Let your Wine Compass guide you

Pimpernel Vineyards

If there are 2 things the Yarra Valley has in spades, it’s beautiful wine and great food. Not to mention gorgeous scenery and the fact that it’s only an hour out of Melbourne. The only issues are: how to choose where to go with so many options, and getting safely home after you’ve indulged in all the things.

And that’s where Wine Compass comes in. I was recently invited on a day trip with a comfy little busload of like-minded foodie winos (I’m saying that like its a good thing because it totally is) to get a guided tour of the Yarra Valley, with Adam and Jimmy, who have been curating and hosting tours of the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula since cocky was an egg.  The key is local knowledge, and being able to design a tour specifically tailored to the needs of each group, in a relaxed and informal style, but with plenty of information if and when you need it.

For our particular trip, we started out at Pimpernel Vineyards, a boutique winery a little off the beaten track and well worth the visit. We felt like we had uncovered a hidden gem (well actually Wine Compass did the uncovering, we just drank the wine) – their vines are non-irrigated,  essentially resulting in grapes which have to fight for their water and nutrients, and whilst there may be a lower yield, they are concentrated and more intense in flavour, i.e. delicious.

Their specialities are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and they also make a very lovely Viognier, one of my new favourite wines, with lovely perfume and complexity which you can only get from a good grape and a winemaker who knows what to do with it.

The next stop was Oakridge for lunch, home to wunderkind chef Matt Stone, which was predictably fabulous, elegant and colourful, from the house-made bread and butter, (they even mill the flour onsite to make the bread) , local Yarra Valley caviar, handmade pasta, and vegetables from their own garden. And of course some beautiful wines to match.


Last stop was the always fabulous Four Pillars Gin, where the super-smiley Cam Mackenzie was on hand to have a chat, we had a special gin tasting, and got to have a sneak peak at the new release Shiraz Gin (my favourite, because wine).


And in the style of all great road trips, it ended with us zooming down the freeway back towards the city with one of our guests (Melbourne Cocktails I’m looking at you) commandeering the stereo and turning the bus into a high-spirited karaoke disco.  You should book now. Click here . Cheers!

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Behind the Hedge – Coombe Farm in the Yarra Valley

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For as long as I can remember, I have been a regular visitor to the Yarra Valley, and recall my father telling me as a young girl that the huge gates on the bend just past Coldstream were the entrance to the estate of Dame Nellie Melba, whom I knew to be a great opera singer.

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If you have, like me, ever wondered what lies ‘behind the hedge’ , the news is good.

Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful and perfectly restored, it is also now open for the public to enjoy, and not just as an historical homage. Coombe Farm is styling itself as an artistic hub, which will play host to thousands of visitors every year, as people stream through the gates to explore the gardens on guided tours, as well as to weddings, corporate events and opera performances as part of the Dame Nellie Melba Opera Trust. They will also, like me return for the wine, as Coombe Farm Wine Cellar door is also located here.

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Dame Nellie Melba was in her day one of the most famous women in the world, the first woman to ever grace the cover of Time Magazine, and counted amongst her friends Charlie Chaplin, (who apparently swam in her pool at Coombe Farm) movie idol Douglas Fairbanks, and members of the Royal family. She lived a lavish, flamboyant life of concerts,  travelling the globe with her monogrammed Louis Vuitton luggage and custom-made Cartier jewellery, and was celebrated all over the world for her magnificent voice. She was also lauded for her unending support for charity, as well as nurturing the talent of budding artists, including Arthur Streeton who would, with her patronage go on to be one of our most celebrated painters.  Apparently Dame Nellie also had a wicked sense of humour, and had a bit of the Aussie larrikin in her. Quite frankly she sounds like someone I would have loved to share a glass bottle of wine with.  Take a tour of the grounds and gardens and your guide will regale you with all manner of lovely anecdotes and snippets about this national treasure. They’re all in love with the history of her and are full of enthusiasm for sharing her legacy with as many people as possible.

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The beautiful Providore stocks gardening wares, handcrafted pieces from independent artists, and specially-commissioned Melba memorabilia including monogrammed teatowels, crockery etc, as well as  the stunning biography written by Melba’s beloved granddaughter, Pamela, Lady  Vestey which is on my Christmas list this year.

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The gardens were originally designed by Guilfoyle (he of the Royal Botanical Gardens of Melbourne fame) and at every turn you are rewarded with stunning views over different parts of the Yarra Valley.

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The oldest (functional) swimming pool in Australia where Charlie Chaplin swam


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The gorgeous morsels served as part of brunch, using local and homegrown ingredients, included the award-winning Coombe Farm Wines’ Dame Nellie Melba Blanc de Blanc, fresh baked scones with Peach Melba jam, truffles, lemon meringue tartlet, Coombe Farm pate with Melba toast, and pork and apple sausage rolls.

 IMG_4019 IMG_4022 IMG_4023 IMG_4024 IMG_4026The restaurant is open, and serving seasonal and largely estate grown produce, for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea 7 days a week. They will also be open for dinner on weekends during peak holiday periods as well as for special events.



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View the current menu here

Bookings for Garden Tours are essential. The cost is $25 and includes morning or afternoon tea and I am looking for volunteers to come with me so I can do it all over again (and again)

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Sincere thanks to Coombe Farm and Two Hands Agency for having me along to discover what’s #behindthehedge

Visit Coombe Farm’s beautiful website here for more information: http://coombeyarravalley.com.au/site/

Yarra Valley goodness – Train Trak

A spare Sunday afternoon, some magnifent Spring sunshine, a new car to take for a drive, and volunteers to try out the passenger seats.  Destination: Yarra Valley.  After a zoom through green vineyard-covered hills, stopping at a few favourites for some tasting including Balgownie Estate (the sparkling Shiraz should not be missed) we pulled up at Train Trak for some lunch. Having not been back there since a 40 degree February day some years back for Grape Grazing, where the ground was brown and dusty and we sat on picnic rugs under the shade of a tree, it was a delightful discovery indeed to step into ZONZO, the restaurant, festooned with paper lanterns and flowers, and to be met with an aroma of wood-fired pizza and other Italian fare.  A quick glass of  Train Trak Sparkling Pinot Chardonnay to wet the whistle, and we moved outside into the sunshine, a vista of vines and daisy-dotted grass laid out before us.

The menu was packed full of Mediterranean goodness, and we wasted no time ordering up a storm of pizzas, including the alla salsiccia (tomato, mozzarella, pork and fennel sausage, spanish onion and rosemary), the con carciofi (tomato, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, proscuitto, rocket, gorgonzola) and the con marscapone (tomato, mozzarella, walnuts, speck and marscapone).  We also ordered a salad of buffalo mozzarella, mini roma tomatoes, basil, and baby spinach.

These pizzas were an absolute delight – light crispy base, fresh produce, just the right amount of cheese and toppings, and we followed up with the tiramisu, which for my money was bang on – and as Paolo Vino always maintains, it’s about the ratio of the marscapone/whipped cream to sponge biscuit and coffee.  Zonzo clearly understands this important point. 

Bellisimo!

http://traintrak.com.au

http://zonzo.com.au