A Week­end on the... Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula

At Pt Leo Es­tate, out­door art and wine are both to hand

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A nine-me­tre cast-iron head tow­ers over a grove of spot­ted gums. On­shore winds trans­form a slen­der struc­ture of steel blades into an el­e­gant weath­er­vane rid­ing the breeze be­side cen­te­nar­ian elms. In a nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre above West­ern Port Bay, a cast-bronze work by Bri­tish sculp­tor Tony Cragg at first re­sem­bles a choco­late soft serve but gaze at it long enough and a hu­man pro­file re­veals it­self in the swirled me­tal.

Aus­tralians have a nat­u­ral affin­ity for art in the great out­doors. Each year, crowds flock to the Sculp­ture by the Sea ex­hibits staged in Syd­ney and Perth. Now, Pt Leo Es­tate (ptleoes­tate.com.au) in Mer­ricks, on the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula, is giv­ing the coun­try its first per­ma­nent sculp­tures by the sea, fea­tur­ing works by Cata­lan artist Jaume Plensa, Amer­i­can ki­netic sculp­tor Ge­orge Rickey and, of course, Cragg.

“This is a key piece,” says cu­ra­to­rial ad­viser Ge­of­frey Ed­wards of Cragg’s in­trigu­ing work. “Some would say he is the world’s most em­i­nent sculp­tor to­day.”

The Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula – Mel­bourne’s an­swer to the Hamp­tons – has a pas­sion for sculp­ture that is un­matched any­where else in the coun­try. Vis­i­tors ar­riv­ing via the Penin­sula Link free­way find it punc­tu­ated with mon­u­men­tal art­works in­clud­ing, cur­rently, a nine-me­tre stain­less-steel gnome. The works are com­mis­sioned by McClel­land Sculp­ture Park + Gallery (mc­clel­landgallery.com), es­tab­lished in 1971 at the urg­ing of Dame Elis­a­beth Mur­doch, a ma­jor pa­tron. In the park it­self there are another 100 sculp­tures, by lead­ing Aus­tralian artists, spread across 16 hectares of land­scaped grounds, tea-tree forests and heath­lands.

In Red Hill in the hin­ter­land, Mon­talto Vine­yard & Olive Grove (mon­talto.com.au) has held an an­nual sculp­ture prize and ex­hi­bi­tion since 2003. There are also sig­nif­i­cant pri­vate col­lec­tions, in­clud­ing that of re­tail scion Bail­lieu Myer at the fam­ily prop­erty, El­gee Park, in

Mer­ricks North. And now art col­lec­tor Pauline Gan­del and her prop­erty-mag­nate hus­band John Gan­del – who ranked sev­enth on this year’s Fi­nan­cial Re­view Rich List with a for­tune of $6.1 bil­lion – have opened their 135-hectare seafront prop­erty and pri­vate art col­lec­tion to vis­i­tors.

The em­pha­sis at Pt Leo Es­tate is on con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian sculp­ture since 1959, in­clud­ing no­table pieces by Clement Mead­more, Len­ton Parr and An­drew Rogers. Vic­to­ri­ans will recog­nise Bruce Arm­strong’s Bun­jil, in­spired by the ea­gle­hawk that’s be­come Mel­bourne’s de facto Indige­nous totem, and a typ­i­cally whim­si­cal mo­saic crea­ture by Deb­o­rah Halpern that casts a quizzi­cal eye over passers-by.

Along­side more than 50 art­works, the cen­tre­piece of the $50 mil­lion de­vel­op­ment is a 110-seat restau­rant and cel­lar door in­side a flow­ing struc­ture of tex­tured con­crete, glass and tim­ber that ap­pears to rise from, and sub­side into, the sur­round­ing slope.

Pt Leo Es­tate Restau­rant’s culi­nary di­rec­tor is for­mer Neil Perry pro­tégé Phil Wood, the much-ad­mired ex­ec­u­tive chef of Syd­ney’s Rock­pool and Eleven Bridge. He has en­tered into his new role en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, hunt­ing out lo­cal sup­pli­ers, for­ag­ing fore­shores and ex­pand­ing the Gan­dels’ vegie patch to help meet the kitchen’s needs. The es­tate’s herd of An­gus cat­tle and bee­hives will also come in handy.

High­lights from a pre-launch lunch to sam­ple Wood’s “flavour-for­ward, pro­duce-driven” menu were the ri­cotta po­lenta with pick­led fen­nel and a nutty Caprinella goat’s cheese from Main Ridge Dairy; and the sup­ple, snowwhite cala­mari with squid oil, lardo and pars­ley purée.

Wood raves about penin­sula pro­duce, in­clud­ing Hawkes pota­toes – “quite sim­ply the most amaz­ing kipflers I have ever had” – and Cape Schanck olive oil. “You have all these gen­er­a­tional farm­ers here who have amaz­ing prod­ucts that aren’t yet well known,” he says.

At the end of this month, he’ll open the se­cond stage of the restau­rant, a 40-seat fine-diner flanked by a wine wall of 1300 bot­tles, in­clud­ing some of the Gan­dels’ own la­bels, Pt Leo Es­tate and Two Friends.

Wine­maker Tod Dex­ter has been cre­at­ing vin­tages from Pt Leo Es­tate’s 22 hectares of pinot noir, pinot gris, chardon­nay and shi­raz vines since 2009 but the 2016 vin­tage is the first pub­lic re­lease. Vis­i­tors can taste the fruits of Dex­ter’s labour at the cel­lar door or sip a glass while wan­der­ing among the art.

There’s no on-site ac­com­mo­da­tion but the 46-room Jack­a­lope Ho­tel (ho­tel.qan­tas.com.au/jack­a­lope), the penin­sula’s other star at­trac­tion of 2017, is a 10-minute drive away. As is Tussie Mussie (tussiemussie.com.au), a for­mer flower farm that sleeps 14 in a lodge and two cot­tages. In­te­ri­ors are dec­o­rated in a faintly Provençal style but out­looks are purely penin­sula – vines, fruit trees and lofty eu­ca­lypts.

Make a week­end of it and visit the new-look Ten Min­utes by Trac­tor restau­rant (ten­min­utes­by­trac­tor. com.au) with its sage-green ban­quettes, Ja­panese mar­ble screens and ex­cep­tional food and wines. The dé­gus­ta­tion will en­sure you fully ap­pre­ci­ate the magic that chef Stu­art Bell’s clas­si­cal French train­ing works on re­gional

pro­duce. Red Hill’s hottest new­comer is Red Gum BBQ (redgumbbq.com.au), a hearty barn-like restau­rant serv­ing beers on tap and eth­i­cally sourced meats – pork ribs, beef brisket, chicken – smoked over Aus­tralian hard­woods. Or set­tle in for a long lunch at Mon­talto’s glass-walled din­ing room over­look­ing the pinot and chardon­nay vines, fol­lowed by a stroll along the onek­ilo­me­tre art walk.

Mon­talto sculp­ture ex­hi­bi­tion cu­ra­tor Neil Wil­liams isn’t sure what’s be­hind the penin­sula’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with out­door art, be­yond the fact that there are many af­flu­ent lo­cals with a love for the arts. “But I of­ten say to peo­ple, the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula must have, per capita, the most sculp­tures of any­where in the world.”

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Riff by Aus­tralian-Amer­i­can artist Clement Mead­more (above); ex­ec­u­tive chef Phil Wood’s cala­mari with squid oil, lardo and pars­ley purée at the Pt Leo Es­tate winery restau­rant

Sculp­ture in the vines: (from front) Len­ton Parr’s Vega; Cos­mic Res­o­nance by Au­gus­tine Dall’Ava; Ge­of­frey Bartlett’s Nau­tilus, Study with Three Legs

Seedlings des­tined for the kitchen gar­den at Pt Leo Es­tate Restau­rant

The winery restau­rant’s ri­cotta po­lenta with goat’s-cheese shav­ings (above); Gre­gor Kre­gar’s stain­less-steel Re­flec­tive Lul­laby – Frankie gnome stands guard on the Penin­sula Link free­way

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