Australia’s Mornington Peninsula is popular with sailors and fine wine lovers, writes Christine Austin.

While most of us are quite happy to buy Australian wine by brand and price, the Aussies are busy trying to build identities for their regions. Just as a comparison of size, if Australia was suddenly uprooted and plonked on top of Europe it would stretch from Liverpool to Istanbul and from Sweden to Spain. With that in mind, it would be quite ridiculous to regard this whole continent as one wine region, so it is hardly surprising that Australia has many different areas with distinctive climates, landscapes and personalities.
One of my favourite regions is the Mornington Peninsula, south-east of Melbourne in Victoria. Crescent shaped, it curves round Port Phillip Bay like the rim of an extinct volcano. It is a most unlikely place to grow grapes since it is essentially a tourist area, with its local population of around 100,000 more than doubling in the sailing season as people crowd into the many stylish beach houses.
WINE MAIN 1 (Read-Only)But what is good for sailing is also good for grapes – the breeze. The whole peninsula is around eight miles wide and 30 miles long, which means that from pretty much any direction there is a breeze coming off the sea. Once you get away from the beachside, this is essentially a quiet rural area of steep-sided hills and a starkly beautiful national forest. It used to be a fruit-growing area but as land prices have risen this has become an upmarket place to grow grapes. Those hills catch the sea breeze and so temperatures stay low. Plant your grapes on the right hillside and you can get a three-week delay in ripening from the warmer bottom of the slope to the breezier top. This is the region of crisp citrusy Chardonnay and elegant Pinot Noirs that can hold their own in an international market against the best that New Zealand and Burgundy can offer.
Unlike some parts of Australia, it is not a place of vast wall-to-wall vineyards and big, shiny wineries. This is a region of small, individual plots, often family owned. Many are organic since this is a region with a strong ecological ethos and the grapes are likely to be made into wine within a very short distance of the winery.
The difficulty with Mornington Peninsula wines is the lack of availability in the UK. Just like small Burgundy producers, some Mornington producers manage to sell 80 per cent of their wine over the counter in the winery shop. So when you do see Mornington wines on a UK shelf you should grab them, to experience some of the pure, elegant flavours of this region.
These are some to look out for.
Paringa Estate: “I bought this land in 1984, but I couldn’t afford to just cultivate grapes so I kept on working as a teacher.” Lindsay McCall is full of stories about how his teaching work supplemented his income, but now he is full time at the winery, with 10 acres of his own vines and another 50 acres rented. His vineyards are on such a steep slope that I stopped going down the hill, knowing that it would be a long climb back up, but the quality of his wines is exceptional. 2014 Paringa Estate Chardonnay is almost Chablis in style with vibrant, lively freshness and a crunchy, minerally finish. 2013 Paringa Estate Pinot Noir is packed with ripe red cherry fruit, with a purity of style, balanced, elegant and long.
Try Hanging Ditch in Manchester for the Chardonnay, around £40, or Handford Wines, London, for the Pinot, around £50.
Moorooduc Estate: “I tried to grow Cabernet here but eventually I realised that it had to be Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.” Owner Dr Richard McIntyre replanted the estate with a wide range of Pinot clones, including the Abel clone reputed to have been snipped from a top Burgundian vineyard decades ago and smuggled across the world, eventually being confiscated by a certain customs officer named Abel. McIntyre also works with wild yeast fermentations and oak ageing and delivers some of the funkiest, most distinctive wines I tasted in the region. They age too. I tasted back over a decade and the wines held their fruit, depth and savoury complexity.
Try D&D Wines, London, for the Pinot, around £30. The Chardonnay is also well worth searching out for its nutty, toasty, Burgundian style.
Ten Minutes by Tractor: Originally this was a label created by three families whose vineyards were all within ten minutes’ drive of each other. The 70-acre estate is now owned by just one of the families, but the principles are just the same. They are organic in the vineyards, and put an emphasis on natural winemaking. Pinot Noir is their strength, and the result is a set of fruit-driven, well-made wines that could easily stand up to a single-vineyard Beaune.
Try Ten Minutes by Tractor 2013, from Majestic online, £36, on a mix-six deal.
Kooyong: Kooyong is owned by Georgio and Dianne Gjergia who also own the spectacular Port Phillip Estate, where the wines are made. The focus is on Chardonnays which are generally tightly structured, with clean lime-edged fruit while the Pinots have dark cherry fruit with layers of depth and savoury complexity.
Try Kooyong Clonale Chardonnay
2013, Field & Fawcett, £17.30, and Masale Pinot Noir 2012, Field & Fawcett, £19.60.

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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