Australian vineyards aren’t what they used to be. And that’s a good thing.
Once upon a time, a visit to a vineyard guaranteed a tasting of their best and a chance to buy a case or two at a ‘better than bottlo’ price.
Now though, the game’s changed. No longer are you expected to just enjoy exceptional, world beating wines, but you’re also given the chance to eat food; spectacular award winning food. From the Margaret River to the Mornington Peninsula and Mudgee, vineyards across the country are becoming destinations for people who love food first, and enjoy some wine on the side. For those of us who love food and love wine, it’s a win-win.
Recently Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula has become one of Australia’s hottest wine regions. The cool climate wines are grown on rolling hillsides surrounded by the ocean that subsequently suffer no frost. Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove is not merely a winery to tick off on the Peninsula’s wine trail; Montalto is a destination in itself.
John & Wendy Mitchell are dreamers. They dreamt of a creating a place of their own whilst sipping rose overlooking a Mediterranean-hugging vineyard in France. When returning to Australia some years later, John listened to his heart and studied viticulture, they soon purchased a vineyard that became Montalto and they opened their cellar doors in 2002.
Montalto’s holistic approach extends to more than their winemaking. Their 1500 olive trees provide not only a windbreak for the vines but fruit that becomes splendid Montalto branded oils. They employ companion planting in the largest kitchen garden imaginable to grow corn, zucchini, herbs, melons and more.
The very best way to experience all of this and more is with the Ultimate Winery Experiences Montalto ‘ Estate to Plate’ afternoon. You can enjoy a structured tasting at the Cellar Door and learn about winemaker Simon Black’s vision, the single vineyard wines as well as the blends made from Montalto’s other sites across the peninsula. We tasted the winery’s celebrated Chardonnay and Pinot Noir across their Pennon Hill, Estate, Main Ridge Block and Tuerong Block labels. All superb wines but it was the 2014 Estate Chardonnay and 2013 Main Ridge Pinot Noir that won over our palates and our hearts.
The ‘Estate to Plate’ Experience is much, much more than a tasting and quick lunch. Sous Chef Louise Brown guided us through the enormous kitchen garden, as we harvested, nibbled and learnt how they use all the bounty from the garden, orchards and olive groves throughout the year.
For all the talk of local and sustainable that many chefs claim of their menus – this is the real deal. Juicy and delicious raw Asparagus became an impressive appetiser just minutes later lightly steamed and dressed with tuna mayonnaise and deep fried capers for crunch. Or the just picked and sweet radishes teamed with a black garlic tzatziki.
The lack of pretension from all the staff here is incredibly refreshing. A particularly Aussie work ethic shines through in everything they do here from the garden, to the cellar door, restaurant, orchard, berry plantation, rose garden and the sculpture walk. Yes, there are a series of arresting sculptures that dot the estate – some stay and some are here for the Montalto Sculpture Prize held every year.
The restaurant is elegant in its simplicity of linen dressed tables, wide-planked floorboards and Thonet chairs. The floor to ceiling windows bring the rambling kitchen garden and precise terraced vines, sculptures and more distant rose garden and wetlands all into view. Here under the stewardship of restaurant manager, the delightful Lauren Huish, an amazing 3 course a la carte lunch awaits. The entire front of house team are not only incredibly knowledgeable, you can see their passion for Montalto in their eyes.
Blow torched scallops are partnered with grapefruit, fennel, fennel pollen (my new fave) and bay leaf dust. Matched with the aforementioned Montalto Estate Chardonnay this is nothing less than sublime. The entrée pork scotch with calamari, spring garlic noodles and egg yolk is delightfully rich with the Pinot Grigio proving a perfect foil. Perfectly baked warm bread and two of the estate’s olive oils are hard to resist.
We go on to perfectly pink veal with just picked snowpeas and spring veges and a luscious lamb rump with broad beans, brocollini, sage and anchovy fritto. But of course we must also try our recently foraged lettuce leaves, with shaved orange beetroot and hot pink radish dressed with Estate mustard and vinegar. There are kipflers with olives and salsa verde, and some more of that beautiful asparagus with shaved bonito and lemon.
And although we could eat no more we knew we had to share the desserts with our TML audience. A kind of rhubarb with honeycomb crumble and lemon curd ice cream is the best rhubarb dessert we ever tried: not cloyingly sweet the fruit could take centre stage with the crumble and ice cream doing a great job of back-up. But when it comes to showstoppers, its got to be the salted caramel and yoghurt parfait with banana jam, walnut and burnt meringue. This is a a fitting end to a truly magnificent lunch. There are also cheeses and more wine so come with a healthy appetite.
From the moment you arrive at Montalto you are greeted by people who love what they do whilst respecting the environment, understanding what people want and with a outstanding commitment to quality and hospitality. Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove combines the best of Mornington’s wine, food, nature, art and the most important ingredient of all: people.