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What to expect as Victorian wineries reopen

By Amelia Ball

Book ahead, forget shared spittoons and consider the vines out of bounds. We ask some of Victoria’s wineries what to expect from the new normal.

It’s been four long months of lockdown conditions for much of Victoria as the state battled its second wave of Covid-19, but restrictions are finally easing. Bars and restaurants were among the various businesses that could reopen this week, and the 25km travel limit for Melbourne residents will be dropped from November 9. Cue hordes of restless Melburnians heading for the hills.

This means many wineries around Victoria are either about to reopen or welcome back a flood of visitors. Being so close to Melbourne, almost all Yarra Valley wineries are technically in Metro Melbourne, as is the case for Rob Dolan Wines. This winery has been operating as a bottle shop in recent months, but from Monday (November 2), the venue will reopen with a slew of new features to keep guests and staff Covid-safe.

Rob Dolan Wines will offer three two-hour sessions a day, and the $5 table-booking fee includes GoVino “glasses” for the group to keep, which reduces the number of used items for staff to handle. Brunches run from 10am, complete with bubbles and pastries, and cheese packs are available throughout the day in a box with recyclable elements that people can also take home and reuse. Guided tastings are held at tables instead of the counter, and wine samples are served in takeaway piccolo cups, which each person pours into their glass to ensure the hygiene of the bottles. Shared spittoons are gone too – expect individual cups.

The brunch pack at Rob Dolan Wines
Start your day with pastries and Mimosas at Rob Dolan Wines.

Fellow Yarra Valley winery Yering Station is reopening its cellar door, restaurant, art gallery and gardens today (October 31). The renowned restaurant now offers two- or three-course choices to replace the a la carte menu, and bookings are essential. They are also unveiling an outdoor bar selling wine and casual food to be enjoyed around the grounds. Here, they will soon serve wines in a stemless polycarb glass that guests can also take home.

Visitors enjoying the outdoors at Yering Station
Yering Station now has an outdoor bar serving food and wine to enjoy around the grounds.

At Medhurst, which is set to reopen next Friday (November 6), its restaurant will hold two lunch sittings on Fridays and weekends, and again, bookings are essential. While visitors can arrive unannounced to enjoy wine, cheese and charcuterie al fresco, it’s recommended people still call ahead as numbers will be limited.

The sprawling lawn at Medhurst Dine in at Medhurst’s restaurant or enjoy a picnic set-up around the property.

The Mornington Peninsula also falls into Metro Melbourne, which Mornington Peninsula Wine CEO Olivia Barrie says caused some frustration among the region’s producers. “Most wineries are cheek-by-jowl with cows, acres of vines and the odd fox rather than the urban setting you’d associate with metropolitan,” she says. But the region has been busy transforming its offerings this year, delivering new services to their customers, including home-delivered meals and wine orders, and also transitioning cellar door staff to the vineyards to keep them busy.

Wineries across the Mornington Peninsula will reopen at various times over the coming weeks, with Olivia saying the producers want to make sure they do it properly. Ultimately, this means people need to book ahead to guarantee a premium, personal and Covid-safe winery experience. And with so many people set to enjoy the region’s outdoor spaces, Olivia adds that it’s also important for visitors to stay out of the vineyards to avoid the spread of pests and diseases, such as phylloxera.

In the north of Victoria, Rutherglen’s wineries have mostly been operating over the past few months, but it’s been very quiet. Winemakers of Rutherglen executive officer Annalee Nolan says producers have been making the most of this time with Covid-safe planning, capital projects and other improvements. “It’s a really pretty time of year up here and we’ve had a lot of recent rain, so it’s really green right now,” Annalee says. “Cellar doors are lucky that they generally have large open spaces for people to enjoy.”

Annalee agrees it’s important for people to book ahead so wineries can manage numbers and ensure positive experiences, such as with their revised wine tastings. “A lot of the tastings are now guided and go a lot slower than when people would stand around the counter,” Annalee says. “It’s much more authentic and a lot more about the experience.”

Plan your return to Victoria’s wineries with our wine region guides.

Amelia Ball is editor of Halliday magazine.