Nestled in Victoria’s rugged north-east, Rutherglen is one of Australia’s most loved wine and food destinations: yet it is a region which is largely unexplored by the masses. Perhaps most famous for its big reds and fortifieds, Rutherglen is a destination which warrants a visit for so much more. The wonderfully historic wine region is home to 20 award-winning wineries, bountiful restaurants and cafes as well as being an outdoor paradise for all its fishing, water sports and camping hot spots. Whether you’re looking to cycle along Rutherglen’s famous historical rail trails, discover their world-famous muscat or treat yourself to some luxe glamping, it really is a town which has it all.
Here’s a start for the ideal food lover’s weekender.
After a three-hour drive from Melbourne, get your drinking boots on at Scion Vineyard. Located just south of the Rutherglen township, Scion was established in 2002 and focuses on hand-crafting small-batch wines and shaping classic regional varieties of Durif, Muscat and Viognier into premium contemporary wines. Stop and have a chat at the cellar door with owner and winemaker Rowly Milhinch, whose winemaking style inspired by France and food pairings. At Scion everything is done by hand and yields are low due to an emphasis on quality, not quantity. Trust me you won’t be disappointed.
With a few wines under your belt, take a short detour to the Jones Winery and Vineyard, where you’ll find the most charming heritage listed building with an adjoining gallery for the art lovers. Owned by brother and system team, Mandy and Arthur Jones, the winery (built in 1860) is one of the oldest and smallest in the Rutherglen area. Specialising in French cuisine, the restaurant has a refined, homely vibe. It’s the sort of place you dream of stumbling upon while road tripping through Provence. The dishes are all prepared with flair and finesse, concentrating on traditional French techniques and flavours. Think pork medallions teamed with apple and ginger puree, boudin noir crumble and green beans and confit duck Maryland with braised lentils, confit potato, red cabbage and orange salad. Hungry anyone?
No trip to Rutherglen is complete without a muscat tasting. And as far as muscats go, Morris Wines is an essential stop for the Muscat lover (or the soon to be converted). Morris Wines is one of Australia’s most iconic wineries with over 150 years of history and winemaking tradition. For five generations the Morris family winemakers have been producing world class fortified and red table wines led by Muscat and Durif. Muscat is a wine style unique to Australia made from Muscat à Petit Grain Rouge, known locally as Brown Muscat. To make such a rich wine you need very ripe fruit, which makes the Rutherglen climate perfect for this kind of grape. The muscats here range from bright raisiny sweetness in its youth to more intense, complex flavours as it ages. It’s the ideal after dinner wine, pairing perfectly with chocolate, fruity desserts or even a strong cheese.
Muscat has an incredible richness and intense flavour which really lingers on the palate. There is a saying that “the first sip of Rutherglen Muscat is a memory that stays with a wine lover for life” and I’d have to agree. Don’t miss the barrel room here if you can get a sneaky peek.
Wrap up the evening with dinner at Thousand Pound wine bar, the latest venture of the Brown siblings and Denis Lucey, of Melbourne’s Bottega Restaurant. It’s the kind of place you’d imagine being located in the heart of Melbourne with all its bar seating, wine barrels and cosy corners. Chef Simon Arkless has crafted a brilliant produce driven menu including bar snacks and shared plates. A definite highlight is the steaks which are grilled over charcoal. Or you can skip straight to the cheese plate laden with Woombye gold, Le Marquis chevre de Rambouillet, Blairlaith cheddar and quince.
Looking for a rest? Sleep under the stars at the ultimate winery experience at Cofield Wines – Grapevine Glamping. Unwind with a glass of wine before bed while camping at this real working winery and vineyard. This isn’t any average tent. The bell tent is fully furnished with king size bed (with the most comfortable pillows in the world), a fridge, board games and magazines, stargazing kit and fishing gear. There’s even a heater to keep you cosy in the winter months.
There’s something about the great outdoors and sleeping under the stars which makes you feel closer to nature. Watch the sun rise over the vines before making a cuppa in Cofield’s very own Camp Kitchen, accompanied by a continental or ‘cook your own’ style breakfast. Or, if you’re feeling lazy, let the experts do the work for you and enjoy breakfast at the atmospheric Pickled Sisters Café.
After breakfast make your way to the picturesque Lake Moodemere Estate. The Estate is owned and operated by sixth generation winemaker Michael Chambers and his wife Belinda. Enjoy a wine tasting in the cellar door before trying your luck at The Great Lake Moodemere Hole in One. And if you’re lucky you could win $1,000 worth of wine.
After working up an appetite, dine alfresco in the 100 year old gardens overlooking the lake. Weekends feature a Moodemere Lamb Special or you can share a charcuterie plate laden with lamb terrine, formichi salami, prosciutto, and smoked trout. The estate grows its very own Moodemere Lamb which is premium free range and has the closest comparison to the marbling found in wagyu beef.
Spend the afternoon exploring the Rutherglen region at a gentle pace. Pick up a bike at St Leonard’s Winery and join the Pedal to Produce Cycle Trail to sample the very best wine, fruit and produce at local orchards, wineries and cafes.
Dinner time? Finish your visit in style and dine at the Tuilleries Restaurant or treat yourself with a degustation at Taste. If you’re after something a bit more casual, takeaway some award-winning pies from Parker Pies.