An hour south of Melbourne, the Mornington Peninsula has enormous charm and appeal, with a plethora of romantic options including excellent wineries with award-winning vineyard restaurants, quality art galleries, hot springs and spa facilities, and world-class golf courses. There’s also fabulous regional produce, and endless surf and bay beaches – edged with those wonderful, brightly coloured bathing boxes that are so... well, Victorian.
With all the makings of a romantic escape, this gourmand's heaven is a definite must-visit. Take your time, make a weekend of it and visit these incredible foodie spots.
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Mock Red Hill
At Mock Red Hill, Sheryn Mock runs a cider lounge in a former apple cool-room. The property has been an orchard for more than 200 years, and in the Mock family since 1960, when Sheryn’s great-great-grandfather (and orchardist) moved from Blackburn to escape the threatening suburban sprawl of Melbourne.
Today, the 20-hectare property of 8,500 apple trees and 150 pear trees produces a range of excellent ciders, from dry, classic and sweet to non-alcoholic sparkling apple and pear juices – even a cherry liqueur blended with a 10-year-old brandy. Take home flavoursome freeze-dried fruits and naturally fermented apple cider vinegar that’s been oak-aged for 12 months.
Red Hill Cherry Farm
Get up early to pick cherries at Red Hill Cherry Farm: third-generation cherry orchardist Trevor Holmes insists the stone fruit are sweeter in the mornings. His four-hectare orchard is planted with 3,500 trees of around 20 different varieties that ripen at varying times during the short summer season (from mid-November to mid-January).
Red Hill Cherry Farm has operated as a pick-your own business for over 40 years: “We’re the oldest pick-your-own farm in the state,” says Trevor. “We’ll have between 10,000 and 12,000 people through in those eight weeks.” Any cherries left unpicked quickly find their way into homemade port, beer, cider, juice and yummy ice-cream.
Crittenden Estate Wine Centre
A chance stopover in South Africa for peninsula wine pioneer Garry Crittenden has resulted in the newest phase for his family’s highly acclaimed winery, Crittenden Estate. Having seen how Stellenbosch and Franschhoek wineries in the Western Cape Province offered structured flights of wines, he thought to offer peninsular wine-lovers a similar experience.
Today, in the Crittenden Estate Wine Centre (in the family’s original home), participants can learn from the winery’s knowledgeable team as they sip from fine-stemmed glassware and savour a choice of five different flights of hand-crafted wine: Peninsula estate-grown wines, wines from the Geppetto and Pinocchio (Italian) range, the Los Hermanos (Spanish), and premium estate-grown wines including their exceptional 2013 Cri De Coeur Pinot Noir. “It’s unique on the Mornington Peninsular,” says Garry’s winemaker son, Rollo Crittenden, whose range of 25 wines reflects his passion for traditional varietals. It’s a family affair here: Rollo’s wife, Linda, runs the three Lakeside Villas at Crittenden Estate, offering spacious vineyard accommodation overlooking a natural lake in the very heart of the peninsula. Recent refurbishment has elevated their level of comfort and chic to one of the best in the region.
Trofea Estate & Whispering Vines Café
Housed in a former passionfruit factory that once supplied pulp for Passiona, Trofeo Estate produces wine from 20-year-old vines, but is one of the region’s newest wineries. They use even older methods to obtain their unique flavours, maturing wines in huge terracotta amphora as the ancient Greeks or Romans might have done.
Try Trofea Estate’s amphora chardonnay, pinot noir or shiraz, then take a vineyard-terrace seat at Whispering Vines Café and lunch on prawns in kataifi pastry, paper-thin beef carpaccio or the catch of the day – perhaps bay snapper with calamari.
Bass & Flinders Distillery
Surrounded by premium vineyards in Shoreham, Bass & Flinders is one of the few distilleries on the peninsula to produce its own alcohol. The company’s pride is Ochre, an aged eau de vie, plus it’s also tapped into the worldwide revival of gin, making artisanal flavoured gins with interesting botanicals.
One definitely worth noting is Angry Ant, a limited release made using 15,000 to 20,000 ants from Wooleen Station, a half-million-acre former cattle station near the Murchison River in Western Australia. But the real appeal for gin-lovers is the chance to make their own signature tipple during a weekend gin class.
Learn how to make gourmet sausages, salamis and all things charcuterie at special winter classes, held at Woolumbi Farm. For several years, Kenneth and Sonya Neff have been enjoying their own free-range lamb, beef, pork and smallgoods.
Produced on their small farm in Tyabb from a small herd of Belted Galloway cattle, Wessex Saddleback pigs and black-faced Suffolk sheep, it’s a true paddock-to-plate operation. In recent years, they’ve opened a farm shop that caters to like-minded folk who care about where their food comes from. In their classic barn building, they sell fresh meats, salamis, handmade jams, chutneys and sauces and more – plus a delightful methode champenoise apple-and-pear cider aged in French oak.
Cook & Norman Trattoria
There are countless peninsula restaurants, many of them attached to vineyards and offering excellent dishes to complement their estate-grown wines. One of the newer dining experiences – and very popular with winemakers – is Cook & Norman Trattoria, a casual Italian eatery in Flinders.
Known for the handmade pasta, you simply can’t go wrong with anything here. Share some kingfish carpaccio and calamari fritti, before considering spaghetti with Crystal Bay prawns and pippies, orecchiette with nduja (spicy salami) and broccoli, or their light-as-air gnocchi with braised lamb and cavalo nero (Italian kale).
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