Planning a holiday is exciting, but deciding where to go and what to do can be overwhelming. Jocelyn Pride test-drives a quiz to hone in on where to eat, sleep and play on a weekend escape to Rutherglen.
Rutherglen is a place I hold close to my heart because it’s where I fell in love. With wine.
Yep, it’s where I had my first proper wine tasting and learnt to swirl, sniff, sip and appreciate how winemakers transform a bunch of grapes into a ridiculously delicious liquid.
It’s been a while between drinks, but Rutherglen is like an old friend – always ready to welcome you back.
Only this time, there’s a lovely quirky twist to a long weekend break with my husband to reconnect with one of Australia’s oldest wine regions tucked into north-east Victoria on the Murray River border between Victoria and NSW.
And it’s all thanks to a nifty quiz devised by Explore Rutherglen.
Designed to generate a personalised itinerary, structured around the key requirements of any traveller – Meet, Eat, Visit, Taste and Experience – one answers a few clever ‘Would you rather…?’ questions on the Explore Rutherglen website (such as Fine Dining or Al Fresco? and Dry Feet or Dive In? and voila, there you have it – the basis for an idyllic Rutherglen escape.
Our matches blended the old with the new, the known with the unknown – chill-out times interlaced with a few surprises to intrigue. To make it even easier, we have added accommodation recommendations.
The soul of Rutherglen revolves around the 2,200 people who call it home. Real people, who have dirt under their fingernails and wine in their blood. Head to any of the 20 family-owned-and-operated wineries in the region and chances are the winemaker is right there in the tasting room, ready for a yarn.
“Rutherglen is well-known for big reds and fortified wines, but the climate and soil here means we can also branch out to make different styles really well,” says fourth-generation winemaker, Nicholas Brown, head winemaker at All Saints Estate, a straight-out-of-a-movie-set Scottish turreted castle built in the 1880s. “How about a rosé named in honour of my grandma?”
Rosa – in a pretty pink bottle complete with a glass stopper is an immediate attention-grabber, but it’s the crispness and balance of fruit that lingers, specifically on the palate.
“Grandma would love it,” Nicholas says roaring with laughter. “She used to drink rosé when she played cards. She’d always say, ‘No more’. Then, in the next breath, she’d say, ‘Well maybe a little’.”
As well as producing outstanding wines, amid the manicured gardens surrounded by vineyards, Terrace Restaurant at All Saints Estate is the spot to create the ‘Remember when we had that lunch at Rutherglen?’ moment. Nicholas and his siblings Eliza and Angela, co-owners of All Saints (and several other businesses in Rutherglen) are visionaries.
“Like our wine, we wanted to establish a restaurant that reflects the stories of the region,” says CEO Eliza Brown.
Everything on the menu is seasonal and as locally sourced as possible. My eight-hour slow-cooked lamb shoulder was next level – estate-grown, sweet, tender and naturally falling off the bone.
“We’re working on sustainability with all produce coming from our estate and the organic waste going back to the animals and as compost on the vines.”
Headed up by British-born chef Simon Arkless (ex-OXO and Harvey Nicholls’ ‘Fifth Floor’ fame, Terrace Restaurant is a regional standout – it’s been awarded a chef’s hat every year since opening in 2013.
As one of Australia’s 10 First Families of Wine, the handmade brick walls of Campbells of Rutherglen speak volumes.
“We have old barrels filled with knowledge and character,” says Jane Campbell, whose great, great grandfather planted the first vines here in 1870.
After wandering through rows of giant barrels hand-coopered more than 100 years ago, we curl up in a comfy chair by the fire enjoying a vineyard platter and sipping on wine that represents the fruits of the labour of five generations. It is a blissful way to spend an afternoon.
Known the world over for its legendary muscat and topaques, not to mention the famed Bobbie Burns Shiraz, I was most surprised by the whites, especially the lovely fresh chardonnay.
Durif wasn’t a wine varietal I was familiar with; however, it soon became my fave of the trip.
“We’ve always produced Durif because it used to go into port,” Jane Campbell explains.
“Then Dad started to make wine from it, but at first it was too big – like ‘needing a knife and fork’ type of big.”
Eventually, in 1992, Colin Campbell OAM (who sadly passed away in 2019), created Campbells’ Barkly Durif; still big, but a more approachable and elegant style of wine. Named in honour of John Wallace, the bold owner of the Star Hotel, who during the height of the gold rush announced he’d shout the bar if people agreed to change the town’s name from Barkly to his Scottish home town – Rutherglen.
In addition to the wineries, Rutherglen is a place of great natural beauty with lots of outdoor action. When cycling popped up as a match on our itinerary, my first thought was, ‘Yay Rutherglen is flat’, as in dead flat, just perfect for the Pedal to Produce initiative, a self-guided adventure designed to meander the countryside at your own pace.
After picking up bikes and a map from the Rutherglen Wine Experience, there’s nothing quite like that wonderful feeling of freedom that pedal power brings – choosing where to stop for a wine tasting, a bite to eat or checking out a historic landmark.
Highlights of the 12.5-kilometre easy trail include: Anderson Winery a small vineyard where absolutely everything is made right there; the tiny but mighty Jones Winery, which dates back to 1860 (and serves up sensational French fare); the ancient vines at Chambers Winery, still going strong after 100 years in the ground; Rutherglen Estates & Tuileries, a historic cellar door and superb restaurant now owned by the De Bortoli family, with an impressive Aboriginal art gallery and the best olives (and homemade cakes) you’ll find anywhere at The Wicked Virgin and Calico Town Wines.
I’d never heard of Mount Ophir Estate, but I knew it was my type of place from the moment I swung open the farm gate. The 56-hectare property, initially established in 1891 as one of the largest winemaking facilities in the Southern Hemisphere, was purchased by Eliza, Angela and Nicholas Brown in 2016. The siblings then set about lovingly restoring this slice of Australia’s living history, located five kilometres from Rutherglen.
Cottages with nostalgic names such as ‘Winemakers’, ‘Pickers’ and ‘Gatekeepers’ are dotted throughout the property, where the original estate homestead, The Residence, now sleeps 10. And then there’s The Tower a true fairy-tale French Provincial tower for two. The accommodation features a spiral staircase winding up from the kitchen and dining room on the ground floor to a well-stocked library and living room on the middle floor to a bedroom perched at the top with jaw-dropping 360-degree views. The property has been impeccably styled by the Brown family, who have the Midas touch. A perfect match indeed.