First stop is Morningstar Estate – picture perfect for weddings. We pull into the driveway where grazing sheep catch my eye. This is what we need at the Blue-Merle Vineyard for weed control and dog control. (Our shepherd needs something to do – so not only would a pair of sheep keep Bluey occupied, they keep the weeds down and don’t eat the vines.)
The winery has a tasting room, restaurant and hotel , and I’m thinking this is the place to stay on my next trip to Melbourne. From the terrace, you catch glimpses of the bay. My first thought: mildew.
“I don’t like red wines,” says our pourer, a young man of 23 years.
“How’s the mildew around here?”
“I’ve never heard of a problem.” Yeah, right.
The Pinot is drinkable. The Cabernet-Merlot blend is not. According to Derek Barton, author of “Australia’s Best Wine Tours” which I purchased from one of the many book stores in St. Kilda, the peninsula is known for good Pinots. We head outside to the vineyard. I’m struck by two things: the way end posts are supported (see picture), and the pruning. The end posts are not put in at angles; rather, they are straight, given extra support by another end post placed at the top. (See the picture.) The pruning method is to prune back to a single shoot, which stretches across the cordon wire. This is to control vegetative growth in this challenging microclimate (surrounded by water).
Whereas Morningstar Estate is a beautiful castle, our next stop across the road is a bohemian hole in wall with attitude, the Under Ground, where the yard is littered with barrels and the grounds could use a good cleaning. This is the place to have fun and to talk with the winemaker who describes in great detail the challenges of mildew and the pruning techniques. I notice they are using the breathable, oxygen permeable plastic drums, which are reputed to allow wine to age with a slow oxidation process similar to barrel aging. The winemaker concurs with the assessment and gives me the name of the Flextank supplier. According to the Flextank’s website:
“Chemical analysis of wine stored in Flextanks has shown that there is no difference in the general wine quality parameters for wine stored in Flextank, oak or stainless steel. Of particular note, chlorophenols, a concern often expressed with the use of plastic materials in wine production, were not found in Flextank-matured wine. Flextank maturation tanks require the addition of oak to allow the wine to develop oak-derived flavours that occurs in the barrel maturation process. High quality staves are recommended for this process. Further, the Flextank maturation process with staves will be less at risk from other problems, including losses due to evaporation and development of Brett off-flavours, than can occur during oak barrel maturation. On the other hand, if oak staves are not added to the wine in Flextanks, the maturation process becomes similar to that occurring in a neutral or spent barrel: the advantage of Flextank maturation, apart from much improved hygiene over use of old barrels, is that oxygen ingress is closer to that of a new barrel, allowing wine development to occur to a more normal timetable.”
We have fun sampling the sweet muscat wines, and I am especially keen on trying the Duriff, which they have named “Dr. Duriff.” We know this back home as Petite Syrah (no, it is NOT petite shiraz, mate), which is a thick, dark, chewy, big wine – of which we have a barrel full back at the Blue-Merle vineyard, maturing nicely. Dr. Duriff does not disappoint, and I purchase a bottle to bring back to the artisans of Blue-Merle Country. Next stop, New Zealand.
Place to stay: Novotel, St. Kilda. Located about 5 miles or so from the Melbourne City Center, along the bay. Jog along the beach in the morning. Enjoy breakfast and a “flat white” coffee at the racer’s café (where all the cyclists hang out).
Lunch or Dinner: Melbourne Wine Room The George. 125 Fitzroy St., St. Kilda. Tel: (03) 9525-5599. Reservations recommended. Everything delicious. Ask the waiter what’s good the day you go.
Sails on the Bay. Restaurant. Despite being located right on the beach with a bay view, the food is good. 15 Elwood Foreshore, Elwood, Victoria. www.sailsonthebay.com