Only 1.5 hours from Melbourne, Mornington Peninsula is a brilliant option for a day of wine tasting thanks to its compactness, focus and very boutique-y feel. Unlike many regions, it is definitely 'doable' in a day if you need to, be it a day trip from Melbourne, a one-night stay on your itinerary, or a slight detour at the start of the Great Ocean Road before you head south.
What makes Mornington Peninsula so great for a wine tasting day:
Focused on Premium, Cool Climate, Site-Specific Pinot Noir
Mornington Peninsula is all about Pinot Noir (and a bit of Chardonnay and then to a lesser extent Pinot Gris). They do all of these really well, but the star of the show is Pinot. Think of Mornington Peninsula like a Cote de Nuits (Burgundy) analogue. They're getting really into site specific / single vineyard expressions of Pinot. So while variety is fun, when the winemaking is this good it's great to deep dive into one style and really get a feel for it, rather than a more scattergun approach.
Beautiful, Bougie Boutique Vibes by the sea
It has a small, boutique winery vibe, which is partly because of the physical size of the region. It's a small, compact area - you can drive from one side of the Peninsula to the other in under 25 minutes. But it's also because it's fighting with tourism for physical land space, seeing as it's stunningly beautiful - think rolling hills of vines a stone's throw from the deep blue sea - no vineyard is more than 7k from the Ocean. And all this just 1.5 hrs from Melbourne. There isn't really room for the bigger players and so it's maintained the boutique winery feel, which works well with a tricksy, diva grape like Pinot Noir. Despite that, don't expect barefoot wineries such as you might find in Europe. This is like Australia's Napa or Sonoma - the cellar door game is chic AF and at most restaurants you will find a Chef's Tasting Menu type of situation. You need to book ahead and prepare to launch a charm offensive to make bookings for groups larger than 4.
The View from Point Leo
Compared to nearby Yarra Valley it's much easier to get a good 'feel' for it in just one day. Although Yarra Valley is closer to Melbourne, as a wine region it's much larger and more sprawling - and also more characterised by some larger players such as Chandon (The Aussie subsidiary of Moet & Chandon). Mornington has a very focused feel - geographically, varietally and 'tonally' let's say. Most wineries are a mere 10 minute drive from one another and everywhere (good) will be focused on site specific Pinot, meaning you can come away feeling like you really got a feel for the heart of this wine region.
All of these things combine to make it a brilliant destination for a little wine pilgrimage, you feel you can do it justice and come away with a good sense of what it's about.
We stayed overnight in the area which allowed us to take advantage of one of the awesome restaurants for dinner before heading off the next day.
At the end of the Peninsula you have Sorrento, which is a lovely and upmarket beach side town with lots of lovely shops and cafes, well worth a look.
Here are some of the top wineries to visit, and great places to eat:
25 Harrisons Road, Dromana, Victoria 3936
Very smart cellar door with a lovely indoor-outdoor feel, looking over a little lake.
AUD$ 15pp, not redeemable against wine.
Ten Minutes By Tractor
My favourite Pinots of the day. Another smart cellar door with knowledgeable staff, and a great outdoor seating area overlooking the vines. Casual light lunch option on the terrace. AUD$12 pp but redeemable against wine purchases.
Walk-ins welcome for outdoor tastings or cellar door, max 6 people for groups. Very chichi restaurant, hotel plus sister restaurant 'Many Little' and great wines imported by Graft Wines in the UK under the Polperro and Even Keel labels.
2 Thompson's Lane, Merricks, Victoria 3916
Pinot Noir Diversity Flight for AUD$15 will take you through a Pinot Noir based Trad Method Sparkling as well as a rosé and several beautiful site specific Pinot Noirs. Another beautiful setting surrounded by wild grasses and a long vine-covered pergola walk way.
CASUAL DINING OPTIONS
A to of the lunch options here are going to be degustation menus with a set price - you may not want to do this, so here are some options for more relaxed lunches.
166 Balnarring Rd, Merricks North, Victoria 3926
Also a beautiful winery and restaurant. Book ahead. Sharing plate style, I include it here because it's not an obligatory tasting menu type of place, though it could equally go under the posh dining options. The food is exceptional and beautifully presented.
Sunny Ridge Farm
Literally a strawberry farm - you can pick you own punnet of strawberries should you wish to. Simple lunch menu of pies, toasties, ice cream.
The Pig & Whistle
365 Purves Rd, Main Ridge VIC 3928, Australia
Down to earth English style pub, with a beautiful garden with outdoor seating. Basic good pub grub - burgers, pies, chicken schnitzel and huge portions. Proceed with caution if you have a degustation menu lined up for dinner!
Described as a Peninsula favourite and looks awesome. Book ahead!
POSH DINING OPTIONS
Get your stretchy trousers at the ready.
Paringa Estate Restaurant
Modern, degustation style menu - 2 courses for $85 for lunch.
Super luxe-y experience-driven estate with accommodation, cellar door and degustation menu.
Sri Lankan / Asian fusion menu. The more casual sister restaurant of Polperro though it is still an obligatory chef's tasting menu of $130 + wine flights optional.