We are blessed here in Eltham with our proximity to the Yarra Valley - one of Victoria's most beautiful - and there are many - regions. The Yarra Valley is also blessed with an astonishing range of wineries and foodie destinations, and yesterday, at the prompting of two of our neighbours we drove out into the countryside for lunch and a glass of wine. And true to the Dearman luck the day was stunning too. Above is the scene. Now why don't you English people over there come and visit more often? Yes, not now, I know, but think about it.
Of course we are only blessed with such venues because of the wealth of others. In this case Ross Simpson and his wife - ex CEO of Southcorp - Australia's largest wine conglomerate at one point until it was sold - I think to Treasury Wines. But I'm not here to talk about the company stuff really. Only to note in passing that without such rich people who have developed a passion for wine (and yes - making more money), we would not have the tourist opportunities that we do so close to home.
Perhaps that is one of the advantages of COVID - that no matter where we are in the world there are tourist opportunities on our doorstep - witness my rambles around Eltham itself with a camera round my neck - or actually, mostly an iPhone in my back pocket during lockdown. Well, you might say, sure Eltham is picturesque but actually just about anywhere from the slums of the city to the most anodyne of city suburbs has something of interest to observe and capture on camera.
Everywhere has at least one slightly adventurous person who has done something interesting to their house or garden - even if it's just putting their house number several times on their letterbox - as here - next door in fact. Why you ask yourself and that can entertain and amuse, as well as creating a memory for the years ahead. Just walk down your street and see what you can find.
But back to yesterday's day out. This was a 'proper' tourist destination. Yes the original passion - according to the Medhurst Winery website blurb was to make wine and they seem to have been successful in this, having won various awards and plaudits from James Halliday - everyone wants them, However, these days the icing on the cake - perhaps - is the cellar door and the restaurant. Some take the haute cuisine approach - like Oakridge and Yering Station, then there are buzzy places like Innocent Bystander and the in-betweeners like Chandon, DeBortoli and Medhurst. There are many, many more.
So what were the highlights. Well the company was prime. So here are some happy snaps to demonstrate:
And the company included the drive there and back - we more or less took the safe and secure follow the GPS route there, although it seemed that Google maps on Andrew's phone and our in car GPS disagreed, which caused some amusement as we followed Google, whilst our GPS, which David has christened Irma, with, it seemed, increasing annoyance telling us to do a U-turn and retrace our steps. On the way back we took a tried and tested and extremely scenic route back via Yarra Glen.
I should perhaps explain that Medhurst winery is a mere 38 km away from here - about 3/4 of an hour away and actually one of the more distant Yarra Valley wineries from here - the closest is only around 6 or 8 kilometres away - a quarter of an hour away. And indeed, we stopped at one of the closest - King's of Kangaroo Ground - and one of David's favourites on the way back for a quick tasting and purchase of half a dozen more of their excellent wines.
In a way, Kings is the other end of the spectrum to Medhurst. On their website they describe themselves as 'two blokes in a shed' and indeed that is what you get - plus the view, some very amiable chat, and the wine. No architect award winning cellar door and expensive restaurant here. And that is actually the charm of the Yarra Valley wineries - everything from multi-million dollar Domaine Chandon to two blokes - or a guy and his wife - in a shed. All producing, at the very least, very drinkable, and at the best, world-beating wines. We are blessed.
But back to the day out. There are still COVID restrictions of course. The restaurants are limited as to how many people they can accommodate at a time, according to the space available. Not that I think this would have been a problem for Medhurst as they have so much outside space.
Nevertheless there are limits, and so there are sittings - you only get two hours - which is OK after all. Ours began at 11.30 but it was probably 12.00 before we started eating. It's probably more a problem for them than the guests. And the food? Well the first course was delicious - a sunflower dip with roast carrots for most of us, although David chose the smoked duck breast - also pretty nice, but I think the carrots won out.
The mains, were less satisfactory. They looked nice - well perhaps not David's lamb - but perhaps they were not quite as good as they looked. Narelle, a vegetarian, had the grain and seed salad shown here in the centre bottom, but she said that it was Ok but perhaps a bit bland. I and Andrew had trout. Somehow or other I was expecting a warm/hot dish, but this was lukewarm, well cold I suppose, with a sauce, which tasted of I'm not sure what. Pleasant but not sensational. David's lamb was perhaps the most disappointing. He was warned that it would be pink - which is how lamb should be after all, but this was almost raw - definitely not to his taste or anyone's - the three carnivores all had a taste. And it was not cheap - $55.00 for two courses - and showing a bit of inflexibility if you wanted dessert - we shared a couple - that was extra. David, for example could not have had a main and a dessert instead of an entrée and a main.
But hey - it was several cuts above pizza or a hamburger, and the setting was divine. So who's complaining. Well Andrew apparently because today he sees that he was billed for two bottles of wine that we did not have. I'm sure that will be sorted out. Still - a bit sloppy.
So would I recommend? Well yes for the experience, the view, the ambience, the rosé - a blend of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon - but if all you are after is a sumptuous foodie experience there are probably better. I suppose it was an expensive day out, but why not? We haven't spent any money on a holiday or meals out this year. Now is the time to splurge. And if we didn't encourage such enterprises, then the Yarra Valley would be less of an attraction. Fore example we used to have the perfect winery/restaurant venue literally down the road - well 5k away - really good food, really good wine, wonderful architect designed venue. But it was sold and nobody has kept it up - the vineyard is overgrown and the cellar door unused. Very, very sad. Just waiting for another cashed up CEO to bring it back to life.
And just as a small aside. On the way back we saw a black van with the tantalising name of pooches and pinot on the side. So I looked it up and found that it's a niche little company that does small group (no more than six people) tours of various Yarra Valley wineries, beer and gin distilleries and cider producers with your dog along for the ride as well. A bit costly but it looks like fun if you've got a dog you like to take with you everywhere. I say costly, but actually when I consider the cost of our lunch it isn't at all.
We are so lucky, not only to have all this opportunity on our doorstep, but also to have the money to be able to indulge. Others do not - although anyone can go visit the 'two men in a shed' for nothing other than the cost of the petrol to get there. And if you live in Eltham that's almost nothing. And there are lots of other similar venues - they are not all glossy and expensive and the view is just as stunning at all of them.