The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY MI­LANDA ROUT

The Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula was once the se­cret play­ground of Mel­bur­ni­ans, who would head to their beach houses in Port­sea, hit the camp­sites in Rose­bud or go wine-tast­ing at the vine­yards in Mer­ricks and Red Hill. This is not the case any longer – the world is now watch­ing, thanks to some ex­tra­or­di­nary ar­chi­tec­ture, art, food and wine. The first of the game-chang­ers is Jack­a­lope. The brain­child of 30-year-old film stu­dent turned hote­lier Louis Li, the ho­tel, vine­yard and din­ing des­ti­na­tion has just cel­e­brated its first birth­day. In its short life it has taken out a slew of ho­tel and de­sign awards, here and over­seas, has been in­cluded on the 2018 best new ho­tels list by pres­ti­gious New York-based Travel + Leisure mag­a­zine, and has been rated among the world’s best wine re­sorts by Condé Nast Trav­eller.

And then there’s the vis­i­tor num­bers. Rare Hare, Jack­a­lope’s more ca­sual eatery that over­looks the Wil­low Creek vine­yard, was at­tract­ing at least 1000 peo­ple a week­end over sum­mer. In Fe­bru­ary, when the WISH team vis­ited, Jack­a­lope was run­ning at al­most 90 per cent oc­cu­pancy (its high­est month so far). Its more for­mal restau­rant, Doot Doot Doot, which of­fers a de­gus­ta­tion menu, is also win­ning rave re­views and be­ing fre­quented by lo­cals, food­ies and ho­tel guests.

“It has gone crazy,” says Jack­a­lope gen­eral man­ager, Tracy Ather­ton, of the first 12 months. “The sum­mer was far busier than we ex­pected, es­pe­cially in terms of food and bev­er­age of­fer­ings. A mas­sive draw­card is Rare Hare. None of us knew that Rare Hare would be so suc­cess­ful in terms of the peo­ple that come through the doors. On a Satur­day and Sun­day we would get at least 500 peo­ple a day. And those peo­ple look at Jack­a­lope and wish they could come and stay here.”

Add the open­ing of Pt Leo Es­tate, with its out­door sculp­ture gallery, win­ery, cel­lar door and two restau­rants (fine-din­ing op­tion Laura has re­ceived 4.5 stars from The Aus­tralian’s John Leth­lean), and the ren­o­va­tion of nearby ho­tel Lin­den­derry at Red Hill (see page 42), and the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula cat is truly out of the bag. “The promi­nence of Jack­a­lope and Pt Leo have cat­a­pulted us on to the in­ter­na­tional stage,” says Gary Crit­ten­den, one of the first to plant vines in the re­gion way back in 1982, when he started Crit­ten­den Es­tate in Dro­mana. “There would not be a day that goes by that we don’t have an in­ter­na­tional tourist [at the win­ery].”

The lat­est sta­tis­tics from Tourism Vic­to­ria re­flect the grow­ing na­tional and in­ter­na­tional ap­peal of the re­gion, with the num­ber of in­ter­na­tional overnight vis­i­tors in­creas­ing 10 per cent in the year to De­cem­ber. In terms of na­tional vis­i­tors, the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula ex­pe­ri­enced dou­ble-digit growth in ex­pen­di­ture (up 15.5 per cent), in vis­i­tors (18.2 per cent) and vis­i­tor nights stayed (13 per cent) over 12 months. Even Mel­bur­ni­ans are fork­ing out more, with do­mes­tic day-trip spend­ing

“There would not be a day that goes by that we don’t have an in­ter­na­tional tourist at the win­ery.”

grow­ing by 24.4 per cent in the year to De­cem­ber.

“In the 10 years since I have been on the Penin­sula, it has changed sig­nif­i­cantly,” Pt Leo Es­tate gen­eral man­ager Roger Lan­cia tells WISH as we stand in the new sculp­ture park over­look­ing West­ern Port Bay and Phillip Is­land. “I re­mem­bered when Port Phillip Es­tate opened in Red Hill [in 2009] and I felt like that was un­charted wa­ters. Then we have Jack­a­lope open­ing and other amaz­ing places plus all these winer­ies of note. It is just bril­liant the way the whole area has grown.”

The first vines were planted in the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula in the 1880s. Sur­rounded on water by three sides (from the rel­a­tively calm wa­ters of Port Phillip Bay and West­ern Port Bay to the freez­ing surf of the Bass Strait), it is a cool-cli­mate grow­ing re­gion and has be­come known for its pinot noir. The first vines were aban­doned in the 1920s and an­other at­tempt was made by a mem­ber of the Sep­pelt fam­ily in the 1950s but was de­stroyed in bush­fires in the 1960s. It was Bail­lieu Myer and his wife Sarah (of the fa­mous Mel­bourne re­tail­ing fam­ily) who planted the first com­mer­cial vine­yard in 1972, es­tab­lish­ing El­gee Park Wines. The fam­ily also op­er­ate the Mer­ricks Gen­eral Wine Store as their cel­lar door with daugh­ter Sa­man­tha and son-in-law Char­lie Bail­lieu (from an­other fa­mous Mel­bourne fam­ily), who own Bail­lieu Vine­yards. Next along was Main Ridge Es­tate in 1975, the first com­mer­cial win­ery. Now there are 200 vine­yards and 50 winer­ies across the penin­sula.

“Bail­lieu Myer is 92 and he still hasn’t missed a vin­tage,” says Kerry Wat­son, who has worked at the Mer­ricks Gen­eral Wine Store for both fam­i­lies for al­most a decade. “He is an in­cred­i­ble man.” The store has be­come lo­cally known for not only its wine but also its food and its gallery. It has been a ma­jor draw­card in the area since the fam­i­lies bought it in 2008, but even Wat­son has no­ticed the in­crease in vis­i­tors as more peo­ple have dis­cov­ered the re­gion. “Five years ago dur­ing the week it was so quiet,” she tells WISH. “Now there are some days that you can barely get a ta­ble.”

The Bail­lieus and My­ers are not the only fa­mous fam­i­lies to live in the area. Pt Leo Es­tate is owned by reclu­sive cou­ple John and Pauline Gan­del, who made their for­tune from re­tail and prop­erty de­vel­op­ment. Es­ti­mated by Forbes to be worth $US4 bil­lion, the cou­ple have de­cided to make pub­lic their ex­ten­sive out­door sculp­ture col­lec­tion on their prop­erty in Mer­ricks, which they bought 28 years ago. “It is the largest pri­vately owned sculp­ture park in Aus­tralia with 50 pieces,” Lan­cia says. “And over time it will in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly.” Pt Leo opened in De­cem­ber and has been busy ever since. “I have not seen that level of pa­tron­age through the sculp­ture park and the restau­rant in all my time on the penin­sula. It has been ab­so­lutely tremen­dous.”

Geral­dine McFaul, head wine­maker at Jack­a­lope’s Wil­low Creek Vine­yard, has been on the penin­sula since get­ting a job at Stonier Wines in 1997. She has watched the re­gion grow and fo­cus on the pro­duc­tion of pinot noir. “It is a va­ri­ety that is hard to grow here and im­pos­si­ble to grow in many re­gions,” she tells WISH in her of­fice over­look­ing the fer­men­ta­tion tanks at Wil­low Creek. “But we have got a cli­mate that can ripen pinot noir and then can make very aro­matic pinots in quite

“I have not seen that level of pa­tron­age in all my time on the penin­sula. It has been ab­so­lutely tremen­dous.”

dif­fer­ing styles be­cause of the ter­rain. We have all these hid­den val­leys and sun­traps and dif­fer­ent soils. We get a lot of va­ri­ety in the styles of wine that are pro­duced.”

Wil­low Creek Vine­yard was planted in 1989 by three brothers, their busi­ness part­ner and his brother-in-law. They got a per­mit to build a ho­tel in 2008 but it wasn’t un­til Li and his fam­ily came out to the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula look­ing for in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties that it was all re­alised. “It has been great for us be­cause it was the sec­ond busi­ness for the pre­vi­ous own­ers whereas it is re­ally key to what Louis has en­vi­sioned for the site,” McFaul says. “He has a real idea of where he wants to take it.” McFaul and her team are now fo­cused on pro­duc­ing pinot noir and chardon­nay as their flag­ship wines. They are a “tiny” win­ery with 11 hectares and all the grapes are hand-picked.

Next to the vine­yard at Jack­a­lope is now a sizeable mar­ket gar­den, the realm of ex­ec­u­tive chef Guy Stan­away, who is in charge of Rare Hare and Doot Doot Doot. He was hired by Ather­ton af­ter they worked to­gether at Aman’s Amankila Re­sort in Bali. The brief from Li was to cre­ate two very dif­fer­ent din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences at Jack­a­lope. “Rare Hare is much more ca­sual, com­mu­nal ta­bles, fos­ter­ing so­cial en­gage­ment, the whole pared-back al­most Scandi-chic,” he says. “It’s a re­ally re­laxed and sim­ple of­fer­ing. We have a beau­ti­ful wood-fire oven and it is all about share plates.”

In con­trast, Doot Doot Doot is a for­mal din­ing room that looks like it was trans­ported di­rectly from Flin­ders Lane. “Louis wanted Doot Doot Doot to be taken se­ri­ously and stand on its own two feet as a restau­rant, not just be a ho­tel restau­rant,” Stan­away says. “He wanted that fine din­ing that had all the ac­co­lades.” And Li has got his wish – Doot Doot Doot has made all the best restau­rant lists. “We are work­ing on clean and fresh flavours,” Stan­away says of the eight-course de­gus­ta­tion menu. “We didn’t want to over­com­pli­cate things with the food be­cause ev­ery­thing is busy and in your face in the din­ing space. And we use key in­gre­di­ents that are sourced as lo­cally as pos­si­ble.”

Be­low the vine­yards is yet an­other el­e­ment of Jack­a­lope, thank­fully some­thing that is un­seen by guests: the sewage treat­ment plant. This unglam­orous de­tail serves as a re­minder that the ho­tel is en­tirely self­suf­fi­cient and Li and his team had to build ev­ery­thing from scratch. This made for some in­ter­est­ing chal­lenges that go be­yond the teething prob­lems a stan­dard ho­tel might face in its open­ing year.

“It has been un­be­liev­able,” says Ather­ton, laugh­ing. “We could hon­estly write a book. There are no water mains so we trap the water on the roof or truck it in. We have a mas­sive water fil­tra­tion and water stor­age sys­tem in the base­ment. We bring in our own gas. We have our own sewage plant. We even had to work with Tel­stra, prior to the open­ing, so we have the in­ter­net.”

So any plans for a quiet first year may have evap­o­rated, but Ather­ton wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s such an in­cred­i­ble part of the world, es­pe­cially in terms of vine­yards. We also have the bay, the ocean, the golf cour­ses. It has been a bit of a se­cret play­ground but now that is broad­en­ing across Aus­tralia. Rare Hare, Doot Doot Doot and Pt Leo, they have all put us on the map.”

“It’s a re­ally re­laxed and sim­ple of­fer­ing. We have a beau­ti­ful wood-fire oven and it is all about share plates.”


Jack­a­lope and the Wil­low Creek vine­yards

Clock­wise: Jack­a­lope gen­eral man­ager Tracy Ather­ton; restau­rant Doot Doot Doot and bar Flag­ger­doot; ex­ec­u­tive chef Guy Stan­away; Pt Leo Es­tate tast­ing room; a gue­stroom; Rare Hare

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