Mornington Peninsula in numbers*
- Elevation: 0–315 metres above sea level
- Annual rainfall: 735 mm
- Mean temperature (Jan): 19.3%
- Area under vine: 792 hectares
- White grapes: 41%
- Red grapes: 59%
- Average yield: 5.2 t/ha
Like much of cool climate Victoria, the Mornington Peninsula had some success in the late 19th century, with international accolades for the wines, and 14 producers registered by 1891. It certainly never experienced the boom of say the Yarra Valley, but it went equally bust, with the land essentially vine-less by the 1920s. The swing to fortified wines – unsuited to the region – and a general economic decline were the culprits, with the industry not seeing meaningful recovery until the 1980s.
In Dromana, on the site that is now Trofeo Estate, Seppelt and Seabrook ran a commercial vineyard in the 1950s, which is thought to be the first vineyard planted in the 20th century. Those plantings totalled an ambitious 40 hectares, but with its destruction by a bushfire in 1967, the operation was abandoned, and the site lay fallow until 98.
In line with the cool climate wine revolution that started to rumble in the late 60s and build meaningful traction in the 70s, the Mornington Peninsula was caught in the wake of regions like the Yarra Valley. The Yarra had ample historical records of successful grape growing, and were in the grip of a tangible renaissance, generating ripples of interest in regions like Mornington that showed promise, albeit without quite the same historic markers.
In 1972, the Myer family planted Elgee Park in Merricks North, marking the rebirth of the region. Nat and Rosalie White bought an old lemon orchard in 1975, gaining council approval for the region’s first winery in 1978, which saw the Peninsula’s first commercial vintage in 1980. The White’s Main Ridge wines hit the market in 1981 – a pinot noir, pinot meunier and cabernet. Interestingly, though pinot noir is unquestionably the region’s leading variety today, it was cabernet that was touted as the future back then.
Indeed, the climate data at the time, which led many pioneers to plant on the Peninsula, all pointed to Bordeaux varieties. The maritime climate was the first clue, and then the official numbers indicated that it was warm enough to plant the cabernet family, and too warm, they suggested, for growing pinot noir, though chardonnay was still on the table.
When Garry Crittenden and Dr Richard McIntyre went land shopping together in the early 80s, they hadn’t crossed pinot noir off the list, but it was more a hopeful rather than aspirational notion (McIntyre in particular was a Burgundy lover). Crittenden came from a horticulture background to McIntyre’s medical one, and faithfully followed the data, planting his vineyard predominantly to Bordeaux varieties in 1982, with Dr McIntyre generally following the best advice at his Moorooduc property a year later. Though correctly interpreted by Crittenden, that data proved to be misleading, with the region substantially cooler than it suggested.
Like Tasmania, that first foray into cabernet and friends took a little time to be abandoned for all but the most successful pockets. With both chardonnay and pinot in the ground in many of those early vineyards, it was not long before the suitability of those varieties became apparent. Brian Stonier had planted chardonnay in 1978, with pinot noir committed to the soil in 82, although his inspiration was Champagne rather than Burgundy. George Kefford also had the pair in the ground by 78 at his Merricks Estate. And it was not long before both Crittenden and McIntyre pivoted to the varieties which they have become famous for.
That notion of the Peninsula being Victoria’s answer to Bordeaux was officially shattered sometime later by legendary agronomist Dr John Gladstones in his seminal 1992 book, Viticulture and Environment: “[The Mornington Peninsula] would appear to be one of the few regions of Australia where the precise characteristics of the great Burgundy wines (both red and white) might reasonably be aspired to.”
Other notable early adopters include Eldridge Estate (84), Paringa Estate (85) and Hickinbotham of Dromana (88), with the 90s seeing a rapid increase in vineyards, though many of them remained small. In 1996, Kooyong was planted by the Aylward family, while Yabby Lake was founded by the Kirby family in 1998. Both estates are somewhat of a symbol of a new wave of investment, and on a larger, but by no means large, scale. In fact, even with its growing stature and attendant increase in fruit prices around the turn of the last century, and beyond, the Mornington Peninsula has remained a region without large-scale producers.
Both Yabby Lake and Kooyong have also championed the increased focus on smaller detail within their sites, adding more depth to the broader subregional overviews. This exploration of site has become a key driver of defining the region, with makers like Allies and Garagiste sourcing from single vineyards in different ‘townships’, while a producer like 10 Minutes by Tractor has revealed the light and shade of their three key sites in Main Ridge, all located within 10 minutes of each other – by tractor that is…
And although chardonnay and pinot noir eventually grabbed the spotlight and have been justifiably hogging it ever since, pinot gris/grigio has a notable history on the Peninsula, too. Kevin McCarthy and Kathleen Quealy’s T’Gallant took the variety and expressed it in many different guises, from the zippy and achingly dry to the opulent. That enterprise was started in 1990, then sold in 2003 (to Southcorp, now Treasury Wine Estates), with McCarthy working on the T’Gallant wines for the next decade as a consultant. With the possibilities opened up, makers like Paradigm Hill, Scorpo, Ocean Eight and Kooyong have championed the variety as a worthy third key variety for the region, while McCarthy and Quealy continue to under their Quealy Winemakers banner.
Today, the region is still led by many of the modern pioneers, with Moorooduc Estate, Crittenden Estate, Stonier, Main Ridge, Paringa Estate and the like stronger than ever, as are 21st century icons like Yabby Lake, Kooyong, 10 Minutes by Tractor and Scorpo. And while the tightly held fruit sources and high cost mean that it is a region where the price of entry can be too much for many younger makers, Kerri Greens, Garagiste, Allies, Onannon and Mattara are proving that it is certainly not out of reach.
There are many nuances of site in the region, with the low-lying hills that span the Peninsula offering up a range of elevations and aspects, with sheltered, warm pockets as well as exposed and quite cool ones. Additionally, the Western Port Bay side, which arcs up into the open ocean is notably cooler than the side that curls into Port Phillip Bay, effectively creating two different general zones. While there is no doubt some cooling effect simply due to the elevation in some of the higher sites, the exposure to cool ocean breezes on the Western Port Bay and ocean side amplify this considerably.
The subregions, like the Yarra Valley, are centred around townships, so are essentially ‘political’ borders, which are not recognised in the Mornington Peninsula GI (1997), nor are any of them homogenous enough to be definitive, but there are generalities that are helpful.
In broad terms, the areas of Moorooduc and Tuerong are generally sandier, with brown loam and clay soils at a generally lower elevation, with warmer bay-side breezes meaning the grapes typically ripen earlier. Heading further south, yellow duplex soils over well-drained clay feature around Dromana. Around Red Hill and Main Ridge deep and fertile volcanic red soils predominate, with the conditions cooler. Brown duplex soils are more common in Merricks and Balnarring, and the position on the Western Port Bay side mean cooler conditions and later ripening. Heading further out past Cape Schanck, the soils turn sandy, but interestingly there are limestone outcrops further along around Portsea.
The humidity is generally high on the Peninsula, with typically good winter and spring rains setting up the vines, though there has been an increase in dry years over the last decade, a phenomenon mirrored in many wine regions. Although there are notable climatic differences in short distances, the region is in general quite a cool one, even with the moderating influence of the twin bays and the ocean. That coolness extends the ripening season while helping to retain bright natural acidity in the wines.
Although Mornington was very much pegged as a territory for the cabernet family, none of that research made what happened in the glass any more convincing. There are warm sites that can ripen cabernet, much like Tasmania, but it’s generally a marginal prospect as compared to the cool climate suitability for varieties such as chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot gris, which are now the mainstays. Shiraz is perhaps underrepresented, especially given a growing appreciation for more elegant styles, and riesling doesn’t get much of a look in. Riesling may not be a classically coastal variety, but the soils are suitable, and the coolness of the region with its tendency to retain acid in the grapes is a notable plus. So, the potential is there. Sauvignon blanc has a modest but meaningful foothold, and though it is only planted in frugal amounts, Eldridge Estate has proven oven decades that gamay has a strong future.
The style of wines is naturally heavily influenced by decisions both in the vineyard and winery, but pinot noir from the warmer zones, like Tuerong, can be quite brooding and assertively structured, while the cooler areas tend to make more fragrant and elegant styles. The typically long ripening will often allow for real intensity no matter the location, with fruit-forward plushness quite common. Chardonnay traces a similar arc, though the retention of acidity while flavours still build on the vine is a feature that advocates believe place it as the region’s strongest suit, with natural balance and excellent site reflection key features.
Garry Crittenden started as a nurseryman, selling a chain of gardening stores to sidestep into wine. The first vines he planted were in 1982, which would become the core of Dromana Estate, and then somewhat later his own eponymous venture. Those couple of hectares, a doubling of the region’s land under vine at the time, were mainly committed to Bordeaux varieties, but a correction of course saw chardonnay and pinot noir planted, with the first pair of wines from the varieties coming in 1994. Dromana Estate quickly grew to become a beacon of quality for the region, with the ever-restless Crittenden branching out into a ground-breaking exploration of Italian varieties both from the home base (with now the oldest arneis vines in the country), as well as across Victoria. In his time, Crittenden also dabbled even more widely, co-founding Tasmania’s famous Tolpuddle Vineyard. When he left Dromana Estate, his son Rollo was Chief Winemaker, and stayed a little longer, but joined his father in 2007, taking over the winemaking role. He now runs the estate alongside his sister Zoe. The Estate Range celebrates chardonnay and pinot noir, both from the old vines and some sourced parcels, while the Pinocchio and Geppetto imprints celebrated Italian and French varieties, respectively, from around Victoria. Los Hermanos is a delve into Spanish-styled wines, while the occasional Oggi series indulges Rollo’s experimental whims.
Founded by the Aylward family in 1996, Kooyong was somewhat of a symbol for the dynamic growth of wineries in the region in the late 90s. Enlisting the aid of winemaker Sandro Mosele, Kooyong quickly became one of the Peninsula’s most respected producers, with the first wine released from the 1999 vintage. The 40-hectare vineyard, in the generally warmer subzone of Tuerong, is predominantly planted to chardonnay and pinot noir, with smaller amounts of pinot gris and shiraz. Along with Estate wines, and the more broadly sourced Quartier brand, Kooyong became famous for championing their distinctly different blocks within the larger estate holdings, differentiated by soils and macroclimate differences. Farrago, Faultline, Ferrous, Meres and Haven, the most sheltered site, all adorn single site bottlings. After having established Port Phillip Estate four years earlier, Giorgio and Dianne Gjergja bought Kooyong in 2004. Today, the two share the same winery – with wines now made by Glen Hayley – as well as the majestic cellar door and restaurant at Port Phillip Estate.
Nat and Rosalie White bought an old lemon orchard in 1975 at Red Hill, with plantings commencing the following year. The first commercial release was in 1981, with three wines from the 1980 vintage, a pinot meunier, pinot noir and cabernet. Those first plantings consisted of seven varieties, with, much like the rest of the Peninsula, pinot noir and chardonnay eventually eclipsing lesser performers, like cabernet. Main Ridge always remained compact, and they have proudly worn their size on their sleeve, with the most celebrated wines being their ‘Acre’ and ‘Half Acre’ pinots. Nat White became somewhat of a Peninsula legend and mentor to many (including Moorooduc Estate’s Rick McIntyre), and the wines some of the most sought after and praised. The Whites sold MRE in 2017 to the Sexton Family, who very much celebrate the history and tradition of the estate, while working tirelessly on tweaking the detail. The cellar door offers simple shared lunches matched to estate wine, with stunning views of the vineyard and surrounding bushland.
In the tradition of medical professionals founding wineries, Dr Richard McIntyre and his wife Jill first planted their site in 1983. That piece of land was deemed fit by Garry Crittenden, who McIntyre was shopping with for vineyard land. Crittenden had just purchased the first site for what would become Dromana Estate, and McIntyre’s 5 acres were purchased soon after. Moorooduc Estate had a typically bet-hedging range of varieties to begin with, including cabernet, but pinot noir quickly become the focus of the estate. With a fascination for all that ferments, McIntyre is also a renowned bread baker, turning out sourdough loaves from his Alan Scott oven that are simply legendary (yes, you can buy them, too). That interest spurred a foray into employing native yeasts in his winemaking, which was at a time when pretty much every Australian winery was using cultured yeast. That first wine was in 1996, and it led to a revolution. Today, Moorooduc Estate makes several tiers of chardonnay and pinot noir, including from a couple of notable vineyards, one neighbouring as well as the hallowed Robinson vineyard in Tuerong. Kate McIntyre, Richard and Jill’s daughter also helps steer the estate, and she just happens to be a Master of Wine. And although Jill used to cook her stunning food for weekend lunches, you’ll need to join the mailing list to partake in her occasional series of winery lunches – well worth it.
Lindsay McCall is a school teacher turned vigneron, first planting his iconic estate in 1985. The site, in Red Hill, is planted with 10 hectares of vines with a more or less northerly aspect arrayed across a natural amphitheatre of red volcanic soil. Starting with more of a fruit salad of varieties, McCall has replanted and grafted the vineyard to now only contain the region’s strongest suits, pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris and shiraz. And though Paringa has become widely celebrated for its detailed and muscular expression of pinot noir, McCall has long been a champion of elegant shiraz from the region. Over the years, there would be few pinots that would have collected more wine show accolades than Paringa’s Estate wine (and Reserve), quite an achievement for a wine that was first made in an old fish tank. That was McCall’s first vintage in 1987, when the 140 kg yield proved too much for the old milk vat he had bought. A winery followed in 1998. With a restaurant a year later. Today, McCall is expanding his vineyard onto an adjoining property, and he leases and manages another five sites. The range comprises both single site wines from his mature vines, as well as regional blends at the entry level.
First planted by Brian Stonier in 1978 to chardonnay, then in 1982 to pinot noir, Stonier is one of the pioneering producers of the region. It was also one of the first ones to get the varietal mix right, with perhaps Brian Stonier’s love for Champagne more the guiding principle rather than him being privy to better climate data. In fact, the vineyard was very much a hobby to begin with, but success pushed the operation in a different direction, and the Stonier name became synonymous with both the Peninsula and pinot noir, in particular. International acclaim followed, with a number of prestigious trophies, and Brian Stonier became an evangelist for pinot noir in the New World, spreading the word and educating through his annual SIPNOT tastings. Although the brand was sold some years ago, the operation continues very much in the same vein, with highly respected winemaker/viticulturist Mike Symonds and winemaker Will Byron maintaining the reputation as one of the region’s best producers. Interestingly, while many producers have diversified, Stonier have stuck to their guns, still only making chardonnay and pinot noir.
Shashi and Davendra Singh have been Mornington Peninsula restaurateurs for some 30 years, with their consuming interest in wine leading to the purchase of an established vineyard back in 1998. Shashi took on study at Charles Sturt around the same time, finishing with a double degree, in both viticulture and oenology. Phillip Jones was engaged to make the wines, with Shashi taking up a role at Jones’ legendary Gippsland winery, Bass Phillip, where she stayed for eight years. At the urging of Jones, Shashi focused on converting to organic viticulture, and later to biodynamic practices (not certified but faithfully applied). Unusually for the region, she also invested exclusively in syrah, grafting over all their existing vines. The wines from those vines are made onsite by Shashi in a traditional lo-fi way, with no additives bar minimal sulphur at bottling, and nothing is excluded, being un-fined and unfiltered. They’re typically fragrant, savoury and quite low in alcohol. The Singhs also have a second label, Amrit, which is made from fruit sourced across the Peninsula. Those wines are made with the same minimalist approach, but the range expands into skin-contact whites and a trio of classic takes on the Peninsula heroes: chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot gris.
After healthy stints overseas in the Northern Rhône and the USA, at cult pinot producer Rhys, as well as alongside Rick McIntyre at Moorooduc Estate, Barnaby Flanders went out on his own with Garagiste Vintners. Working from his home vineyard in Merricks, Flanders also sources from Tuerong, Balnarring and Red Hill to make site-specific wines, as well as regional blends. Chardonnay and pinot noir are unsurprisingly the lead varieties, but Flanders also makes a broader varietal range under the more everyday Le Stagiaire label, as well as a series of whole-bunch fermented white varieties under the Côtier imprint. He even dabbles further afield, with co-labs with Jane Eyre in Burgundy.
Tom McCarthy and Lucas Blanck have some fair winemaking history, with family ties in the wine game from both near and very far. McCarthy is the son of Peninsula legends Kathleen Quealy and Kevin McCarthy, while Lucas Blanck’s family connection is in Alsace, France, where his family estate is the celebrated Domaine Paul Blanck. The pair worked together at Quealy Winemakers before taking on the management of a Balnarring vineyard that was planted solely to chardonnay in 1982. Two years after taking on the site, their Kerri Greens label was launched in 2015. Another two vineyards followed in 2016, with the Red Hill property on Paringa Road becoming the site of their cellar door and winery. All vineyards are held under long-term leases by the pair and are farmed in a sustainable way employing only organic sprays. The wines skip through Peninsula classics, as well as pluck strings from Blanck’s heritage, with a riesling, gewürztraminer and late harvest gewürztraminer and pinot gris blend. Winemaking is traditional, lo-fi but classic, with low sulphur additions and no fining or filtering whenever possible.
The Aylward family had already made a considerable mark on the Mornington Peninsula before founding Ocean Eight. Their first venture was the ambitious Kooyong, which had established itself as an iconic label by the time they sold, and it continues to be. Ocean Eight (a golfing reference, in case you’re wondering) became a canvas for a young Mike Aylward to express his winemaking style. Pinot and chardonnay are their strong suits, with the latter particularly so. Both their fine and racy ‘Verve’ and more opulent ‘Grande’ wines have become modern classics, as has their pinot gris, which was the first Ocean Eight wine made, in 2004.
Onannon is the personal outlet for three top young makers, Will Byron, Sam Middleton and Kaspar Hermann. The three all have pretty significant day jobs at Stonier, Mount Mary and Rochford/Toolangi, respectively, but find time to turn out wines both from their home vineyard in Red Hill (2 hectares planted to pinot noir, MV6 and 777), as well as across the Peninsula and further afield in Gippsland. The trio have farmed their home site since 2014, and make a single site bottling from it, as well as it contributing to a regional blend. A Tuerong single site chardonnay, regional chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris and shiraz make up the fine and classically built Mornington range, while pinot gris gets the full skin treatment and is bottled with no SO2 for their most experimental wine, ‘The Level’.
Sam Coverdale has come a long way in relatively short time. For a young maker who a little over a decade ago was sourcing his fruit from vineyards in New South Wales and Victoria, to owning and operating a lauded winery, as well as one of the Peninsula’s most loved dining and accommodation venues is no small achievement. Coverdale started Even Keel in 2006, with wines coming from the Canberra District and Tumbarumba, as well as Mornington. He still sources from further north, but the focus is firmly on the three Polperro sites, Landaviddy Lane in Shoreham and Mill Hill and Talland Hill, both in Red Hill. Coverdale farms using organic and biodynamic principles (no synthetic chemicals are used), with long term relationships with the vineyards he sources from. The Polperro wines are from the home sources as well as from some growers, with the top wines carrying vineyard designates. The Even Keel range is all from north of the border. The style here is classic and perfumed, with elegance and purity watchwords.
The Crittenden Estate cellar door is worth visiting for the experience, as much as it is the quality of the wines and the history. The range expands outside the Peninsula, with grapes sourced across Victoria for some labels, particularly for Italian varieties, meaning there’s a lot to taste if you’re up for it. And the style at Crittenden means you can take your time, and relax into it, with the knowledgeable staff coming to you for the seated tastings. There is also a selection of wine-apt food to accompany, and you can always segue to the restaurant, Stillwater, for lunch or dinner. A private tasting room is also available.
Brothers Michael and Tony Lee first planted their vineyard at Merricks North in 1997, before expanding to manage the old Massoni vineyard, as well as planting on an old farm a few years later in Red Hill. That last property is where the brothers Lee built their cellar door and restaurant, which has become one of the Peninsula’s most popular spots. It’s no surprise that they run a smart operation, with the 90s spent owning and running venues in Melbourne. Plus, Tony Lee is a chef. And a qualified winemaker. Foxey’s Hangout is also the first Peninsula producer to make fully certified biodynamic wines (not all wines are certified, yet). This is the ideal cellar door to linger, or to keep everyone happy. With stunning views and excellent food, plus the ability to lounge on the lawn with a picnic, those with a keener wine interest, as well as those in it for good times are both well-catered for.
John and Wendy Mitchell originally set up Red Hill’s Montalto as an easing out of a successful working life, but clearly their ambitions took over. The restaurant was a major leap forward for the Peninsula as a dining destination when it was launched in 2002, with a café and dedicated cellar door added in 2015. The Mitchells also created the region’s first significant sculpture garden, with over 30 works now dotted across their 20-hectare property, which also includes wetland sanctuaries for native birds. In 2017 the Mitchells bought neighbouring winery Tuck’s Ridge, which they rebranded as Tuck’s with both the restaurant there and wine range reflecting an everyday and carefree approach. Simon Black has been the winemaker at Montalto since 2009. He makes wines across the Tuck’s and Montalto ranges, with some fruit sourced from across the Peninsula for the latter’s Pennon range. The focus, unsurprisingly, is on chardonnay and pinot noir, with the single-site subregional expressions amongst some of the Peninsula’s best. The cellar door has stunning views and casual visits are welcome, or book out the Alto Wine Room for a larger group session.
Before Pt Leo Estate there was Port Phillip Estate, and it’s just as impressive today as when it was launched in 2010. The Wood Marsh rammed earth building was a bold statement of intent at the time, and it has aged well. The large curved space manages to be both strikingly modern and warm at the same time, with some of the best views on the Peninsula. The dining room caters for more refined dining, though with a casual feel, while the cellar door has a “Kitchen Menu” that goes well beyond the usual cheese and cured meat offering. But it’s not just about dining, with the cellar door one of the best in the region, featuring two key producers, Port Phillip Estate and Kooyong. It’s about the wine, after all. Though the cutting-edge architecture, views and top-flight food help to make it even more appealing.
A visit to one of the Peninsula’s pioneers is a must, and Stonier (first planted in 1978) is well worth the trip, both for their large range of high-quality wines, as well as the cellar door experience, which is not as glamorous or elaborate as some, but it’s personal and rich with information. You can stretch out he experience, too, with Red Hill Cheeses available if you want to have a glass, or a bottle, in the cellar door or on the verandah overlooking the vines. The cellar door building is also one of the region’s first dedicated facilities, built in 1991 to a Daryl Jackson design.
Tom Carson is one of this country’s most celebrated winemakers, first for his steering of Yarra Valley (where his own Serrat vineyard is) icon Yering Station, then for taking the Kirby family’s Yabby Lake and Heathcote Estate to being pinnacle producers of their respective regions. At Yabby Lake, Carson crafts chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and pinot gris in the Single Vineyard range as well as in the everyday Red Claw bottlings, but he is perhaps most revered for his individual block wines, which are some of the Peninsula’s finest. The cellar door gives you a chance to taste some of the Peninsula’s most acclaimed wine in a relaxed, modern setting. The restaurant is also one of the region’s best, and you can order a plate of cheese or charcuterie on the terrace and take in the vines or sculpture garden.
The pizza revolution that rippled through Melbourne a few years back thankfully made it all the way down the Peninsula, with Carlton’s paean to classic Neapolitan pizza and mozzarella well established in Mornington. Expect all the pizza classics, along with salumi, air-freighted Campanian mozzarella di bufala and pasta. There’s also an attached deli to put together a picnic or for those choosing to cook in.
A reference to the head of a pack of native American mythical beasts, Doot Doot Doot is the flagship diner at Luis Li’s glamorous Jackalope (the beast in question) Hotel. Executive Chef Guy Stanaway’s five-course degustation menu is seasonal and overwhelmingly local, with Asian ingredients a major feature. If five courses aren’t enough, you can supplement with oyster, caviar and cheese courses. For a more casual, but no less thoughtful, experience, try the fire-fuelled Rare Hare.
Inspired by his heritage and equipped with many years in the industry, notably at Melbourne institution France-Soir, Stephane Saleres set up Le Bouchon in 2013 to bring classic French bistro dining to the Peninsula. Expect all the bistro classics in a Frencher than French environment, with Thonet bistro chairs, mosaic tile floors, Art Deco light fittings and subway tiles. The wine list is relatively compact, with attention focused locally and on France.
For many years, the Merricks General Store was the lifeblood of the local community, but it fell on tough times in the early 2000s. It was acquired by the Myer and Baillieu families in 2008. A renovation followed, and a community hub was returned, with the store selling local wine and produce and the café/bistro a favourite spot for more casual eating. Significant art exhibitions are held nearby in the unassuming 1920s weatherboard, Merricks House.
In 2019, chef Michael Cole and his wife Alex transformed the old Flinders Bakehouse site into an elegant yet casual fine-dining destination. Taking on the renovation themselves, the pair stripped back the interior, leaning on white, rich timber tones and flashes of decadence. The menu takes local inspiration, both sourced and foraged, with an eye to sustainability and low/no waste. The menu is a set-course affair, which changes weekly but is tweaked daily, with the wine list exclusively local.
Matt Wilkinson, formerly of Circa and Pope Joan, is currently on the pans in the much-loved restaurant at Montalto, bringing his paddock-to-plate cooking to the Peninsula. It’s a perfect spot for Wilkinson’s vegetable-centric (but not vegetarian) cooking, with the Montalto kitchen garden – including beehives, olive trees and fruit trees – one of extraordinary scope, with a full-time gardener on the payroll.
Lindsay McCall’s Paringa Estate is one of the Peninsula’s iconic wineries, and the restaurant, started in 1999, has become one of the region’s most acclaimed. Like most winery restaurants, the dining room opens onto expansive views of the vineyard, but this is unlike most winery restaurants. Simon Tarlington has been the Head Chef since 2019, and with credits on his resumé including Maze in London and Peter Gilmore’s Quay, there’s ample warning that dining is going to be at the refined end of the spectrum. Most produce is local, naturally, with foraged ingredients a feature, while beef comes from Gippsland.
Since 2009, Sam Coverdale’s Polperro wines have been making a mark on fans of Peninsula wines, but it was with the opening of his cellar door and restaurant with his wife Emma Phillips that the Polperro name became firmly etched in wine drinkers’ minds. You can drop by for a cellar door tasting, lodge in one of the luxury villas or dine in the 80-seat restaurant, with stunning views across the vineyard slopes of their Talland Hill vineyard in Red Hill. The kitchen is largely supplied by their own vegetable garden, with the menu seamlessly drifting through Italy, France, the Middle East and Asia. Polperro wines feature heavily on the wine list, naturally, but the scope is far broader than that, with Coverdale’s selections spanning the globe. Just around the corner is Polperro’s bistro and bar space, Many Little, with an even more relaxing vibe and ample indoor and outdoor seating.
Pt Leo Estate opened with something of a bang. And so it should when you spend $50 million on a site. The Gandel family famously made a mint in shopping centres, but Pt Leo Estate is a world away from the kind of commercialism that connotes. The cellar door and restaurant occupy an expansive curved pavilion that looks out to Western Port Bay and the extensive sculpture garden, which contains some 60 works by renowned artists. On the food front, the Gandels recruited star chef Phil Wood from Neil Perry’s just closed Eleven Bridge (the original Rockpool). Wood had spent eight years there, after a long stint at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and also Tetsuya’s. It was a landmark hiring, and one that is shaping dining not just on the Peninsula, but in Australia. Dine at the Pt Leo Restaurant for a more casual experience, or up the ante at Laura, Wood’s signature fine diner.
Chef Brigitte Hafner is probably best known for the ground-breaking Gertrude Street Enoteca she founded with James Broadway. Through the simple but always stunning plates downstairs to the more involved private dinners upstairs, Hafner has established somewhat of a following for her unfussy but effortlessly polished cooking, celebrating the best produce while knitting into European cooking traditions. Hafner’s devotion to the craft of cookery is immense, but so has been her long-standing commitment to making her kitchens a haven of peace, with an emphasis on an ethical approach and work-life balance. Tedesca Osteria is a realisation of her ambitions, an arrestingly beautiful space, and one of tranquillity and immense personalised charm, with Hafner cooking from a custom-built Alan Scott wood grill for a handful of diners. Chez Panisse immediately comes to mind, though the style here is all Hafner and architect partner Patrick Ness.
Head Chef Hayden Ellis presides over one of the region’s most celebrated restaurants. Ellis has worked at the Fat Duck and the Ledbury in the UK and Dinner by Heston, Vue de Monde and Bistro Guillaume in Melbourne. A three-course menu comes in at $140, with the full tasting menu $195. You can choose your own matching wines from the list, or leave it to the sommelier. And with Martin Spedding breaking the mould for vineyard restaurants over a decade ago, those wines are from all corners, with the 500-strong list celebrating great wines of the world. No parochialism here.
T’Gallant was a ground-breaking winery in its day, the pioneer of pinot grigio on the Peninsula, and in the country. While the brand was acquired by what is now Treasury Wine Estates in 2003, the label has continued in a similar vein, as has the much-loved cellar door and pizzeria. There’s a bit more of a commercial bent to the wines these days, including “spritzed cans”. The big attraction here is the rustic shed that houses the “Spuntino Bar” and pizzeria, with wine on tap and live music for spirited weekend gatherings.
Seafood and open-air bay-side dining is the theme at The Rocks. Situated in an old boatshed next to the Mornington Pier, The Rocks is a local institution where local seafood at its freshest is celebrated. Eat in the dining room or get closer to the water on the covered and well-heated deck, making semi-al-fresco dining a virtually year-round prospect.
Named after the seminal Pavement album, Wowee Zowee is Mornington’s temple to hot-brined fried chicken, rock ’n’ roll and beer. Well, wine as well, with Garagiste and Range Life’s Cam Marshall a co-owner, along with chef Simon Tarlington, Something for Kate drummer Clint Hyndman and builder Craig Baum. They’ve got their bases covered there. Good food and easy, fun times are the theme here, with the decor lo-fi and the hi-fi cranked, this is a welcome escape from the peninsula’s plentiful glamour.
Formerly known as the Arthurs Seat Chairlift, the more dynamically titled Arthurs Seat Eagle whisks visitors from Dromana up to the summit of Arthurs Seat, the Peninsula’s highest point. The views are spectacular, and there are several eating and drinking options at and near to the summit.
The Mornington Peninsula is awash with breweries and distilleries, most of which cater for visitors for a taste and tour as well as operating as beer halls – and sometimes on a vast scale, like at St Andrews Beach Brewery. Try Jetty Road Brewery and Mornington Peninsula Brewery, or scale it back at the Red Hill Brewery, where the Mornington craft beer movement arguably started. If you’re after the hard stuff, try Jimmy Rum Distillery or Bass & Flinders Distillery. All offer some food options, from cheese and toasties through the usual pizza and burger suspects right up to some fairly serious whole-beast cooking.
For family fun, the Enchanted Adventure Garden has got most angles covered. From leisurely tree-top walks along suspended gantries, to adrenaline-fuelled Tree Surfing, to zip lines, to adventure playgrounds, to huge slides, to a hedge maze… the kids may even forgive you for all the wine tasting.
The Mornington Peninsula is a veritable paradise for golfers, with 15 world-class courses – including seven in the country’s top 50 – within a short drive of each other, offering both links and classic courses. The best aggregator for all you need to know is Golf Mornington Peninsula’s website.
With three locations, Johnny Ripe is the evolution of the cooking careers of two chefs who moved to the Peninsula to raise their young family. They bought a small property which just happened to have an apple orchard on it, and the quest for apple pie perfection began. The stores, in Main Ridge, Balnarring and Red Hill also sell a large range of house-made pastries along with pies of all stripes, both sweet and savoury.
This highly respected and heavily awarded maker of goat’s cheese only employs milk from their own herd on their sustainably farmed property. Visit the “cheesery” to sample and buy retail products, or settle in for a cheese board with a selection of wine – local, of course.
Natural mineral hot springs, which flow into a range of outdoor pools arrayed across landscaped terraces, are the signature here, but Peninsula Hot Springs is also a fully serviced day spa, and you can even dine there, with casual attire a must – robes supplied.
Snorkel with dolphins and fur seals in Port Phillip Bay while learning about the marine environment and its conservation. Polperro Dolphin Swims is a unique Mornington Peninsula eco-tourism operation, with both swimming and on-deck sightseeing offered.
There are many reasons to visit Pt Leo Estate. Go for Phil Wood’s peerless cooking, go for the cellar door, or go for the extensive Sculpture Park – it’s worth a trip alone, with over 60 installations, large and small, across 135 landscaped hectares. The park is a work in progress, with the Gandel family adding more works as they acquire them. You can currently view pieces by George Rickey, Tony Cragg, Inge King, Boaz Vaadia, Tomnakatsu Matsuyama, Barry Flanagan, Julian Opie, Bruce Armstrong and Lenton Par.
At the very tip of the Peninsula, Point Nepean is thankfully a National Park, despite developers hungrily eyeing it off for decades. A former quarantine station and fort, with gun emplacements still intact, Point Nepean is also a sacred cultural site of the Bunurong people. Today, it is a destination for bushwalks and cycling, as well as historic and cultural appreciation. Visit Parks Victoria for more information.
From the vast Portsea Pub (pictured) to the equally vast (thanks to a recent renovation) Hotel Sorento, to the somewhat vast Royal Hotel in Mornington, the Peninsula has some celebrated pubs. Also try the Finders Hotel and the Pig & Whistle.
If you need to outfit your holiday house, or your family, to fit into the relaxed glamour of the Peninsula, Red Hill House is the place for you. From kitchenware and homewares to clothing, you can tend to your linen and cable-knit needs while also snaring a few copper pans for the beach digs.
Take the family and pick your own strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, shop for berry-based products – strawberry wine anyone? – or visit the onsite café, which even has some items that don’t contain berries.
A multi-purpose farm in Tuerong, Torello Farm grow and sell heirloom vegetables and tree-ripened fruit alongside meat from their Belted Galloway cattle and Dorset Down sheep, both heritage breeds. The onsite store also sells take-home meals and other peninsula products, such as olive oil and locally grown stone-milled flour. The ethos is very much one of regenerative agriculture, with no chemicals used and biodynamic practices employed. They also run workshops to spread the word about sustainable agriculture.
The Mornington Peninsula is rich with great walking tracks, both beachside and inland. From simple outings to the ominously titled “100 km Walk”, the Visit Mornington Peninsula website has all the details.
There is a strong tradition of foreshore camping on the Mornington Peninsula, with hundreds of families making a yearly pilgrimage to while away their summer holidays a short walk from the beach. It can get hectic during peak periods, but if you go early or late, it can be a good budget option in an area that isn’t strong on economical accommodation. Consult the Mornington Peninsula Shire website for more information or to book a site.
Brigitte Hafner and Patrick Ness have remodelled their Red Hill property to be one of Victoria’s most exciting dining destinations, as well as one its most stunning getaways. Ness’ day job as a leading architect and director of Cox Architecture can be seen on full display across the Graceburn property. While the 1940s white weatherboards have been spruced up from the outside, they have been sensitively transformed within. With a rich and eclectic aesthetic, and a colour palate reminiscent of an old master painting, the accommodation is sumptuous in all the right ways. Book out the three-bedroom house or take The Glasshouse, a fully self-contained retreat for two.
Willow Creek has long been a well-known Mornington Peninsula vineyard, with the first vines committed to soil in 1989, but with its acquisition by the Li family, it was launched into glamorous stardom. Opening in 2017, Louis Li’s vision saw a hotel of extreme luxury and sleekly modern style added to the vineyard. Adjoining and contrasting the incumbent 1876 Edwardian brick house, the hotel is a striking prismatic affair of black steel and charred wood, with a seven-metre-high modernist sculpture of a Jackalope – the mythical part antelope part jackrabbit of native American folklore – dominating the entrance. The rooms range from the luxurious to the extremely luxurious, with the pinnacle rooms having a “deep-soak Japanese bath … double rain showers”, along with a fireplace the warms both inside and the 30 square metre terrace area, giving onto vineyard views, of course. Dine finely at Doot Doot Doot, a little more casually at Rare Hare, or have a cocktail or two at the surreal Flaggerdoot.
One of Victoria’s most awarded boutique getaways, Lakeside Villas is the 4.5-star accommodation at Crittenden Estate. The three villas are clustered together at one end of the vineyard lake, but they are all self-contained in every sense, with no shared walls and each with its own deck out of view of the neighbouring villa. Inside, a full kitchen, laundry facilities and a spa complete the one-bedroom units. You’ll also just be a short stroll from one of the Peninsula’s best restaurants, Stillwater at Crittenden.
Situated on 14 hectares of landscaped gardens and vineyard at Red Hill, Lancemore is a 40-room hotel with a restaurant and cellar door, along with conference, event and wedding facilities. Recently transformed by an interior renovation by Hecker Guthrie, what was a somewhat dated pastel-hued facility is now a serenely luxurious hotel, with a modern Australian country feel. Lancemore is an ideal place to take advantage of the best of the Peninsula, while feeling like you’re world’s away. Choose from rooms with garden, vineyard, balcony or courtyard aspects. Oh, and the wines from the estate vineyard, as well as from their Macedon site, are made by gun winemaker Barnaby Flanders of Garagiste fame.
Polperro has most of your Peninsula needs covered, with their cellar door, restaurant, casual diner/bar, Many Little, and also a quartet of luxury villas. With elevated views across the vineyard, the studios all have a king-size bed, central spa, open fireplace and private deck. Opt for Premium Villa 4 to snare the private sauna.
The cellar door and restaurant at Port Phillip Estate have been much lauded, but the estate also has some of the Peninsula’s most stunning and serene luxury accommodation. All of the six suites have their own private terraces that give onto coastal and vineyard views, as well as sunken living areas with plush sofas. These suites were built for pure indulgent relaxation, and with Bill Henson works on the walls and Missoni bathrobes, it’s no surprise that they’re not a budget option. A: 263 Red Hill Rd, Red Hill South VIC 3937 Ph: (03) 5989 4444 W: portphillipestate.com.auThe cellar door and restaurant at Port Phillip Estate have been much lauded, but the estate also has some of the Peninsula’s most stunning and serene luxury accommodation. All of the six suites have their own private terraces that give onto coastal and vineyard views, as well as sunken living areas with plush sofas. These suites were built for pure indulgent relaxation, and with Bill Henson works on the walls and Missoni bathrobes, it’s no surprise that they’re not a budget option.
The curved monolith that is the RACV Cape Schanck Resort is designed to maximise views while still maintaining privacy. And those views are pretty special, with the encircling championship golf course bleeding into the surrounding bushland, which in turn surrenders to the open ocean. Golf is a big drawcard here, but the resort is rich with other features, from the essential day spa, to the properly equipped gym, to wedding and conference facilities, to three dining options from the casual to the somewhat refined – including the acclaimed Cape. Rooms range from twin-share hotel-style accommodation (all rooms boast views) to the 100 square metre Peninsula Suites.
One of the suburb of Mornington’s most popular pubs is also one of the best places to stay. Refurbished in 2013, the Royal has simple, yet charming, rooms with shared bathroom facilities along with deluxe suites and even a three-bedroom apartment with full kitchen and laundry facilities. Downstairs, there’s a familiar mix of pub dining, drinking and live music, with plenty of outdoor tables to take in the views across the bay.