The Mornington Peninsula is where the residents of Australia’s second-largest city go to escape. It’s also a renowned wine region, with an emphasis on cool-climate varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. These wines are rarely exported, so a visit to Mornington is often the only way to sample a broad range.
Most of the wineries and vineyards are small—two thirds of the region’s 150 vineyards are less than 10 acres—which makes encounters with owners or winemakers more likely during visits. As anyone who’s ever asked a question of a tasting-room pourer and been met with a blank stare knows, that’s a definite plus.
To add to the appeal, most of the peninsula’s 40 wineries with cellar doors (tasting rooms) offer cheese or charcuterie, while many feature full-fledged restaurants.
The proximity of Mornington to Melbourne, Australia’s gastronomic hub, the quality of the wines and the diversity of activities make the peninsula a tourist destination. Here are some highlights.
Heading south from Melbourne, Moorooduc Estate is one of the first wineries you’ll encounter. There’s no restaurant, just some of the best wines on the peninsula. Owner/winemaker Richard McIntyre established the winery in 1982, and his fascination with fermentation has extended to bread baking. A limited number of his legendary sourdough loaves are sold on weekends.
Nearby Yabby Lake is one of the region’s biggest operations, now run by Tom Carson, who earned his winemaking stripes at Yering Station in the Yarra Valley. This subregion is one of the warmest parts of the peninsula, and the wines from Moorooduc and Yabby Lake can show a degree of opulence not often seen from other producers. The restaurant serves a limited lunch menu daily that highlights local sourcing.
Deeper into the peninsula, and higher up the region’s mountain spine, don’t miss tiny Eldridge Estate. There’s no restaurant, but the wines are always interesting, and you can taste them on the deck that overlooks the vineyard. The PTG, owner David Lloyd’s take on the Passe-Tout-Grains of Burgundy, is a gluggable blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay.
Also in that same Red Hill subregion, you’ll find Montalto, Paringa Estate, Polperro Wines, Port Phillip Estate/Kooyong and Ten Minutes by Tractor. All produce excellent examples of the maritime-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that put Mornington on the map, and all have restaurants worthy of long lunches.
A 10-minute drive to the east will bring you to Quealy Winemakers. There, you can taste local oddities like a Friulano fermented in amphorae, an ancestral-method sparkler, a cofermented blend of Sangiovese, Shiraz and Pinot Noir, or a skin-fermented Muscat rosé.
The Mythical Jackalope
Somehow, the North American critter best described as a jackrabbit with horns has made its way to Mornington in the form of the region’s newest, most posh lodgings. Situated next to Willow Creek Vineyard, Jackalope Hotel has been lavished with numerous Australian travel awards for its 46 sumptuous “dens,” which feature all-inclusive minibars, private terraces and luxurious furnishings. Rates generally start around $500 per night.
Many of the peninsula’s dining options are at the wineries, but there are some additional spots worth checking out in the small community of Balnarring. Le Bouchon is, as you might expect, a classical French bistro. Its escargot, boeuf Bourguignon and crème brûlée won’t win awards for originality, but they’re well prepared. If the idea of a short, almost all-French wine list doesn’t thrill you, go on Tuesday or Wednesday, when the corkage fee is a reasonable $10 per bottle.
Across the parking lot is Orita’s 2, a Japanese fusion restaurant that offers an outstanding array of sushi, plus cuts of wagyu and Gippsland beef. (Gippsland is located just across the bay.) There’s a small wine list, or you can BYOB on Mondays and Tuesdays for a nominal corkage fee.
At the wineries, special mention goes to Paringa Estate, where dinner is served Fridays and Saturdays (as well as Thursdays during Australian summer). Choose either the five-course tasting menu for $80, or the eight-course option for $110. Wine pairings from the property are available for an additional charge.
Ten Minutes by Tractor features a more expansive wine list of 400 selections. It focuses mainly on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from around the world, which reflects owner Martin Spedding’s passion for Burgundy and Burgundian grape varieties. Australian Chardonnays from Bindi, Giaconda and Oakridge share space with Coche-Dury, Comte Lafon and Roulot, any of which would pair beautifully with dishes like Skull Island king prawn or Queensland mackerel tartare.
The restaurant at Port Phillip Estate boasts sweeping vineyard views from within an architectural masterwork. Despite its modern design and expansive size, it never feels too big or impersonal. Dinner is served on Fridays and Saturdays, but it features colorful local options like Flinders Island lamb rump with candied garlic and white beans, and wallaby rump with grilled radicchio, beets and almond.
Mostly surrounded by ocean waters, it’s no surprise that the region’s beaches are a main attraction. Mount Martha offers broad, sandy expanses and rocky cliffs. Drive the Esplanade, a winding road that features ocean views and spendy homes.
Portsea, at the very tip of the peninsula, is known for its surf—check out the Portsea Back Beach—and its recreational diving. Sea dragons and rays can be found close in, off Portsea Pier. The community is also where you can find some of Australia’s most expensive homes.
The same ocean currents and winds that have shaped the region’s beaches have also marked the peninsula’s 20 golf courses. Most are links-style, with plenty of undulating fairways and tall-grass rough. Several courses are among Australia’s best. RACV Cape Schanck and Moonah Links Golf Complex include various lodging options.
Recreational golfers who overdo it (or folks who just want to decompress) will want to spend time at Peninsula Hot Springs. Natural thermal waters are used in the pools and private baths, and the staff offers various massage and spa-treatment options.