Rutherglen wineries, restaurants and accommodation are like Europe in country Victoria

During three remarkable days in Rutherglen I sleep in a fairytale French provincial tower and visit a castle, an Italianate mansion, and several grand 19th-century estates. I taste a spectrum of delicious wines, from the region’s world-famous muscats and fortified to crisp Portuguese whites, sunny rosés, and even a muscat gin. Food-wise, I want for nothing, whether it’s tender farm-raised lamb or wine-friendly snacks such as fried cheese and truffled mushroom croquettes.

I can’t remember the last time I was so surprised and delighted by a Victorian town. Even past visitors to this wine region three hours north of Melbourne will find much that’s new because, unlike those of us who shut down in lockdown, this historic wine region was busy adding attractions for the expected influx of domestic tourists. Rest assured, Rutherglen is ready.

Among the recent arrivals: Grace, a chic restaurant-bar-pantry in the main street just opened by hospitality veterans Erica and Matthieu Miller. The food leans “European with a dash of Melbourne”; the drinks list is a nod to local producers and regional stars from near and far.

It’s a worthy next-door neighbour to Thousand Pound Wine Bar & Store, a city-slick enoteca that, six years on, is still the hottest ticket in town for its extensive cellar, which spans the globe, from Rutherglen shiraz to Moroccan syrah, and flavour-packed plates.

Down the street, James & Co is Ricky and Georgie James’ cellar door that’s opened an airy rear courtyard equipped with a misting system that, combined with a glass of Ricky’s pinot grigio or sparkling rosé, is the ideal antidote to baking summer days.

Also fresh on Main Street, Caffeine N Machine, a hybrid cafe, bakery, and display room for vintage motorbikes and cars, while the circa 1868 Victoria Hotel’s latest licensees plan to reopen as boutique accommodation and a gastropub. As Georgie James says, “The main street’s never looked so vibrant.”

The castle at All Saints Estate, Rutherglen
The castle at All Saints Estate, Rutherglen. Picture: Georgie James

Ten minutes down the road at All Saints Estate, the Murray River winery established at Wahgunyah in 1864, tradies are busy building a new cellar door and two restaurants: Bonnie, for pizza and wine, and the signature restaurant, Kin. All Saints is the castle I mentioned earlier, a crenelated folly set informal English gardens with a prodigious range of wines including Rutherglen’s only museum-class muscat, made from the 100-year-old liqueur. Pure decadence in a glass.

CEO Eliza Brown says Rutherglen’s vineyards are all very different, with wine styles that “reflect the winemakers. Each place has got a story.”

So many stories. At Stanton & Killeen, the Rutherglen estate best known for its revered muscats, the winemaking has a distinct Iberian flavor these days: exhilarating alvarinho and arinto, and an exceptional blend of four red Portuguese grapes, The Prince, made in tribute to late winemaker Chris Killeen.

At Jones Winery I’m equally impressed by the original 1860 stringybark “tiles” on the rustic cellar door as by Bordeaux-trained Mandy Jones’s malbec and her Lillet-style Correll aperitif.

Cofield Wines is a relative newcomer (established in 1990) with a range of 20 wines, from sparkling shiraz to a bright pinot grigio-vermentino blend. The cellar door, open daily, serves wine-focused food in a bucolic setting with regular live music.

Shaded by stately Persian lilacs, the 19th-century Canobie Country House is now the cellar door of Andrew Buller Wines, whose namesake winemaker crafts modern reds from traditional port grapes, as well as Rhône varieties and a juicy chardonnay. “I think, as winemakers, we (in Rutherglen) are capable of doing anything,” Buller says.

It’s a statement borne out at the sustainable Lake Moodemere Estate, where seventh-generation vigneron Michael Chambers’s shiraz-cinsault field blend is the perfect match for the spice-crusted lamb shoulder served in its lakeside homestead restaurant.

And at Olive Hills Winery, home of the aforementioned Italianate mansion, winemaker Ross Perry blends incredibly pretty, elegant red blends inspired by the Rhône Valley’s legendary Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Scion Winery at Rutherglen
Scion Winery at Rutherglen. Picture: Rob Blackburn

On the outskirts of town at Scion’s modern, minimalist cellar door of corrugated iron and grey box gums, Rowly Milhinch transforms the classic port grape durif into a picnic-ready rosé, reimagines muscat as a dry table wine and, with Backwoods Distilling in nearby Yackandandah, distills a muscat gin infused with strawberry gum. “Everything is upside down and roundabout,” he laughs.

For all the wonders of Rutherglen wine, nothing can quite match my accommodation – a Rapunzel tower at Mount Ophir Estate. The Brown siblings Eliza, Nick, and Angela painstakingly restored the various winery buildings to create six accommodation options, from a 10-person residence to this three-level tower equipped with every comfort and convenience, including a coffee machine and crystal chandelier.

At night, lulled to sleep by a chorus of frogs and the scent of olive blossom, it’s the closest I’ve come to a Mediterranean escape in (two) years.

This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com

About the author

Ozzie

Hi! I’m Ozzie!

Before joining Australia Exploring, I was a writer at Tripadvisor.

I'm looking for the best posts for you about travel adventures in Australia and around the world. This website has the purpose to inspire you to travel… travel more and better. I hope it can help you explore the world a little bit better.

I graduated from the University of Sydney. I live in California with my wife and two children.

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