Victoria has some of the greatest wines and foods in the world, and with the Yarra Valley so conveniently to hand, Melburnians and their visitors have for many years been enjoying Australian Wine Tour Co’s day and weekend bus tour packages, tasting fine wines under expert guidance, and spoiling themselves on the wonderful dining opportunities with which the Valley abounds.
But for all those years, we’ve been aware that there’s another Victorian region – one that contains treasures that have only been accessible to those oenophiles and gastronomes prepared to drive themselves. The big skies of Western Victoria look down on country that varies widely, creating microclimates that support the growing of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay grapes, as well as the astonishing variety of food and produce for which Western Victoria is famed.
The gentle, rolling topography of the foothills of the Pyrenees
creates the perfect conditions for growing grapes; every other fold in the landscape conceals a winery, although some are tiny. Further to the north and west lie the rugged peaks of the Grampians, which harbor wines of fine intensity.
Western Victoria contains some of the great and venerable names in Australian wine and food; names like Seppelt, Best’s Great Western and Mount Langhi Ghiran. And it contains some names you’ve probably never heard of, but which produce wines of impeccable character and quality. Because they are rather further from Melbourne than the Yarra, these boutique wineries have remained something of an undiscovered secret; off the well-trodden tourist trail and little-visited.
We decided something needed to be done to share the delights of this neglected region more widely. They wondered if it was possible to create the ultimate winery tour; an overnight odyssey sampling the very best of Victorian wine, and taking in the finest gastronomy the region has to offer.
The result is the Western Victoria Ultimate Food and Wine Escape, the newest tour offering from the leading wine tour company in Victoria.
If you’re among the first to experience the Ultimate wine tour, here’s what you’ll experience:
You’ll be picked up in Melbourne at 9am by your experienced driver of one of our luxury private vehicles. These seat up to six passengers, but we can quote you for larger groups. However each group is private, and groups are not mixed.
As befits a truly special tour, your choices start now, as
you head for historic Ballarat. You’ll have other alternatives to choose from later, but right now it’s between a classic morning tea at Craig’s Royal Hotel, where you’ll soak up the atmosphere of the gold rush in surroundings that have hosted poets, prime ministers and royalty – and a glass of bubbly..
Because if you’re of the opinion that the sun is always over someone’s yardarm, you can opt for a visit to the Mitchell Harris Wine Bar, where they’ll treat you to a glass of sparkling from their premium reserve. Mitchell Harris unearthed a produce store dating from the end of the 19th century in Ballarat’s heyday, and they’ve restored it, turning it into a relaxed space for exploring their wines and the tempting tapas they have selected to go with them.
Then it’s on to the vineyards in time for lunch. And for an al fresco lunch we take you to the home of some of Australia’s oldest vines; Best’s of Great Western. Founded in 1866, the winery is now in the hands of the fifth generation of the Thomson family. Their wine-tasting is accompanied by hamper lunches that showcase some of the local produce. You are in your own group, so there’s no rush.
Then it’s onto Seppelt’s. Seppelt is probably the most well-recognised winery on the tour, and goes back even further than Best’s, to 1851. Since then, Seppelt has led Australia in cool region wine growing, and we owe it our thanks for producing Australia’s first sparkling wine! You’ll taste their signature sparkling shiraz, and many more, under expert guidance as you learn more about the history of this fascinating winery.
For the night, Australian Wine Tour Co has chosen a gem; the Royal Mail Hotel at Dunkeld. Dunkeld lies at the gateway to the majestic Grampians, and in the 19th century was a thriving hub of the local pastoral industry. Its Royal Mail Hotel offers uncompromising luxury and a kitchen that has earned two hats from the Age’s Good Food Guide for 2015.
You’ll reach the Royal Mail in time to check in and have a nap or take a stroll around picturesque Dunkeld. For the energetic, though, we have scheduled the option of a visit to the Grampians National Park to take in some spectacular lookouts. Once you’ve refreshed yourself in your chosen way, you’ll be ready to enjoy your chef’s 8 course degustation. And then, after an unforgettable day paying your gentle respects to Bacchus (the Roman god of wine), it really is time for bed.
On day two, early risers can take a walk in the environs of the hotel, or you can choose to indulge yourself with a lie-in and go straight to breakfast. The Royal Mail’s a la carte breakfasts are legendary. Before you leave you’ll get a glimpse of what makes the tucker at the Royal Mail so special with a tour of their kitchen garden.
The drive to Mount Langhi Ghiran winery takes you through some of Victoria’s most charming scenery. The winery sits framed by the Great Dividing Range, and is part of the expanding wine empire of the Rathbone family. You’ll taste their cellar before driving on to The Lake House at Daylesford.
Another award-winning establishment, The Lake House is the creature of Allan Wolf Tasker, an artist and foodie whose paintings you can enjoy, along with sculptures and other art works from artists working nearby. But first you’ll have a sumptuous three course lunch, featuring local produce and specialties like goat’s cheese and several species of fresh water fish.
After a leisurely lunch it’s time to turn homewards. We’ll have you back in Melbourne by about 5pm to reflect on a memorable odyssey. If you are serious about your wines and your food, or are just looking for something extra special to celebrate an important anniversary, the Ultimate Food and Wine Escape is the weekend you owe yourself.