Discover Rutherglen: one of Australia's oldest wine regions
This tiny Victorian wine region boasts 19 quaint cellar doors and great restaurants. Spend the weekend wine tasting and eating your way around town.
- February 2019
You’ll spot the “Big Wine Bottle” from a mile away – Rutherglen’s iconic 36-metre landmark is hard to miss and offers a rather large clue as to what you’ll find in this charming town. Located three hours’ drive north-east of Melbourne, Rutherglen is one of the oldest wine regions in Australia, dating back to the 1850s, and its family-owned wineries are best known for robust reds and decadent fortified wines. For a small region, Rutherglen punches way above its weight in the wine stakes and it has a food scene to match.
Where to drink wine
Kick off your tour of the wine region at one of the original vineyards. Established in 1859, Morris Wines helped make the durif variety – a full-bodied red – famous in Australia but they are also renowned for their fortifieds, including the award-winning Old Premium Rare Muscat (voted best in the world at Muscats du Monde 2018). Fifth-generation winemaker David Morris knows his stuff and if you want to learn a thing or two from the best, you can book a muscat mixology workshop at the cellar door. You’ll get to taste a selection of muscats, one dating from 1980, and blend and balance your own glass of fortified wine, all while surrounded by century-old barrels.
For something completely different, Scion Vineyard and Winery is what some might call Rutherglen’s “next gen”. Headed by winemaker Rowly Milhinch (whose great-great-great grandfather happened to be the founder of Morris Wines), Scion are all about using traditional grapes in a modern way. They make the region’s only white muscat (it tastes like Turkish delight in a glass) but their dry rosé is a stand-out, while their semi-sweet fortified durif has quite the local following.
White wine lovers should finish off their tour by popping into Andrew Buller Wines. His marsanne variety is delicious, if unusual, and the Frizzante – a slightly sweet sauvignon blanc with a hint of fizz – is perfect for a party.
Where to eat
Ask any of the friendly locals where to go for dinner and the response is unanimous: go to Thousand Pound wine bar and order a steak. It’s good advice and you won’t be disappointed. The place has an extensive wine list showcasing mostly local wineries and the only way to properly finish a meal here is with a cheeseboard and a glass of the region’s famous muscat (when in Rome).
If you’re in the mood for some fancier fare, Jones Winery Restaurant is open for lunch Thursday through Sunday and serves up French-inspired cuisine that looks as good as it tastes. The menu changes regularly, featuring dishes such as market fish with broad bean, caper and preserved lemon. Dessert might be a mouth-watering spiced panna cotta with pineapple, sage and walnut. Their cosy dining room and cellar door is worth a visit, set inside a restored 1860 brick barn.
Where to stay
A five-minute drive from the town centre lies the newly restored Mount Ophir Estate, which started out as a winemaking facility back in 1903 and today offers six types of accommodation. The original rustic homestead is beautiful but it’s The Tower suite for two that will make you want to move in. The luxurious French provincial three-storey tower is complete with a spiral staircase leading to a well-stocked reading room, where you could while away hours just relaxing and taking in views of the sprawling 140-acre vineyard – but then you’d miss out on all the eating and imbibing to be done. With Rutherglen’s wineries right on the doorstep, this is the ideal base from which to start exploring.
Slightly further out of town at Cofield Wines, you can book a Grapevine Glamping experience and spend the weekend in a bell tent among the vines. Each tent is equipped with a king-sized bed and you’re treated to a bottle of Cofield wine on arrival.