Just over three hours from Melbourne, Rutherglen is a humble, history-steeped wine region, considered a fortified-wine capital. The region’s Muscat Mile crystallises its best winemakers into one digestible chunk (so you can get the best of the sweet, sticky stuff), while it’s also known to pull a crowd for its boozy annual Winery Walkabout festival.
Given its distance from metro Melbourne, day-tripping to Rutherglen poses a bit of a challenge. So, here are four experiences worth planning your next winery weekender around.
Take to the tower
Rutherglen is nowhere near the ocean. But cosying up in what might just be the region’s most out-of-the-box accommodation option, it feels like you’re in a lighthouse. The beautifully appointed French provincial-style apartment occupies three levels of an early 20th-century tower. There’s a spiral staircase (it’s steep – best for nimble wine-country-goers), a luxe marble-splashed bathroom and a top-floor bedroom with lush treetop views. It’s located at Mount Ophir Estate, a striking 140-acre property that has several other less extravagant stays on offer. Fun fact: it was once home to one of the largest state-of-the-art wine-producing operations in the Southern Hemisphere.
A Scion of the times
Much of Rutherglen’s beauty lies in its heritage, with centuries-old wineries adhering to practises honed over just as many years. But Scion is taking a slightly different – more “progressive”, by its estimation – approach with its small-batch wines. It treats muscat grapes in ways that are a little off-piste for the region. Early-season muscat becomes the crisp, aromatic and ultra-juicy Blonde, a park-perfect white; while for the Muscat X, fortified brown muscat is aged in oak casks for at least six years to create a hard-to-categorise drop that walks the line between wine and spirit. Do an all-encompassing tasting; it includes snacks, notes and yarns from the switched-on staff. The cellar door is stark but slick, set in a corrugated iron shed among a heap of grey box trees.
Kick-arse country pies
Regional bakeries aren’t afraid to bandy about a few superlatives. So, when visiting Parker Pies – self-described as “Australia’s Greatest Pie Shop” – on Rutherglen’s main drag, I wasn’t expecting it to knock it out of the ballpark quite like it did. I can’t vouch for the nearly 25-year-old family business being the greatest pie shop in Australia, but it’s definitely one of the greatest I’ve been to. The classic steak-and-pepper pie is an award-winner for many reasons: fall-apart chunks of beef; a bang-on creamy, peppery sauce that had me forgoing the house-made tomato relish entirely (unheard of); and ludicrously flaky, buttery pastry. And, surprisingly, the chicken, ham and mustard made a chicken-pie-lover out of me. I left with half a dozen to fill my freezer with.
Be a winemaker for a day
Beyond a 300-metre avenue of soaring elm trees lies a National Trust-listed castle-like building – the home of All Saints, Rutherglen winemaking royalty. The family-owned winery was established in 1864, and the sprawling spot now has a moody cellar door, terrace restaurant and casual cheese-centric farm gate (where you stock up, then picnic on the grounds). It recently launched an intimate Winemaker for a Day experience for groups of two, led by winemaker Nick Brown. A rare opportunity to go into the belly of the winemaking beast, it includes a vineyard and estate tour, an intro to the tools of the trade, a private tasting in the family cellar, and a three-course lunch.