Rejuvenate in the New Year in Australia’s Mornington Peninsula
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Mornington Peninsula, located on the southernmost point of mainland Australia, is a destination to locals for its beaches and stunning ocean vistas. This is good news for us wine lovers as the oceanic influence is great for the grapes too. Since moving to Australia 10 months ago, I have been to Mornington on five separate occasions. With each visit, I fall in love with it a little more, discovering another special place, and yearn to return even before I leave.
The first known vineyard of the region was planted in 1972, meaning that vines have only been cultivated on this special land for a few decades. Unlike much of Australia, the region has a wide range of elevations. This, coupled with the strong oceanic influence of the Bass Straight and a soil composition ranging from granitic sand to red clay, leads to some seriously interesting wine growing conditions. Topped with the fact that the region is planted with transparent varietals, mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, wine travelers have the unique opportunity to really taste the difference between vineyard bottlings.
A Destination Region
Mornington attracts all types of visitors from the wine obsessed, to honeymooners, to people who just like to drink, making it a favorite get away for Melbourne city folk. With its close proximity to Melbourne, just an hour drive down the M1 and M11 to reach the start of the region, there is no excuse to skip this remarkable place. It is hard to describe the special feeling when in Mornington. Something about it reminds me of a much less populated California – with winding roads, the coastal breeze, and quaint homes tucked into the land. The summer, when the days are longer, the sun is shining bright and it is warm outside is truly the ideal time to plan or just hop in the car for an impromptu trip to the region.
Destination wineries are the name of the game in Mornington. Many offer a restaurant and cellar door, and even more offer a full-service restaurant, cellar door, a bar and lodging. This is due to the vast expanse of the region, stretching all the way from Frankston to Sorrento, with Red Hill acting as the epicenter of wineries.
In addition to the destination-worthy wineries, Winetravelers will come across stunning beaches, natural hot springs, spas, and just the right amount of peace and quiet to feel refreshed and revitalized. With the strict driving laws in Australia, however, there is no argument that destination wineries are a great way to combat the risk of driving under the influence. They make a great case to spring a little more cash on their on-site offerings rather than have to coordinate a driver or hold-back and not enjoy to the fullest.
Top Destination Wineries
Polperro Winery, a modern winery started by winemaker Sam Coverdale in 2006, has morphed from a winery to much more of a destination since inception. Even today, the estate continues to expand. With a second restaurant opened just weeks ago in Red Hill Town Centre, Polperro is consistently getting better at what they do. The wines are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay focused. Their entry level wines are labeled as “Even Keel” while their more site-specific range take the name “Polperro” with single vineyard designations. The bistro attached to the winery offers the most artfully composed dishes on the peninsula.
The lodging at Polperro is one of my absolute favorites in the region. Each private villa is fitted with a gigantic bath, fire place, usable kitchen, and vineyards just steps from the porch. It is so easy to get lost in a book while you have the fireplace cracking and your favorite music connected to their Bluetooth speakers. Polperro provides breakfast and locally crafted coffee to enjoy in the morning, a complimentary wine tasting in their tasting room, and several dining packages as part of your stay.
- Website: https://www.polperrowines.com.au/
- Hours: 7 days a week 12-4pm
- Address: 150 Red Hill Rd, Red Hill VIC 3937
- Offerings: Cellar Door, Restaurant, and Lodging.
Started by Garry Crittenden in 1982, Crittenden is home to a modern wine center inspired by the relaxed tasting rooms of South Africa. The family owned estate, is now managed by second generation family members, Rollo and Zoe. This estate has 20+ different wines made under several different styles as evident by their separately labeled ranges. Although their offerings may seem excessive, their execution is on point. With styles reaching from dry to sweet, white to rosé to red, groups are sure to find a wine for each person in the group. Not to mention, their price point is super reasonable.
Crittenden was the first estate to commercialize several Italian varietals in the region including Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Arneis. As they are still one of the only wineries on the peninsula to offer such varieties, they have a unique advantage. They also have a couple Savangin wines, Cri de Cour- a Jura style wine that has been aged biologically under flor and Zumma, a pure expression of the varietal with no Flor influence. This type of maturation, 100% naturally occurring in their winery is rarely seen outside of Jura and Jerez. Made by “accident” in 2011, it has been received so well that the winery has continued to make it every year since in small quantities. This wine is a must try.
Crittenden has three spacious lakeside villa’s on property, which were recently updated to include modern amenities such as a kitchen, wood burning fireplace, two-person spa tub, and all the games and DVDs needed to make your stay comfortable. The villas each face the winery’s water reservoir and are all nestled amongst the vines. Crittenden also features Stillwater, an onsite restaurant serving modern Australian dishes to keep guest well fed.
- Website: http://www.crittendenwines.com.au/
- Hours: Open daily 10:30am – 4:30pm
- Address: 25 Harrisons Rd, Dromana VIC 3936
- Offerings: Cellar Door, Resturant, and Lodging
Pt Leo Estate
Within moments of arriving to this grandiose Pt Leo estate, there is no question that a great deal of money went into its creation. Owned by the Gandel Family, known for their successful shopping centre ventures including Chadstone, one of Australia’s biggest shopping malls, no expense was spared on this jaw-dropping estate. Upwards of 50 million was spent just to give you an idea of what to expect. The private estate was reopened in late 2017 as a public winery, architectural landmark, and dining destination. Since its re-opening, the accolades have been pouring in, especially for the dining. With not one, but two “hatted,” restaurants on site. Laura, a two-hat restaurant and Pt Leo Restaurant, a single-hat restaurant. Sadly, there is no lodging on site, which is especially disheartening as I’m sure if they did launch a hotel it would be every bit as stunning as the rest, and I for one, would love to see it. There is, however, a sculpture park with its own admission fee taking guests on a 40-90 walk around some of the best curated sculptures anywhere in Australia (millions were spent on this as well).
- Website: https://www.ptleoestate.com.au/
- Hours: Open Daily 11am-5pm, Thursday-Saturday til 10:30pm
- Address: 3649 Frankston – Flinders Rd, Merricks VIC 3916
- Offerings: Cellar Door, two Restaurants, and a Sculpture Park
Jackalope is the spot for social outings and is the new name of the previous family owned winery Willow Creek. Surrounded by quiet and quaint family-owned estates in the region, Jackalope sticks out like a sore thumb. This hip and newly redesigned winery has no shortage of Ferraris and luxury cars parked out-front and has a younger “instagrammable” vibe to it. The 45-room luxury hotel with infinity pool and barrel tasting room also has two restaurants. Their bar is outfitted with a full selection of top-end spirits, a pool table and plenty of places to lounge, creating the ideal environment for making new friends.
Willow Creek, the winery’s name prior to its purchase by a single investor from China, still appears as the name on its estate line of wines offered on property. Sadly, that is the only remnant of the historical name after the property’s remodel, but decade-long winemaker Geraldine has done a great job of maintaining the same level of quality achieved by the wines prior to the sale.
- Website: https://www.rarehare.com.au/
- Hours: Daily 11am-5pm
- Address: 166 Balnarring Rd, Merricks North VIC 3926
- Offerings: Cellar Door, Doot Doot Doot & Red Hare Restaurant, Lodging, and Full-Service Bar
Main Ridge Estate
Mastermind of Main Ridge Estate, Nat White is known for pioneering the oldest operational winery in the region. Their vines, initially planted in 1975 are still healthy and producing stunning fruit today. The vineyard itself is completely dry farmed and wines are made with native yeast fermentation. Originally the family estate had plantings of Cabernet, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but as the region’s demand and apparent favorable climate for the Burgundian varietals grew, the cabernet was grafted to the latter two varietals. The winery is tiny: only seven acres of planted vines, and this estate only makes wines from their own fruit. With a small, yet personal cellar door, one of the members of the family and/or the winemaker is typically found at the helm. Winetravelers can get a bit more of a personalized experience here and even some entertainment from their winery dog, Archie.
The Larder, the lunch-only restaurant attached to the tasting room, offers both indoor and outdoor seating and is a great option for an in-between winery meal. Their bistro-style fair including platters, hummus, and pizzas comes with a side of puppy attention. Main Ridge does not offer lodging, however, their winery is a lovely stop in between wineries as it is situated in the heart of the region.
- Website: http://www.mre.com.au/
- Hours: Open 12-5 Daily
- Address: 80 William Rd, Red Hill VIC 3937
- Offerings: Cellar Door and a Lunch-only Restaurant
Although this hotel is not attached to a winery, Portsea is a hot spot in the Peninsula this summer. Since its $7 million renovation, it reopened just a few weeks ago. Portsea has some of the best views of the coastline on the entire peninsula. Their offerings include so many bars that I lost count and two casual restaurants that are able to keep up with the high volume of guests that have flocked to the hotel since its reopening. My personal favorite is The Bertrand Bar found on the second floor that doubles as a yoga studio in the morning. It has an open-air feel with the birds-eye view of the water.
- Website: http://www.portseahotel.com.au/
- Hours: 11-8 Daily
- Address: 3746 Point Nepean Rd, Portsea VIC 3944
- Offerings: Lodging, Restaurants & Bars
Other Winetraveler recommended wineries worth a visit, each with their very own restaurant include:
Ten Minutes by Tractor & Petit Tractor
- Website: http://www.tenminutesbytractor.com.au/
- Address: 1333 Mornington-Flinders Rd, Main Ridge VIC 3928
- Website: https://www.moorooducestate.com.au/
- Hours: Open Daily 11-5
- Address: 501 Derril Rd, Moorooduc VIC 3933
- Website: http://www.yabbylake.com/
- Hours: Open Daily 10-5
- Address: 86/112 Tuerong Rd, Tuerong VIC 3915
Port Phillip Estate
- Website: http://www.portphillipestate.com.au/
- Hours: Open Daily 11-5
- Address: 263 Red Hill Rd, Red Hill South VIC 3937
Non-Winery Stops to Visit
Arthurs Seat is the highest point within the region clocking in at just over 251m above sea level. With both a high elevation and its location along on the shoreline, it is a perfect for to-die-for views. A stop at the lookout point or a trip on the gondola at the top between winery visits is a must while in the area.
Mossy Willow Farm
- I wasn’t intending on including any farms within this article, however, I stumbled upon this organic farm in-between wineries and I can’t keep its greatness to myself. On Saturdays they have complimentary baked goods and coffee to enjoy while shopping in at the vegetable stand. The Farmers are happy and welcoming, and I am a strong believer that this translates to better tasting produce. As they have some of the best tasting produce I have had in quite some time. You can even roam the property and pet their goats. Their farm gate is only open on Saturdays from 9am -1pm.
- Address: 547 Main Creek Road, Main Ridge, Mornington Peninsula
- Hours: 9am -1pm on Saturdays
- Website: https://www.mossywillowfarm.com
Where to Relax:
Hot Hut Yoga
A small yoga studio nestled in the lush greenery of the area offers daily classes. Located right in the heart of Red Hill, Hot Hut Yoga is easy to find and an ideal way to kick off a day of wine tastings. Be sure to book in advance to secure your mat.
Peninsula Hot Springs
Naturally occurring sulfur hot springs found just off the main stretch of wineries within the peninsula heal and rejuvenate. With several types pools of differing degrees of heat and view, it is easy to lose track of time.
Hours: Daily 7am-10pm
Address: 140 Springs Ln, Fingal VIC 3939
The entire coastline is basically a beach, however, I found Safety Beach and Sorrento beach my personal favorites due to their sand quality and lower volume of visitors.
Pick and Choose Your Ideal Mornington Getaway
This list is far too long to get through in one visit. It has taken me several trips to compile it, with even more wineries left off than listed. All things considered, take your time and try not to get FOMO. I promise these places are not going anywhere. It is always best to remain present and allow yourself to relax, even if you just stop at one destination, it makes my job worth it! Most of all, happy tasting!
Please note: Summer is “high” season in the region so booking these boutique lodging options may require a few weeks planning in advance. Wineries are mostly walk-in welcome, just be prepared to not be the only ones in the place!