2 June 2019. Words by Cam O’Keefe.
Emerging from the long shadow of Melbourne and the key wine regions of the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and its vinous sub-regions have their own stories to tell. We asked Geelong resident, wine professional and local business owner Cam O’Keefe to fill us in on what makes Geelong tick.
If you asked for a glass of sangiovese or chenin blanc less than ten years ago in Geelong, you’d be given a slightly perplexed look and probably a confused response: “…We have shiraz?” Heck, even a fresh glass of decent Champagne was a stretch.
Only a decade on, times have thankfully changed, with the wine landscape of the city now consisting of wine bars, good restaurants and casual eateries all offering quality domestic and international wines by the glass. And many of these places would sit comfortably next to most wine-conscious Melbourne options. The town’s proximity to Victoria’s big smoke, and its cheaper real-estate market, is enticing more young couples and first home owners to relocate and set up in this growing semi-regional town. Travel time from Geelong to the Melbourne CBD can often be quicker than from Malvern by car, or from Oakleigh by train during peak hour. These Melburnians are bringing to the town the same expectations they would get in their city lives: good coffee, better dining experiences and (most importantly) a demand for better drinking options, including what’s being served in their glass.
Most of these wine hot spots are located in the Geelong CBD itself, and generally are worked and championed by the local owners themselves. The most prominent hospitality strip in the town is Little Malop Street, which is filled with small bars and eateries where a dozen different – and great – options are within 50 metres of each other, all compacted into one single block. Located in this hive of activity is Geelong Cellar Door (geelongcellardoor.com.au), which features exclusively local wines (including to take away) and is on the must-visit list for anyone wanting to broadly taste what the Geelong region has to offer. A short walk away is Union Street Wine (unionstreetwine.com.au), presenting a more global offering both by the glass and bottle, with the staff knowledge to back it up. An exciting new addition (due to open in the coming couple months) is a larger wine-focused space in the basement of one of Geelong’s most iconic buildings. T&G Wine and Cellar (which, by the way, I happen to be a partner in) is promising to become a great spot to enjoy some tasty things by the glass , while also offering tastings, masterclasses and a retail component, too.
Having a stable and well-known wine-producing region on Geelong’s doorstep helps things also, as it encourages wine tourism to the area to complement the food and wine people are enjoying in the town’s CBD. Many of the very best cellar doors spread across Geelong’s three distinct wine-growing sub-regions – the Moorabool Valley, Bellarine Peninsula and the Otways – are on par with the more commonly visited wine destinations, like the Yarra Valley or Mornington Peninsula. As with most wine regions, be prepared to drive, as the vineyards sprawl for miles from the township itself. If there’s perhaps one vital visit for each subregion, Clyde Park (clydepark.com.au) in the Moorabool Valley, Oakdene (oakdene.com.au) on the Bellarine and Heroes (heroesvineyard.com) in the Otway Ranges are definitely worth your consideration.
No longer just a quick pit-stop for a pie and toilet break on the way to the Surf Coast, Geelong is a town whose wine and food temptations are fast becoming the go-to option for Melburnians wanting to escape for a weekend (where they perhaps once would have gone to Daylesford or the Mornington Peninsula) or to daytrip with visitors from interstate and beyond. I hear their football team is pretty good nowadays, too.
About Cam O’Keefe – Born into a hospitality family, Cam is a Geelong native who returned home after working in various roles around the country and overseas. Geelong’s potential lured Cam back, and in 2015 he launched his acclaimed gastro-pub, Centra in Yarra Street. Cam was the Appetite for Excellence Young Restaurateur of the Year for 2018, and the 2016 Vin de Champagne Award Winner in the professional category. Centra was a joint winner of 3AW’s Pub of the Year for 2017 .
Photo credit: Geelong Cellar Door