Despite its proximity to Melbourne, this scenic wine region has managed to fly under the radar – until now.
A 90-minute drive north of Melbourne, Victoria’s Heathcote region doesn’t hold back on its bucolic charm. Visitors are greeted by what looks like a giant game of marbles abandoned centuries ago: large granite boulders strewn across sharp green peaks. Roads wind through this dramatic landscape punctuated with rolling hills before reaching the area’s heart, where vast open bushland dotted with ageing eucalypts takes over.
But Heathcote is much more than scenic drives and must-stop lookouts. A burgeoning food and wine scene is also part of its charm. It all began in 1955 when Czechoslovakian vigneron Paul Osicka and his family arrived and planted the first vines in Graytown. Two decades later, Ron Laughton of Jasper Hill in Ladys Pass produced spectacular shiraz, which remains the region’s signature variety.
Today, some of the country’s big names in winemaking – Tyrrell’s, Seppelt, Brown Brothers – have vineyards in Heathcote. Yet the area is still something of a local secret. It’s not set up for mass tourism (there are no big bus tours here) and the only visitors you’re likely to encounter are kangaroos and emus wandering among the vines. But that’s precisely what makes it a wonderful escape – much like the Napas and Champagnes before tourists discovered them. Plan a weekend here now before the rest of Australia catches up.
Image credit: David Hannah
Where to eat and drink
For breakfast: Fodder
Heathcote’s best brekkie
spot is on the edge of town
in a modern, airy space that’s
all grey and blue tones with timber and concrete accents. There’s Proud Mary coffee from Melbourne and crowd-pleasers such as coconut porridge with creamed Arborio rice and
74 High Street, Heathcote; 0439 499 948
For lunch: The Verandah Cafe
and hills laden with granite boulders, Merindoc’s cellar-door café serves fresh fare that goes perfectly with the glorious setting. Choose from small
bites, platters and specials such as poached salmon with salad that includes ingredients picked straight from the kitchen garden.
2905 Lancefield-Tooborac Road, Tooborac
For dinner: Heathcote Inn Restaurant
The relaxed eatery at this 13-room hotel offers Italian-
style food with an emphasis
on local produce. The wine
list is a rollcall of regional producers, from Paul Osicka
to Jasper Hill, while the farm-to-fork menu includes dishes such as housemade gnocchi with three-cheese-
9 Hunter Place, Heathcote
For taking home: McIvor Estate
On their Italian-inspired mixed farm, Gary and Cynthia Harbor took advantage of the granite-rich soil by planting an olive grove next to their grapevines. You, too, can reap the rewards
by picking up a bottle of their cold-pressed extra virgin
olive oil, which is available
in three types: manzanilla, nevadillo blanco and a blend
of correggiolo and frantoio.
80 Tooborac-Baynton Road, Tooborac
Where to stay
The Barn Heathcote
Image credit: Lehi David Pena
About 10 minutes out of town, this timber barn has been transformed into a stylish lair with a large living room, fully equipped kitchen, fireplace,
loft bedroom and outhouse with an eco pump toilet.
It’s an Airbnb property set
on two hectares – expect visitors of the furry, bouncy variety in the mornings.
55 Wilson Road, Heathcote
The Cellars at Heathcote II
A 20-minute drive from Heathcote, The Cellars (pictured top) is the standout among the region’s accommodation offerings. In these four sophisticated private villas, the Scandi-chic timber interiors are furnished with Eames dining chairs and armchairs by Melbourne designer Jardan. Each villa
has a well-appointed kitchen
and a deck overlooking olive
groves and sheep paddocks. Thoughtful touches abound
– USB ports, electric blinds –
but the biggest drawcard is
the temperature-controlled stone cellar stocked with local and international wines that have influenced Heathcote II’s own winemaking.
290 Cornella-Toolleen Road, Toolleen
If you don’t want to drive: Heathcote Grape Escape Tours
Having lived in the area and built relationships with the winemakers for more than 15 years, Joe Nigro has a level of knowledge rarely seen in a wine tour. On a half- or full-day excursion, you’ll have plenty of time to absorb it all. The tours are usually by bus but a car can be arranged for a tailored experience in which you visit up to five wineries.
Wild Duck Creek Estate
Make an appointment to taste these small-volume, high-quality wines, including the Duck Muck Shiraz that impressed American wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr.
Drink now: White Duck Roussanne Viognier
Cellar: Springflat Shiraz
Winemaking siblings Mark Hunter and Jodi Marsh focus on regional hero shiraz but don’t overlook their blushing rosé and juicy tempranillo.
Drink now: Tempranillo
Cellar: D’Orsa Reserve Shiraz
Viognier and shiraz are championed at this tasting room in a produce store dating back to the 1850s gold rush.
Drink now: Mail Coach Viognier
Cellar: The Origin Shiraz
Rhône Valley vigneron Michel Chapoutier joined forces
with Jasper Hill to create
La Pleiade, a local shiraz with a French accent. The cellar door in Heathcote offers wines from Chapoutier’s vineyards in the area and
the Victorian Pyrenees.
Drink now: Tournon Lady’s Lane Vineyard Heathcote Shiraz
Cellar: La Pleiade Shiraz
Winemaker Tobias Ansted is the mastermind behind wines that favour Rhône varieties.
Enjoy the fruits of his labour
at this bucolic cellar door.
Drink now: Rosé
Cellar: Tranter Shiraz