The second largest wine region easily accessible from Melbourne is Mornington Peninsula. For my trip there, I went on a tour with Cafe Bus which I booked through Peterpans Travel. Peterpans is a great resource for backpackers and other travelers around Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia.
The tour through Cafe Bus runs every Thursday and Saturday. The bus picks up its guests from their hotels and other pre-arranged central locations around the city. A few of us were picked up at St. Paul’s Cathedral, across the street from Federation Square in the Central Business District. We left at 7:30 am. The entire group was small, about 15-20 on our bus. Our tour guide drove the bus and was very friendly and fun. She told us some history about Melbourne and Australia on our way to our first stop on the trip which was to the beach boxes on the peninsula.
There’s actually a “Mornington Peninsula Beach Box Association” which explains that “Licensees and permit holders use their beach boxes for shelter and storage of boats, accessories, and equipment associated with boat or beach use. The term ‘beach box’ means bathing box, boatshed or similar structure.” The last documented sale of a beach box was in 2012 when one sold for $275,000, the largest amount any beach box has ever been sold for. These beautiful boxes are a Victorian icon, which people clearly take serious pride (and investment) in.
After taking lots of pictures in front of the beach boxes, we went to Arthur’s Seat for a quick view of the city. Arthur’s seat is the highest point in the peninsula. We hopped out briefly, took some photos, and then were ready for some food.
We went first to Main Ridge Dairy for a cheese tasting. As you drive up, you see the goats outside, and you know you’re going to get some fresh goat cheese. We were given cheese boards with crackers and paired jams for our tasting. My table had no problem finishing our cheese and everyone else’s that was left over. It was sooooo good!
Following Main Ridge Dairy, we were off to our first winery, T’Gallant Winery. We did a full tasting there. They are big on Shiraz, have lots of Pinot Gris, and some sparkling wine made in the traditional style (Champagne style). My favorite wine here was something I don’t typically drink: Pink Moscato. It was light, fruity, and refreshing.
Our next stop was at Sunnyridge Strawberry Farm. We unfortunately didn’t get to pick our own strawberries because it was too cold that time of year. Luckily, there were lots of strawberries and strawberry-related products for sample and for sale such as jams and candies. The ciders were really good and I loved their strawberry sparkling wine (I must have been in a fruity sparkling wine mood) which has won awards for its quality. According to their website, they make “Australia’s only 100% real fruit blended ciders.” They come in flavors of “Strawberry Apple, Passionfruit Pink Lady, Summerberry, Raspberry & Apple and Strawberry & Pear.”
After the dairy farm, winery, and strawberry farm, we went to Mornington Peninsula Chocolates for lunch. Earlier in the day while we rode in the bus, we chose what we wanted to eat and drink at lunch. I chose a pumpkin and feta panini (fun fact about this word: English speakers use it wrong. Panini is plural for sandwich so what we really should say – and what the Italians say properly – is panino) and a latte which were very tasty! We had a beautiful lunch, some complimentary chocolate to taste, and then of course there was the option to buy more chocolate before leaving. I found the most interesting (and spicy) to be the Chili and Tequila chocolate (pictured below). I also loved one of their other best sellers, Lime Ganache.
Once we were stuffed, again, and happy, we went to Merricks General Store to try an array of wines. The Cafe Bus website lists the general store as the last stop, but we went here next which was good because we ended up eating yet again at the last location. I preferred going to the general store to another winery because we were able to try wines from all over the peninsula instead of just from one winery. This maximized our exposure to the wines in the area.
There are three main wineries currently featured at the general store: Baillieu Vineyard, Elgee Park Wines, and Quealy, but the general store has its own wines and also features some other “boutique producers” from the region.
Because the Mornington Peninsula has a cooler climate, their most successful wines are their Pinot Noir and cool-climate Chardonnay. They also experiment with Shiraz like many other regions in Australia, and they have a fair selection of Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris.
Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same grape, but Pinot Gris is the French name for the grape. If a winery states that it produces Pinot Gris, this means that it produces this grape in the French style. The French style, as part of the “Old World,” is an earthier, less fruit-forward style. The “New World” style of wine is fruitier and bolder, like those found in Australia. The reason “New World” wine regions experiment with “Old World” traditions is to try to appease a variety of pallets.
The last place we went to was Green Olive Winery. This farmhouse is open for big groups to sample wine and tapas. We enjoyed amazing hummus and beetroot with more cheese and bread. The hummus is only made on premise and unfortunately cannot be purchased to take home (I was very disappointed… I really wanted to buy some). The beetroot can be purchased, though! I love beets and since coming here have experienced the multitude of ways that Australians use beets in soups, risotto, on sandwiches and salads, and as spreads and dips like the beetroot I tried at Green Olive. They also had a wide range of olive tapenade with delicious bread that my group, again, cleaned up on.
I need to find a balance on my next Australian wine excursion of food and alcohol! If you’ve read my post about Yarra Valley where I only ate ice cream for lunch, I was really feeling the wine. On this tour, however, I ate a ton. I felt like I needed to be rolled home, I was so stuffed!
If you’re considering doing this tour, remember that you don’t have to clean up everyone else’s unfinished plates and stuff yourself to the point that I did (unless you choose!). But it really is fun! It’s a great balance of activities, food, and wine and cider samples. It’s a true taste of the peninsula and a tour I highly recommend!