Heathcote is an Australian wine region you may not have heard of (I had not) but it is only 100 kilometres north of the city of Melbourne and it is a very pretty little pocket of wineries producing some excellent reds from the ancient Cambrian soil.
It’s typical country scenery for the Australian state of Victoria. Naked hills and rough paddocks with the silvery sheen of long grass; the interesting shapes and shadows of big old eucalyptus trees. Add to this the gentle curves of slopes covered with vineyards and you’ve got the perfect setting for some wine tasting in Australia.
In a great example of the travel gods bestowing good fortune I happened to plan a weekend in the Heathcote wine region and then discovered the annual early winter wine tasting festival was running. Heathcote on Show is a celebration of the wine, food and people of the Heathcote wine region.
The little town of Heathcote is one of the many former goldrush settlements now turned its hand to welcoming visitors. The town itself has a number of cellar doors right on the main street. Both the Heathcote Estate and the Cellar Store offer wine tastings, food and a pleasant atmosphere.
So which vineyards did I visit? Shelmerdine Vineyards, Munari Wines, Sanguine Estate Wines, Flynns Wines, Idavue Estate, McIvor Estate and Downing Estate. There are around 70 wineries in the region, with 30 of them having cellar door wine tasting, but that was enough for a couple of days! Some of these, Sanguine and Downing in particular, are only open for wine tasting on festival weekends.
And my favourites? The best food was at Shelmerdine Vineyards. I had a delicious Beef Daube with green beans and celeriac mash. With a glass of full flavoured 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon this was great value at $26. Enjoyed in front of an open fire and looking out the window on the dew glistening on the huge vegetable garden outside was just perfect.
The best cellar door in the Heathcote wine region that I visited was Munari. A charming wooden cabin cellar door with an antique bar, fresh flowers and charming hosts. Here I was lucky enough to taste their special ‘Black Lady’ Shiraz. It’s a combination of Heathcote and, interestingly, Barossa fruit from South Australia. The result is complex, smooth and fruity. At $85 you’d expect something special and you’d not be disappointed. The ‘Lady’s Pass’ Shiraz at $45 was nearly as impressive.
For a change from the wine tasting in the Heathcote wine region stop in at the Tooborac Hotel and brewery, a magnificent old pub built to last from a combination of Bluestone, Ironstone and Granite. The micro-brewery is in the old blacksmithery and I loved the Amber Ale and the Blacksmith’s Porter. The pub grub is pretty good, including a deliciously tender Rabbit Pie.
The prettiest winery setting was that of McIvor Estate on the Tooborac-Lancefield road (just south of Heathcote). With rolling hills and the sheen of a huge olive grove, this would be a lovely place to spend a few hours. Make time to travel the scenic road between Tooborac and Lancefield. It appears some giant hand has been playing marbles across these hills and fields, with huge boulders scattered everywhere.
It is pretty spectacular and I’d like to go back and photograph it in evening light. Any excuse to return to the Heathcote wine region and reacquaint myself with the Black Lady!
By Natasha von Geldern
The Heathcote wine region is now one of my favourites in Australia. What’s yours?