I strongly advise against staying out till the early hours of the morning the night before you go wine tasting. Poor life choices and dusty heads aside, my friend Liv and I still had a great day driving around the Goldfields on Saturday.
Our plan was to visit wineries in Heathcote, for the Heathcote on Show festival, have lunch at Mason’s in nearby Bendigo and drive back to Melbourne via Castlemaine in the late afternoon.
It was my second visit to Bendigo but my time visiting or driving through Heathcote, Lancefield, Harcourt and Castlemaine. With a smattering of pretty, historic country towns, rolling hills and vibrant Autumn foliage, the Goldfields is quickly becoming one of my favourite regions in Victoria.
We only drove through Lancefield, but I snapped this one through the window. Other sightings include all the makings of a perfect country town: a proper butcher’s, baker and pub, all doing a bustling trade.
Heathcote’s main street is lined with well-preserved historic buildings and beautiful trees. As part of Heathcote on Show, some wineries threw open their doors while others from farther afield set up shop in various buildings in Heathcote. The region is particularly well-known for its world-class Shiraz, a varietal that is particularly influenced by its terroir. Liv will only drink Shiraz if it’s from Heathcote, so I was pretty excited to sample the region’s best.
As we walked around the town, I saw at least three or four artists, set up with easels and their paintbrushes, painting along the footpath under the shade of the trees.
Our first stop was the former Mechanic’s Institute, where Peregrine Ridge had set up a stand. We tried a sparkling Shiraz, an American oaked Shiraz and a French-oaked Shiraz. I preferred the American oak to the French, and overall quite liked their wines, but it was still too early in the day for me to be too appreciative of any wine. I regretted staying out so late the night before!
We wandered further down the street. Fresh produce weighed down trestle tables lining the footpaths outside a grocery store and a cafe covered in pretty red foliage almost tempted me inside – except I was saving room for a feast at Mason’s later on. The Goldfields is a few degrees cooler than Melbourne, and the cold air was actually making me feel a lot better. The combination of the chilly, fresh air and the smell of an open wood fire, wafting from further down the street, reminded me of camping with my family in winter.
This pretty little shed was just off the main street. When we arrived, we were the only customers, but by the time we left it was packed! She-Oak Hill Vineyard had set up shop inside.
We met Jane Leckie, whose father-in-law established the vineyard in 1975, and she talked us through the wines they had on offer. I almost passed on the chardonnay, as I don’t really like how oakey it is, but I’m glad I tried this one. Jane explained that they had intentionally brought out the fruit flavours rather than the traditional oaky and buttery flavours, which is often gives Chardonnay a bad name. It was unlike any Chardonnay I’d tried before – fruitier and more drinkable than a grassy Sauv Blanc, but much more interesting than a Pinot Grigio. I bought a bottle!
They had their Shiraz from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 available for tasting. I tried the 2011 and the 2013. The 2011 was much lighter than a normal Shiraz, because of an unusually rainy year. I actually didn’t mind it at all, and found it more drinkable than most Shiraz, because it wasn’t as full on. I tried the 2013 because Jane said it was her personal favourite, because it was full of rich, fruity flavours. I loved this one! Liv tried the 2012, which has won lots of awards, and had the trademark peppery Shiraz taste. I passed on this one, since the pepperiness is what puts me off most Shiraz in the first place.
Jane was so friendly and informative that I could have stayed chatting to her about wine all day, but the shed quickly filled up with other customers, so we bought some wine and moved along.
Our next stop was Heathcote Winery, which has a permanent restaurant & cellar door on the main street. We sat at the bar and tasted a few of the wines in the background of the picture. Liv could only try a little bit since she was driving, so we didn’t hang around too long. I really liked a couple of their wines, so I’ll probably try and source it from the wine stores near me next time I’m buying wine. The guy behind the bar was really friendly, and in addition to talking us through the wines, also gave us some tips for the rest of our day in the Goldfields. When he heard we were going to Mason’s for lunch, he recommended stopping in at Meehan’s vineyard on the way, and getting the goats cheese cigars as a starter at lunch.
We only tried a couple of wines at Meehan’s, a shiraz and a tempranillo. I really liked both of them and added Meehan’s to my list of producers to look up next time I’m at the bottleshop. Before we knew it, we were only half an hour away from our restaurant booking, so we jumped in the car and headed down the road to Bendigo.
We were stuck behind TWO very slow trailers on the road from Heathcote to Bendigo, so we were about five minutes late for lunch. Luckily, it wasn’t an issue. Mason’s is the best restaurant in Bendigo, so we had to book around a week in advance to get a lunch sitting – dinner was already all booked up! As we arrived, waiters had to turn hopeful walk-ins away.
It was honestly one of the most memorable dining experiences I’ve had and it was worth every cent. I’ll cover the entire meal in a separate blog post – there is seriously too much to talk about! I’ll just leave you with the immaculate presentation of the cheese cigars (below) and the incredible dessert tasting plate…worth the two-hour train trip from Melbourne to Bendigo, if you’re ever in town!
Afterwards, we were feeling pretty full and slovenly, but Liv wanted to show me the view over Bendigo from an old mining tower. I have no idea what the proper name for this is, but she called it a Poppet Head. We walked up the Poppet Head, and it actually made me feel a LOT better after eating so much at lunch.
Our last stop was the cathedral, which we had a quick walk around because it is so pretty!
We added one last detour on the way home. Liv drove us up Mt Alexander, for the pretty view at sunset. My iPhone photo doesn’t even begin to do it justice! There was so much pretty scenery driving through the Goldfields that was impossible to capture on my iPhone – next time I’ll bring my DSLR for sure.
We drove through Castlemaine instead of stopping for afternoon tea. It looks just as cute as Heathcote, so I definitely want to visit properly next time I’m in the region.
This was my third time in the Goldfields and every time I love it a little bit more. Next time, I want to stay overnight so I have more time to spend in the towns and at wineries!