Winery tours get a bad rap. Beloved of hens and bucks parties and boozy work “team building” days sometimes the emphasis is more on getting sloshed than on learning about, discovering and enjoying wine. That’s where Wine Compass’s “Meet the Maker” wine tours come in. It’s a wine tour for those serious about wine who want to meet the actual producer and I was invited to go along for the ride last weekend.
Our mini bus left Melbourne at 9.30am from Fed Square with Adam Nicholls, the owner of Wine Compass on board and just before we got to the Mornington Peninsula we picked up Judy Grifford, owner and winemaker at Darling Park, who was our specialist guide for the day.
Our first stop was Quealy wines where our tasting was conducted right in the heart of the winery amongst all the barrels with wine maker Kathleen Quealy. Kathleen is known as the “Queen of Gris” on the peninsula as she was the first to introduce Pinot Gris to the area. Kathleen is an adventurous wine maker who loves experimenting with new and different varieties (check out her Friulano) so it was fantastic to get her take on the region with it’s “cool grey skies” which she says are perfect for Pinot Gris. I played it safe and bought a couple of bottles of Quealy’s 2013 Balnarring Vineyard Pinot Noir which has a gorgeous perfume to it. Kathleen describes the wine’s as smelling of lipstick and facepowder “like a handbag”.
The next stop, Tuck’s Ridge winery where our group had a tasting in a private tasting room with winemaker Michael Kyberd. He pulled out some very special bottles including some unreleased wines and others that were 20 years old. We could taste several different vintages of the same wine (including from 20 years ago) and compare we also were able to compare the same variety and year from different parts of the Tuck’s Ridge winery. It was a real master class in the differences that age and terroir can make.
The tour includes a two course lunch at Red Hill Epicurean, one of my favourite restaurants in the region. Housed in a huge metal shed with soaring ceilings a pizza oven in one corner and blazing open fires help make the place feel cozy.
You can read my full review here but it’s worth noting that the buffalo mozzarella pizza was a real highlight of this visit with its slightly charred and smoky base topped simply with cheese, garlic and rosemary. The snapper was also a standout: pan roasted and served in a pool of rich tomato based sauce studded with squid and mussels.
Our final stop was Judy’s winery, Darling Park. Judy took us through each piece of machinery used in the wine making process and did a great job of demystifying the science behind it all. I now know exactly what a “bottle fart” means! Special mention should be made of Judy’s amazing wines including the Darling Park “Josh” pinot noir.
We returned to Melbourne with only slightly fuzzy heads and I think that was more the result of the sheer amount of information we were given over the course of the day rather than too much alcohol. It was a really enjoyable and educational day out although at times I felt there was a level of knowledge presumed by the winemakers which was beyond me and most of our group. For wine connoisseurs, this is a selling point. If you are serious about wine, then this is the wine tour for you.
Gourmet Chick was a guest of Wine Compass on the tour.
Details: Meet the Makers tour with Wine Compass, Mornington Peninsula.
Damage: Pricey. $199 per person.