Saddle up and ride Victoria’s ‘grape escape’
EVERY wine lover has heard of Victoria's Yarra Valley, but if you're a fan of a fine drop you should make sure the state's north-east is also on your radar.
You can find one of the area's top wine-growing spots less than a three-hour drive from Melbourne's CBD among the gently rolling hills of King Valley, which is tucked under the foothills of the Victorian Alps.
So, why is the wine from the area so good?
A lot of credit has to go to the Italian migrants, who brought with them from the Old Country the know-how to get the best out of the area's cool climate to produce crisp whites and savoury, spicy reds.
After an excellent long lunch in the region, you might also want to thank the Italians for their influence on its outstanding foodie scene.
There are plenty of ways visitors can explore the wine and food this corner of Victoria has to offer.
Many places offer free bikes so you can tackle the Pedal to Produce or the Murray to the Mountains trails, which take in farms, orchards, vineyards, breweries, cafes and other local growers. King Valley also has a Prosecco Road trail for lovers of the sparkling white. Stretching 50km, the trail visits six wineries where you can sign up for prosecco masterclasses, take part in tasting sessions, and try food made using the wine, such as Rocky Prosecco Road.
The tiny settlement of Milawa, home to the King Valley's best-known vineyard, Brown Brothers, boasts 30 wineries within 30 minutes' drive. On the food front, there's the excellent Milawa Mustards, Milawa Cheese Company, Olive Shop, and top-notch Restaurant Merlot at Lindenwarrah Hotel.
Brown Brothers sets a high standard. Set in picturesque grounds with historic structures, barbecue facilities, outdoor beanbags, a playground and an airstrip, it's not unlike some of the wineries you find in New Zealand, with an expansive cellar door and knowledgeable staff. Its Epicurean Centre serves dishes that use local produce designed around the company's 40-plus varietals.
The family's continuing passion for wine is one key to its longevity; another is its dedication to innovation, borrowing techniques and varietals from the Italians and progressively adapting those styles to the Australian climate and soil.
In 1989, Brown Brothers opened its Kindergarten winery, a research centre for experimentation, and the company also collaborates with the government scientific research agency CSIRO to develop varietals.
One eye on the future; one eye on your glass.