Celestial spring lunch at Café Immerse

By Tilly Smith Dix


After many years of fine dining, as a publicist and travel writer, I have developed a few pet peeves, such as pretentious deconstructions and too many frothy reductions. I am thrilled to report none of those peeves were challenged during a delectable lunch at Café Immerse at Immerse Winery on Melba Highway, Dixons Creek, in the Yarra Valley.

I previously blogged about the delicious wine, facilities and service at the winery, which is home to a bespoke wedding and conference facility, complete with chic accommodation and chapel. Suffice to say, the cuisine and service surpassed our wildest expectations on a perfect spring Saturday.

Hosted by the charming owners, Helen and Stephen Myles, we were in good hands at the restaurant, which is open for lunch to the public on weekends.

Olives marinated in orange, Immerse Sparkling Chardonnay, and gin and beetroot-cured kingfish.

Arriving at Immerse is enough to get one into a relaxed mood, with its verdant vineyards, now reflecting glorious green shoots, and magical gardens, further enhanced by the budding blooms of lovingly tended roses.

Of course, I am already on board with the wines at Immerse, with my daily favourite tipple being the Immerse Sparkling Chardonnay. You can smell joy, I kid you not, as the fresh, fruity crisp apple notes refresh the nose and palate. Andrew is now also an Immerse convert as he swears the 2016 Oscars Reserve Cabernet with its floral, black cherry and raspberry notes ticked all the boxes for his love of a cool cab.

The plump green orange-marinated olives, creamy pesto dip and freshly baked herb bread, served with olive oil for dipping, was a superb appetiser and of course, ideally complemented by the bubbles.

Opting for the gin and beetroot cured kingfish entrée, complemented by radish, asparagus, apple, baby beets, crème fraiche and lavosh, which I regard as authentic cuisine as you recognise the appearance and taste of each morsel, proved a superb choice. Not only was the presentation perfect, in fact Picasso could have gone to town in a red phase, but the flavours evocative of spring.

Roast pork belly, roquette (rocket) pear parmesan salad, and rosemary garlic roasted potatoes.

The roast pork belly with a YVBCo cider reduction in an entrée portion as my main was a wise decision as it is generously portioned. This perfectly glazed porker was accompanied by a cucumber peanut salad that popped and crackled in perfect harmony with the divinely tender meat, which I’m happy to report only had the teensiest slither of creamy fat and crackling, just enough to make it slightly sinful.

Andrew’s choice of main was the grilled salmon fillet, perfectly teamed with vanilla bean potato puree, asparagus, caper and cornichon butter sauce. These are our kind of reductions, where you can indeed identify each flavour, while the unpretentious plating was an artistic titillation.

The texture of the salmon was just right, remaining scrumptiously moist, with bright pink flesh in the centre.

Grilled salmon, wedding decor and blood orange cheesecake.

The sides of golden sliced rosemary and garlic roast potatoes, as well as the roquette pear and parmesan salad with balsamic, could not be faulted.

Having had more than our fill, we did get our arms twisted to indulge in a dessert tasting plate for four and our choice of blood orange cheesecake with ginger biscuit, passionfruit and berries certainly were the berries, or rather, the strawberry on top. This is my kind of deconstruction dessert: light, airy, creamy, fruity with the ginger doing the trick to cleanse the palate of the after-glow of the mains, with the fruit in its honest form.

Resolutely unstuffy, the ambience, service, cuisine, wine and charm of this property makes this a favourite in a valley of plenty. Having checked on TripAdvisor, it is evident we are not the only diners who’ll return soon. We also thought the prices competitive – another tick.

A wedding party was being styled as we were departing and I could not resist sneaking a peep and snapping a few images. I bet that bridal party was in seventh heaven as the flow of natural light, chandeliers, romantic décor, fresh flowers and garden vistas reflected happy ever after.

We have some friends visiting soon from abroad and no prizes for guessing where we will be securing our reservation for lunch. See more at www.immerse.com.au – ah, cheers to the good life…

The journey maketh the destination – sometimes…

By Tilly Smith Dix

Living in an enchanting region such as the Yarra Valley and its nearby beautiful sister-region of the Dandenongs, often referred to as The Hills, has its drawbacks. The natural beauty, charm and magical gardens on our doorstep have made us more discerning about travel than ever before.

However, with Andrew being an aviator, for him, the destination often is mostly about the flight and airfield we are heading to, rather than the actual location, says I with eyes heaven-cast. As long as the accommodation is clean with hot running water, all’s good in his world. I should have stepped up the moment he told me to leave all the travel arrangements to him for our flight and overnight stay in a town called Shepparton in our spectacular state of Victoria. However, as I was busy and rushing with deadlines to free myself for a Friday morning departure, I was happy for him to plan our getaway.

I’ll try and make this brief. The flight from Coldstream Aerodrome was slow as we had wind on the nose but landing at Shepparton was a pleasure. Excellent airfield and friendly service on the ground. All good and things looked promising. Until our taxi arrived to provide ground transport to our hotel.

Suffice to say the driver seemed surprised at our flying in to spend a night as tourists and not on a working visit and looked more bewildered when given our hotel address. “Do you realise you are some distance out of town? I have never driven anyone to this hotel from the airport,” he sighed, gazing at me, with what I thought trepidation, in the rear-view mirror, decked out in my aviator’s moll getup, which I’d describe as casual flying attire on a cold, late-wintery day, complete with hooded puffer jacket and riding boots. I subsequently realised the fear reflected in this friendly cabbie’s eyes was for my husband’s wellbeing. Any discerning travelling gal would have chastised her husband but as I was trying to control my mirth at the fearful look on my husband’s face on arriving at our hotel, I decided to go easy.

Attractive features of our resort in Shepparton.


Quirk, blessed dining and the Aussie Hotel.

Secura Lifestyle Resort, yes, resort, no less, overlooked an apple orchard in early bloom, which did help soften the blow. I was not expecting a Relais & Chateaux establishment but this was ridiculous.

In our travels around the globe, I have experienced deep disappointment once or twice in the choices of accommodation we had booked online and the last time I was almost traumatised on arrival at such a hotel, was at Lake’s Entrance, where the décor and colour scheme of our room evoked thoughts of people on serious psychedelic drugs and eternally stuck in the sixties. I recall an electric-blue bathroom, fuchsia-pink shower, complemented by a show-stopping orange- and blue-themed bedroom. That particular motel was for sale and we forgave them for not updating their décor, eventually.

As this Shepparton establishment also served as a bungalow-styled residential piece of real estate, I was less forgiving. For starters, the TV, which had no reception, was in the kitchenette, and so was the built-in heater. A small table with two very hard chairs did not make for convivial hospitality in this kitchen. The fact it was a cold night was reason enough for turning in early after a post-lunch walk through the town. The bed and linen proved clean and comfortable, whilst the electric blanket almost brought a tear of joy to my eye; however, on discovering it had gone past its sell-by date, same as the television, the tear almost became a sob. However, I’m a big girl and came armed with a hefty Jeffrey Archer novel and my (mostly) trusty sense of humour.

Husband, happy about the lack of pummelling by disappointed spouse, drifted off to sleep and I must have dozed off soon after goodnight kisses were exchanged, only to be awakened by someone unlocking our unit door and entering it at midnight! Being of South African origin, I do not have to be wide awake to sound like a scary witch to frighten off intruders. My loud, deep-voiced outrage frightened said intruder to such an extent he jumped down three steps onto the room deck, looking ashen in the bright porch light, with me, now clad in my oversized winter dressing gown, towering over him from the doorway – all 5’3” of my statuesque persona.

His companion cowered behind the deck pillar, clutching the additional bedding dropped off in waterproof zip-bags by the resort staff as at this resort, you pay extra for additional bedding for an extended family, in their case, the children huddled on the back seat of their UV. I know this as I saw several pairs of big, frightened eyes visible at window-level. The thud I’d heard on the deck earlier must have been the delivery of said bedding, which I, now an Aussie, believed to be a hefty possum or kangaroo bouncing about, thinking nothing of it. If I’d heard this noise when still living in South Africa, I’d have called the night patrol, or, worse, used my scary voice to send them packing.

Once I realised we were not under siege and these people were booked into the same room as us for the night, and the man with the key expressed his concern about where they might have to spend the night, it was agreed they’d call the night manager to sort out their problem. After all, we were there first – finders keepers.

No sooner had they left to secure another room and we were sleepily discussing this annoying mix-up, there was a loud banging on our door. This time Andrew responded, bellowing, “what the hell is the matter now,“ to which the hospitality night person identified themselves and responded with, “what is your surname?” Andrew provided this information with a finale that left no room for argument, “now go away, please.” Always the gent.

Still looking at the bright side and of course, trying to live the good life, we did enjoy some aspects of this mostly industrial town, known for its prolific production of fruit.

The Aussie Hotel on the main street did a fine job of an Aussie burger for me, not gourmet, mind, but packed with fresh goodness and high cholesterol, and a vegetable wrap for Andrew. We strolled around the vibrant town and decided churches were not the rage here and saw two, on the same road, turned into business premises, one being a restaurant and the other a lifestyle boutique with a charity shop attached to it, and further renovations evident at the time of our visit. Heartening to see the Victorian architecture was being preserved and this endeared the town to us somewhat.

I don’t think we’ll be visiting Shepparton again in a hurry but during our reconnaissance of the town, we spotted some interesting and quirky hotels, any of which, I’m sure, would have been a better choice than our out-of-town resort but might not have made for such an eventful night – or lively (I hope) blog.

We had stocked up at Coles in the town with breakfast and light dinner goodies, and bubbles for me, and we managed to high-tail it out of there early enough after breakfast the following day, when our taxi driver was not in the least surprised we were not spending an additional night. This, our third driver during this brief visit, was as friendly and informative as the lads we encountered on the previous day. Another tick in the box for the town.

Breakfast before departure, the alpine snow-capped mountains and galah  landing at Coldstream airfield.

On our return flight, we waxed lyrical about the picturesque terrain, mountains, woods, lakes and rivers of the delightful state of Victoria, and with good visibility, we even spotted the snow-capped mountain peaks of the alpine region in the distance. With an endearing tailwind and gentle rainfall, our return journey was much shorter and being welcomed by fellow aviators at Coldstream Airfield, where I believe some of our pals are still sniggering about our choice of getaway on a cold, wet weekend, made us realise how much we love living in the glorious Yarra Valley. Cheers to The Good Life.

Immersed in romance and wine – a family affair

By Tilly Smith Dix


My neighbour is a charming woman and in the past year we’ve managed to meet at different locations to sample good food and wine, when she is not travelling the world. She had mentioned her and her husband’s winery and event destination but never in a boastful way. I like that.

Having visited and reviewed several vineyards and eateries in our valley of plenty, I was in search of a destination with a focus on romance. After some research, I came across Immerse in the Yarra Valley, which looked promising as it was open for lunch and wine tasting on weekends, whilst a luxe wedding, events and conference destination during the week.

Once I realised this was indeed the winery owned by my neighbour Helen and her husband Stephen Myles, I requested a tour and was offered a wine tasting on a Saturday, which was arranged and confirmed by Alyce, one of several gems employed at Immerse.

The drive from Coldstream along the Melba Highway to Dixons Creek via Yarra Glen is a delight and as always, I enjoyed crossing the Yarra River meandering through the valley, with rolling hills, creeks, pastures, woodlands and vineyards that are balm for the soul.

Early spring vistas along the Melba Highway to Dixons Creek.

The diverse designs and locations of the wineries of the Yarra Valley never cease to fascinate me and I was charmed by the unpretentiously beautiful Immerse estate. My delight blossomed further by the engaging warmth of the staff, not to mention sublime design as well as some quirky décor touches in the restaurant and bedrooms.

The spacious restaurant and cellar door are complemented by enormous picture windows, optimising the natural light of the interiors and embracing vistas of the magical gardens, including a coveted rose garden surrounded by vines and moss-green rolling hills.

Immerse restaurant and cellar door spaces bathed in natural light.

My engaging guide and sommelier, Peta, proved a mine of useful information and her passion for Immerse enhanced my experience even further, thus making up my mind to book for lunch soon to revisit this authentic destination with Andrew.

The charming wedding chapel, romantic gardens, vines and ornamental lake, and heritage as well as modern boutique accommodation comprising 20 rooms, are a pleasure to behold and I marvel at how this property had evolved over the years, reflecting the vision of the owners, to create a unique experience, immersed in warmth, beauty, romance, and delectable food and wine.

Heritage accommodation and magical gardens on a cold, rainy day.

Offering bespoke weddings and conferences to suit any style or desire, complemented by the sublime vistas enhanced further by kangaroos frolicking in the vines in the late afternoon, Immerse offers solace for the city-weary corporate soul or stressed bride.

To add to the serenity, Pilates in the Vines is proving popular, and relaxation massages and yoga are available to conference guests.

Catering for between 50 and 200 guests per event, Immerse is far enough from the city to escape urban hype, yet close enough for a scenic drive from vibrant Melbourne.

The chapel and new annex reflect charm and character.

Helen and Stephen purchased the property in 2001 from Brian Love, spent two years renovating it and launched Immerse in 2003. Their daughter Katie is part of the management team and it is evident this locale is in her blood.

The vines, planted in the mid-80s, were lovingly tended and today, all the Immerse wines are produced offsite at Rob Dolan Wines in Warrandyte South.

My Immerse wine tasting was exquisite and some lunch guests opted to join me as they found my enthusiasm contagious, while Peta’s knowledge and charm proved irresistible to them too. As we continued our tasting journey, they too became enamoured by it all as the ten tasting wines were full of tantalising surprises:

Sommelier Peta, left, and inspirational spaces, fit for any occasion.

White and rose:

  1. Immerse Sparkling Chardonnay (non-vintage): robust and refreshing, would be ideal with a summer cheese platter – I could smell spring and laughter, resulting in this being my choice of wine to take home to savour with my favourite marinara.
  2. 2015 Oscars Reserve Chardonnay – citrus, fruit driven, modern style: light, summer nose, with a hint of honey and nut – pure delight. I love the sentiment of the family, commemorating their much loved, now residing in heaven, golden retriever, Oscar.
  3. 2015 Immerse Chardonnay – nectarine, buttery, subtle oak styled: works well with savoury and cheese platters and not heavy on the palate, which works for me.
  4. 2016 Yarra Valley Wine Company Rose: strawberry, apple, lingering finish: pretty, strawberry nose, a refreshing tipple for summer.
  5. Yarra Valley Wine Co Moscato (non-vintage) – real fruit and 7.5% alcohol, sweet bubbly: not a lover of sweeter wines, this one charmed me as it was refreshing and vibrant; would complement a baked cheese cake – dancing on the tongue, as any self-respecting dessert wine should.


  1. 2015 Oscars Reserve Pinot Noir – earthy, dry: the earthy, layered tones reminded me of truffles, ending with a dry note, which would age well – buy plenty and keep it in the cellar, although I liked the young reserve just fine.
  2. 2016 Yarra Valley Wine Co Shiraz – subtle spice, dark berries: deep in colour with a spicy, deep nose, the silky-smooth nectar could also be matured at home.
  3. 2016 Oscars Reserve Cabernet – floral with black cherry and fine tannins: gentle nose, I loved the dark cherry notes.
  4. 2014 Sam’s Cabernet Sauvignon – another tribute to a beloved pet, offering black fruits and liquorice notes: this would be the ideal gift for my husband at Christmas, a perfect mature wine to enjoy with a juicy steak or simply to sip in front of a log fire, as it exudes warmth and depth.
  5. Immerse Sparkling Shiraz (non-vintage) – strawberry sweet bubbly: not cloyingly sweet and I liked the cranberry notes – I’d savour this one with a good curry.

I look forward to revisiting Immerse Yarra Valley to savour the cuisine and judging by the conviviality of the diners during my visit last Saturday, it is an experience to indulge in sooner rather than later. Next step is to join the Immerse Wine Club for less 50% on our first case of wine, with more discounts depending on 6- or 12-pack case purchases. Not too shabby. Watch this space.

See more at immerse.com.au – ah, cheers to the good life!

Fashion with a Conscience


The La Luna bamboo lycra skirt and t-shirt are proving ideal late winter and early spring choices in Melbourne – with the option of a stylish tunic for cooler days. Dressed up for office or casual or leisure chic, this is effortless fashion. Colours range from charcoal to mustard, and I opted for the rich tobacco shade pictured above.

Fashion update: Mooning about La Luna


By Tilly Smith Dix


Some people talk a lot and dream a lot, and others simply get on with realising their life’s dream of making a difference.

Belinda Phillips, founder owner of La Luna Lifestyle fashion boutique in Sydney fits the latter category, and so much more. This former South African is an international designer and collaborates on environmentally friendly fabrics for fabulous, easy-to-wear fashion for women of all ages. Part of her admirable fashion design ethos is to support manufacturers who mentor previously disadvantaged people through teaching them valuable skills, thereby enabling them to live sustainable lives.

Such skills include creating seemingly seamless fashion ranges which have those smart enough to invest in Belinda’s La Luna Lifestyle designs clamouring for more, from the boardroom to the bedroom.

One of Belinda’s favoured fabrics is manufactured from organically grown Asian bamboo, which is combined with lycra to allow for stretch and durability. Bamboo is easily decomposed and has little waste matter in the production process, in contrast with most other fabrics, including cotton, she says.

Importing her designs from around the world, including South Africa, Belinda is determined to lighten the industry’s carbon footprint.

Belinda Phillips La Luna a 20 July 2017.jpg

When gorgeous Belinda, pictured above, and I made contact as South Africans now firmly ensconced in Australia, we sensed a connection. Her focus on cherishing the planet and its people inspired me, while her sensational designs impressed me.

Belinda shipped a La Luna Lifestyle bag of her current leisure range to me and I’m hooked. The feather-light garments would also complement my travel bag, which has been a challenge, until now! The fact that the versatile pieces are also easy to wash, whilst crease-resistant, scores further points.

The La Luna Lifestyle attire I’ll be wearing the minute spring peeps through the rhododendrons in Melbourne include:

  • Lycra skirt (@$75) and t-shirt (@$65), with option of the tunic – limited edition Italian fabric reduced to $88 (from $110) – for colder days. I like the warm tobacco shade.
  • The hooded button-detail Sunwear tunic, retails @ $120 – the ink-blue was my colour of choice. The matching leggings are ideal for leisure- or active-wear, whilst the boho chic, slouch Sunwear pants have pockets to complement the comfortable fit, retailing @ $110.
  • The synthetic fur wool-polyester blend waistcoat in metallic grey, retails @ $75 – it is ideal for dressing up or down, with attitude.
  • The all-purpose metal grey long-sleeve T-shirt with defining stitch pattern, is ideal for casual or active wear, and retails @ $65.
  • The luxe cropped striped dove-grey top is ideal to wear with the rest of the La Luna Lifestyle pieces or as a hero item with skirts, shorts or jeans.

I am a sucker for effortless glamour and tend to keep clothes for ages, as stated in previous Retail Therapy fashion blogs. Therefore, for this long-term lifestyle investment shopper, the La Luna ranges offer endless possibilities.

Belinda reports all her customers are loving the flexible designs, suitable for smart wear and even pyjamas, with pregnant moms-to-be looking and feeling stunning too.

Of course, those Sydneysiders are already luxuriating in the spring collection as they enjoy a more temperate winter than us Melbournians. I look forward to my La Luna Lifestyle spring 2017, and The Good Life!

Find La Luna Lifestyle on Facebook and visit the convivial boutique in Vaucluse, Sydney, where the service is awesome. Available in Melbourne via tilly@dix.co.za – email your requests to me for action.

A flying visit to Tyabb


By Tilly Smith Dix


Tilly does Tilly’s


Such fun playing hookey with my private pilot. Of course, there is, as the saying goes, no such thing as a free lunch and I still await the payback request from himself but, for now, I’m basking in the afterglow of an exquisite flight over Mount Dandenong, Silvan and Cardenia Dams, and a feather-soft landing at Tyabb on the Mornington Peninsula.

Coldstream Sling 4 lineup July 2017 Coldstream flying club windsock and cows July 2017

Taking off from Coldstream Aerodrome was a breeze, without as much as a ghost of a breeze, as the image of the windsock will confirm. This is always a bonus, especially when removing the airplane covers, or rather, my pilot’s Number One Wife’s apparel! Agility does not count for much when you are slight of frame and flapping around with those covers in a stiff wind.

On an almost cloudless, azure-sky day in the Yarra Valley, we flew over one of my favourite places in the world, the Dandenongs, and I could see Kalorama, Olinda, Sassafras and Emerald clearly as we were flying just high enough to miss the mountain but low enough to see to almost forever on a clear winter’s day.

Coldstream Sling flight Olinda Mount Dandenong July 2017 Coldstream Sling Cardenia Dam July 2017

Within twenty-five minutes we were disembarking at Tyabb airfield, where we took a leisurely fifteen-minute stroll into the laid-back little town to find a casual spot for lunch. The town is well-known for its antique shops. It is worth a leisurely browse to reminisce about yester-year, objets d’art and memorabilia we remember from our grandparents’ homes. From refurbished French period pieces to gramophones and Priscilla meets camp glam, there is something for everyone.

En route to the town centre, we popped into a restaurant we’d visited before but opted for a quieter space on this day as this being winter school holidays, every mommy and toddler within a 10km radius was out to catch up with their besties while the kiddies could play in the child-friendly surroundings. Too noisy for us, so, on we strolled.

Coldstream to Tyabb sailing below July 2017 Tyabb walk from airfield plantlife July 2017

We spotted two chaps walking towards us, looking rather pleased with themselves on a cold day. We asked if they knew of a good spot for lunch and the answer came swiftly, “for a good old-fashioned, look no further than Tilly’s on the main street, just up there to the left,” said the elder of the two. Turns out they were also on a flying visit, and on their way back to the airfield.

Tilly’s Café and Tearoom offered a delightful ‘old-fashioned’ everything, from friendly, bantering service to an aromatic baked potato with bacon and coleslaw for my pilot to the flavoursome cottage pie, complete with grilled cheese on top, and loads of minced beef, laden with carrots and peas for moi. Just like my darling departed mama used to make it!

Tilly's at Tyabb July 2017 entrance Tyabb Tilly's interior July 2017

The décor is quirky and I believe Miss Marple would have approved of the teapots, clocks, cottage furniture, antiques, and old lace – minus the arsenic – on display.

Take mom, gran, the spouse, heck, anyone you adore as the atmosphere is warm and it feels like home, the old-fashioned kind.

Tilly's at Tyabb Cottage Pie July 2017 Tyabb Tilly's bacon and slaw baked potato July 2017

The hot chocolate was tall, hot, and creamy, complete with two marshmallows served on the side. It being a cold day, I did slurp mine up way too fast for a lady, so, forgive my not taking a snap thereof. This Good Life scout embraces warm hospitality, people and places that creep into the heart – the full enchilada, 57km from Melbourne city, a mere 25 minutes by air from Coldstream.

Late winter pleasures in the Yarra Valley


By Tilly Smith Dix


The good life is evolving and winter serves an exquisite plethora of guilty pleasures here in the valley of plenty, the captivating Yarra Valley, a mere 45-minute drive from Melbourne.

Lunch in Healesville

We celebrated our wedding anniversary at the Healesville Hotel on a Saturday, which proved a fabulous choice, arranged by my husband, who knows I adore the picturesque town – and its delightful fashion and homeware boutiques. Of course, there is the superb Healesville Animal Sanctuary, which is a major tourist attraction, but having spent many hours exploring the world-class attraction some time ago, today was about romance, good food and getting cosy.

Our lunch in the hotel restaurant proved a triumph. The ambience was indeed cosy, with a touch of yester-year romance in the decor, complemented by a spacious layout allowing privacy for diners, with crackling log fires and convivial views of the outdoor dining spaces in the garden setting. It being a sunny day, we were not surprised so many diners opted to soak up some vitamin D outside, some with their offspring.

The rib eye steak from the daily special board proved juicy and grilled to a perfect, tender medium-rare. Accompanied by an impressively crispy clad potato croquette, which was voluptuously creamy below the surface. The steak, topped with butter-caramelised onion, was served with a delicately flavoured mustard cream, all of which fused beautifully with my NV Mandala brut.

Speaking of brut, the handsome brute also picked his main from the specials board, settling on the slow roasted chicken with spinach, luxuriating in cauliflower mash.

The baked ginger and walnut pudding with butterscotch sauce proved a wise choice to share on a chilly winters day as we had unfashionably finished every morsel on our plates but felt the need to sample something sinfully sweet.

The service at Healesville Hotel could not be faulted. The informative, helpful staff skipped painfully pretentious and overly familiar chatter, getting the service balance just right for us to feel well-looked after. The chef caters for special dietary requirements, contributing to our decision to embrace this restaurant as one of our new favourite dining destinations in this enchanting region.

Ah, the good life…

The Shortest Lunch

– a winter solstice tale of meandering through the smaller wineries of the Yarra Valley

On a cold, wet, rainy Saturday, we joined some friends for our first annual Shortest Lunch wine tour through the smaller wineries of our magical valley. However, being relative newcomers to the region, we broke the rules and decided we so enjoyed the atmosphere, vistas over the Yarra Ranges, and wine at Payne’s Rise in picturesque Seville, this maiden meander became a not-so-short lunch.

Our table of some 16 people, most of whom have known each other for many years, made us feel like we belonged and we are delighted to call them new friends, with special gratitude to Paul and Lara, who invited us to join this plucky group. Many stories of years spent in this spectacular region, with many of us originating from other corners of the globe, now settled here, abounded, making for a heart-warming time on a chilly day.

The Yarra Valley is beautiful any time of the year, but, with me being an autumn and winter person, the drama of billowing dark clouds over the mountains, valleys and gentle hills, soft rain, eventually clearing in that silvery glow that turns to white gold, made for a convivial, special day.

The lunch, of which I chose the crispy pork belly with mild chilli mayo and coleslaw in a soft but firm baguette, proved too hefty as I’m not big on carbohydrates. The slices of pork belly were scrumptious, though, and I did manage half of the baguette to ensure my belly was sufficiently lined for the delicious bubbles, which I was familiar with. I’m told the pumpkin and sage ravioli with charred capsicum, Yarra Valley Persian fetta and herb salad, as well as the cheese box with fig and walnut roulade proved excellent menu choices. Some ladies, who’d done this tour before, ordered the kid’s burgers, which were perfectly sized and tasty. The regular menu was not available as this was, after all, about the tasting of the fruit of the vine in its mature, perfectly processed liquid form.

So, instead of utilising my glass, which one purchases for keeps on arrival, for wine-tasting, I opted for the Payne’s Rise Premier Cuvet by the glass instead. Too old to waste time on merely tasting when I know I want to spend quality time savouring the familiar bubbles in good company, I told the new friends. I purchased a healthy stash of this flavoursome elixir to continue the joy back home in the months to come.

Tim and Narelle Cullen have created a veritable feast for the eyes on the boutique wine estate and take pride in their varietal fruit-driven wines with complexity. They should be proud, and I bet Thomas Payne, the first settler in Seville and the original owner of the 1860s homestead now incorporated in the estate, would be proud too. Not sure if his spirit roams the estate but I’ll let you know when I find out.

Good idea to either utilise a local taxi or secure a designated teetotaller driver for the day. In this instance, for a change, I was the driver, savouring only two glasses of the heavenly nectar at lunch so himself could indulge in some luscious reds, for which he gave the thumbs up.

By late afternoon we decided to move on to Five Oaks Vineyard a few kilometres down the track, in Wandin East, for coffee and the family’s famous Canadian pancakes. Our tasting glasses afforded us further wine tasting at this vineyard, in which some of our clan indulged but we were ready for the sweet stuff, given the sun was setting early as the clouds were gathering to bless us with more gentle rain. My husband reports the Five Oaks cabernet sauvignon to be a triumph. Very happy for him and his broad smile and rosy glow certainly reflected his joy.

The small family-run vineyard was established in 1978 as Oakridge Estate by the Zitzlaff family, and renamed Five Oaks in 1998 by Judy and Wally Zuk, owners since 1995, in honour of the five 85-year old oak trees elegantly guarding the pristine vineyard.  I did not get to meet Katie the cat and hope to make her acquaintance soon as I am told she is a sweetie.

The locally produced beef sausage and 50-year old family pancake recipe served with maple syrup provided a perfect, old-fashioned finale to another perfect day in the glorious Yarra Valley.

The smaller wineries we did not get to visit during the winter solstice Shortest Lunch Wine Tour, comprise Badger’s Brook, Billanook Estate, Boat O’Craigo, Brumfiled Winery, Elmswood Estate, Miller’s Dixons Creek Estate, Seville Estate, Seville Hill, Steels Creek Estate, Tokar Estate, Warramunda Estate, Whispering Hills, Wild Cattle Creek and Yering Farm Winery. We intend to visit them soon.

The live music was a pleasant touch at both of the estates visited and I commend the guitarist at Five Oaks for his soothing, light touch, which proved non-intrusive and easy to listen to whilst lazily conversing with our new mates.

Wine Compass is a nifty wine tour company specialising in the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula regions. Take time out with your team, partner or mates to cherish the beauty of the glorious vineyards of Victoria, for a bespoke tour of savouring the fruits of the best vines, and in style – view at www.winecompass.com.au and mention my name to director Adam Nicholls! His team takes the stress out of driving and planning your route.

Oakridge Winery Coldstream vista 2017
Oakridge Winery in Coldstream is one of the top vineyards you could visit when booking your tour with Wine Compass. It happens to be one of my top choices for dining and wining.

We are immensely grateful for the panoramic surrounds and myriad vineyards we have in our midst, living the good life. Savour every moment…life’s too short to quaff rubbish wine.