This is sponsored content by Visit Victoria
You don't expect to meet the CEO of an iconic, family-run Aussie business wearing high heels at a bar three hours northeast of Melbourne. But Eliza Brown – one of three fourth-generation siblings that own and run Rutherglen's All Saints Estate, St Leonard's Vineyard and Mount Ophir Estate – was eager to bring a Melbourne-style wine bar to the region. Five years later, Thousand Pound Wine Bar has won hearts with an exciting menu and inviting decor. "We can't assume that people are going to drop their standards when they leave Melbourne," says Brown. "Plus, we wanted a sophisticated experience, where women can get dressed up, come in and relax." Known for its award-winning muscat – a fortified wine categorised in part by age (but not exclusively so) - the town's welcome sign reads, "Sydney may have a nice harbour, but Rutherglen has a Great Port". And if you spot Brown at her bar (where she has reimagined the tipple in a duck liver and muscat parfait entrée), her local tips are just as valuable as the town's Gold Rush history.
Rutherglen is one of the oldest wine regions in Victoria, established in the 1850s. Jones Winery, founded by German Fritz Ruhe in 1860, and now owned by the third generation of Jones', is one of Brown's top picks (varieties include malbec, durif, shiraz and muscat). "It's my favourite on a Sunday afternoon with my family or friends who come up. And it's good because then Mandy has to do the dishes!" she jokes. "It's rustic and cozy in winter and in summer you can sit outside. It's just gorgeous." Brown also recommends Lake Moodemere Estate, which has produced wine (cab sauv, shiraz, riesling and more) and lamb (order it at the restaurant) for more than 160 years and six generations. It overlooks a natural billabong hugged by red gum forest. "The family is behind the counter, they're on the floor talking to people; all the generations are there. You walk in and immediately feel like you are a part of the family."
Mandy Jones, a fifth-generation winemaker at Jones Winery shows writer Sofia fermenting barrels, circa 1860. Photo: Supplied.
Main Street gold
You might also spot Brown in Main Street at James and Co. Wines, a small cellar door that opened in 2017 by Ricky and Georgie James. The couple step away from multi-generational labels in the region and create drops that pair well with food, such as sparkling sangiovese rose and pinot grigio. Grab a bottle and assemble your own cheese platter – they call it "cheese your own adventure". Nearby are arguably Victoria's best pies. Baking a golden reputation since 1996, Parker Pies' numerous awards suggest founder Fred Parker deserves the fanfare. The shop uses local ingredients where possible and sells more than 250,000 pastries and pies each year, from steak and kidney to kangaroo and croc. "There's usually a line out the front on a Saturday morning, especially after weddings in town," says Brown. "I know people who every time they come to Rutherglen, buy a box of frozen pies to take home."
Pass through vineyards and olive groves to Wahgunyah. Photo: Supplied.
Rutherglen's Pedal to Produce bike ride is 22 kilometres and takes around two and a half hours – although it's likely to stretch once you stop at all those cellar doors and restaurants. Start by hiring bikes and helmets at the new Caffeine Machine in town (visit the Rutherglen Radler E-Bike Hire Facebook page for more detail). Continue onto the Murray to Mountains rail trail, passing through vineyards and olive groves to Wahgunyah. It's not difficult to spot Rutherglen's 36-metre-tall wine bottle along the way, formerly the town's water tower. We recommend pre-ordering a picnic before to enjoy somewhere picturesque – in spring the canola fields blanket the landscape in canary yellow, making for a scenic break spot. Take your pick from this list of suggested picnic areas, or walk, ride or drive Jones' Gourmet Amble, for a leisurely sensory regional feast!
All Saints Estate hosts a number of annual events such as Polo in the Vines and the Feast High Country Festival program. In early June, the state's oldest wine festival (established in 1974), brings more wine tastings, tours, entertainment and live tunes when Winery Walkabout makes its annual appearance. The Rutherglen Country Fair is also worth a visit. One of the largest regional markets in Victoria, it's held on the Sunday of the Queen's Birthday long weekend and features over 300 stallholders with grape stomping competitions to enjoy between bargain shopping.
The best way to stay up to date with All Saints' events is to visit their online events page here.
Toast to two borders
Where else can you spend the day toasting in two states? The mighty Murray River runs behind All Saints Estate, but technically Victoria ends on the bank and turns into New South Wales in the water. Although not advertised on the website, on warm days Brown takes to the river and visitors can follow suit if they arrange it in advance. "We go and get a few blow-up boats from the two-dollar shop, throw an Esky on it, fill it up with wine and ice and float down the river for an afternoon," she says.
Where to stay
Something fancy: Mount Ophir Estate, a 140-acre farm and winemaking facility dating back to 1891, restored by the Brown family. Sleep in the three-storey French provincial tower (from $550).
Something affordable: Tuileries features 12 rooms with individual decks overlooking De Bortoli vineyards in the centre of town (from $160).
Something different: Grapevine Glamping at Cofield Wines in a bell tent, complete with king-size bed, stargazing kit, breakfast and a complementary bottle (from $260).
Stay close, go further. Plan your next food and wine trip to Rutherglen: visitvictoria.com/wineries