we got to have a Picnic at Hanging Rock and none of us went missing (you’ll have to rent the film to understand that last bit). If you find yourself heading down under, make a stop (longer than a day) in Melbourne and treat yourself to a fun education and trip up the Macedon Ranges. Can’t recommend it enough–A kinda perfect day!!
Crown Metropol Hotel: http://www.crownhotels.com.au/crown-metropol-melbourne (hip and fun hotel with all at your fingertips)
Mike’s Wine Tours: http://www.mikeswinetours.com.au (great tour from a knowledgeable and great guide)
Hanging Rock Winery: http://www.hangingrock.com.au/ (try their sparklers and shiraz)
Paramoor Winery: http://www.paramoor.com.au/ (award winning reds and great winery experience)
Cope-Williams Winery: http://www.copewilliams.com.au/ (a treat, thank you Gordon!)