The Wine Show: episode three – Mornington Peninsula

The Wine Show: episode three – Mornington Peninsula

by Amelia Singer 25 April 2016

Amelia Singer heads to the Mornington Peninsula, a cool windswept region of Australia that's home to world-class wines and a booming 'cellar door' industry.

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Amelia is a WSET Diploma-trained wine expert and the founder of events business Amelia's Wine. She has experience of working on vineyards all over the world, and appears on ITV's The Wine Show.

Amelia is a WSET Diploma-trained wine expert and the founder of events business Amelia's Wine. She has experience of working on vineyards all over the world, and appears on ITV's The Wine Show.

I was prepared for anything. Dressed as Reese Witherspoon from Wild, it was time to experience the Mornington Peninsula. Of all Australian wine regions, the Mornington Peninsula is home to one of the most important maritime climates. It is fully exposed to the elements, surrounded on three sides by the sea. An emphatically cool climate wine region, its harsh environment for grape growing is notorious amongst winemakers.

Warwick Ross may be a well-known film producer with a degree in mechanical engineering, yet his bravery in winemaking is just as impressive. His winery, Portsea Estate, lies at the furthermost point of the peninsula. Initially, he was startled upon discovering the wind-whipped site, but his commitment to the local Portsea community and love of Burgundy made him determined to produce premium wines in the area. In 2000 he created the Portsea Estate winery with his sister Caron and now produces Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that wine critics compare to top Burgundian wines.

Walking around his vast estate, flanked by his five Labradors, I could see for myself how much these vines fight to hold their own. As Ross tells me, ‘grapes are best when they have to struggle’. This struggle is made all the more tangible when one tastes the taut, cutting-edge precision in Ross’ wines. Margaret River, another wine region known for stunning Chardonnay and Pinot, tends to reveal much more overt fruit in its wines. But these grapes from the Peninsula evoke a lifted freshness, perfume and verve that many would never guess could come from an Aussie Chardonnay. I was so impressed I actually smuggled a bottle back home in my suitcase. Sorry to the Matthews and Joe – this wine is not going to be enjoyed ‘back in the studio’!

Mornington Peninsula
The Mornington Peninsula is battered by winds, surrounded by coastlines on three sides and cooler than the rest of Australia
The region's Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are compared to the very best French varieties

Behind the cellar door

Mornington Peninsula is not just an exploratory playground for intrepid winemakers. Paradoxically, this hostile terrain has created not only wonderful wine but also an extremely hospitable ‘cellar door’ ethos. Don’t worry – I’m not going to bore you about architecture. The concept allows visitors to not only try the wines but also enjoy local cuisine. Dishes are prepared on-site and savoured whilst looking out on stunning panoramic views. There are around 200 mostly small vineyards here and over fifty cellar doors open for tastings. Ross recommended I try out a nearby winery called Ten Minutes by Tractor, for my first cellar door experience. I already knew of their incredible wines but I loved being able to taste their wines, having a bite to eat at their restaurant and perusing imbibable goodies in the wine shop. It’s an authentic winery experience for tourists – not to mention extremely lucrative for the business.

It could not be more different to my time working at a winery in Bordeaux. On my days off if I wanted to visit another Chateau I would have to book far in advance – and that’s only if it deigned to let in the outside world – excluding wine buyers and influential critics. And even if you make it across the highly revered threshold, don’t even think about being whipped up some local veal dish or artisanal cheese platter while you are there! I love Bordeaux, but I definitely think they could learn something from the Australians here.

Further down the road from Ten Minutes by Tractor, Foxey’s Hangout takes the ‘cellar door’ experience one step further. Run by Tony and Michael, two brothers and former Melbournite pub owners, Foxey’s allows you to make your own sparkling wine. I’m not going to lie, removing the cork from the effervescing bottle was mildly terrifying. I really thought the camera would catch me losing an eye. After the adrenaline had subsided and I realised that I still was in possession of vision, the next part was super fun! Partial to pink, I had great delight choosing how much Pinot Noir to add to my white wine base for extra fruity flavour and colour. The result was a beautiful, blushing sparkling rose whose packaging I could also choose. Custom made bubbles – what’s not to love?

I’m not going to lie, removing the cork from the effervescing bottle was mildly terrifying. I really thought the camera would catch me losing an eye.

Amelia Singer

The experience was actually enhanced when I was brought into the winery’s restaurant – Tony’s domain. Whilst I had been hard at work creating my cuvée, Tony had been busy preparing a colourful, sumptuous feast using homegrown or at least local ingredients. In this area, the provenance of food is taken just as seriously as the grapes. Gorging myself on native produce and sipping the sparkling wine I myself created from grapes around me, I completely understood these 'Peninsula Wine Pioneers'.

I think wine regions have to be the most unappreciated tourist destinations. Whether you love wine or not, if you travel to wine country you will never be too far from traditional, authentic cuisine and stunning scenery. Mornington Peninsula has long been the summer playground of Melbournians looking for a bit of sun and sea at the weekends; it’s a generous host, full of incredible local wine, food, surf and beaches – not to mention paddle boarding! I thoroughly enjoyed gliding along the water, wrapped in the sun’s rays, dreaming of what vineyard to eat at for lunch that day and that if I ever had the opportunity I would love to retreat to this part of the world again and write a book. It was while I was lost in this reverie that I promptly lost my footing and fell flat on my face, much to the crew’s amusement. Thankfully, no one was armed with a camera.

My reverie may have been quashed, but my resolve to come back certainly wasn’t. Mornington Peninsula must be one of the most beautiful and inspiring places that I have ever been to. I hope things don’t change once this amazing secret of the wine world gets out!

The Wine Show

For more information on all the wines featured in the show, as well as the stories that surround them, check out The Wine Show website: The show is broadcast on Sundays at 6.55pm on ITV4 and then repeated on Saturdays at 4.25pm on ITV.