Head for the hills: The best regional wine bars in Victoria

Union Street Wine Bar is a big town/little bar in Geelong that exudes plenty of heart.
Union Street Wine Bar is a big town/little bar in Geelong that exudes plenty of heart.  Photo: Nic Stephens Photography

The time for a road trip is now. Regional wine bars and tasting rooms have never been better. Nationwide lockdowns and border restrictions caused many venue owners to think deeply about their offering. Some used the downtime to reinvigorate their space, others embarked on a tree change, moving from the CBD to the countryside. Rural towns and cities are buzzing with energy and are ready to welcome thirsty visitors. These Victorian regional watering holes offer something special. Just be sure to book ahead – a seat at the bar is hot property.

Archive Wine Bar

Archive, in the southern suburb of Geelong, offers a carefully curated selection of wines by the glass (more than 150), craft beer and spirits from difficult-to-find distilleries. The Short List is a showcase of what staff members are drinking now and spans sparkling, white, rose and reds. The Long List dives deeper; from special occasion champagne (Taittinger 2007 Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs at $425 a bottle) to a rollicking, sense-tingling exploration of varieties from faraway lands. Zorah 2017 Voski from Vayots Dzor (a province of Armenia) anyone? Thrilling.

140 High Street, Belmont, archivewinebar.com.au

The first flush of snacks at Bar Midland includes cheesy gougere with mountain pepper.
For Good Food, August 17, 2021
Pic credit: Tim Grey

The first flush of snacks at Bar Midland. Photo: Tim Grey

Bar Midland

Castlemaine's Bar Midland opened in June 2021 and has served top-notch snacks and Victorian drinks since. The focus here is on organic and regenerative farming, both in the restaurant and bar. There's a small but interesting booze-free section, too. Business owners chef Alexander Marano (The Good Table) and Loudon Cooper (previously manager at Theatre Royale) are feeling festive. On December 25, the bar serves as a one-day-only bottle-o from 10am to 3pm. Expect cheap bottles, beer and bottled cocktails. Marano's panettone and bouquets of flowers (by florist Dani Marano) will be available by pre-order for pick-up on Christmas Day. Cut-off for orders is 48 hours prior.

1/2 Templeton Street, Castlemaine, barmidland.com

grace. by milkin kitchen

Head for Victoria's High Country for a plate of rock oysters and a sundowner on Rutherglen's historic main drag. This bar-meets-canteen opened on July 22 and serves European-inspired dishes. The wine list is a love letter to Rutherglen producers. It's the kind of eatery that seamlessly transitions from breakfast to lunch, and late on weekends.

84 Main Street, Rutherglen, milkinkitchen.com.au

Grampians Wine Cellar

Owner Simon Freeman fell in love with the towering Grampians while working at the Royal Mail Hotel. Freeman worked with Dan Hunter at Brae (where he ran the floor) and now slings a wonderful array of wine, craft beer, cider and spirits at his own lovely little Halls Gap haunt. "I opened in June 2020, after building delays and one lockdown," he says. "The main focus of the shop is to provide a relaxed and welcoming environment to enjoy the best wines of the region." Part wine store, part picturesque place to sip, Grampians Wine Cellar ticks plenty of boxes. Freeman proudly champions wines from the Grampians wine region and nearby western Victorian regions – with an emphasis on small producers and the region's famous historic vineyards. Take a seat on the deck and select from 30 wines by the glass. The mountain views are everything here. It's quite gobsmacking. Neighbouring Raccolto Pizzeria serves their full menu, including share platters to guests drinking on the deck.


Shop 3, 2 Heath Street, Halls Gap, grampianswinecellar.com.au

Harvest Food & Wine

Make a beeline for Bendigo, specifically the arts district, for breakfast, brunch and a beverage or two. Head chef Brent Loam prepares dishes with an Italian twist. A vintage croissant (with San Daniele prosciutto and comte cheese), a smoked salmon plate or rotisserie chicken are breakfasts of champions. Pair with prosecco for the ultimate day-starter. The wine list is small but lovely. Harvest produces North Run Wine from North Harcourt and also offers wine by small producers across central Victoria.

55 View Street, Bendigo, harvestbendigo.com.au

Many Little Dining & Bar

Polperro and Even Keel winemaker Sam Coverdale opened Many Little Dining & Bar in Red Hill in early 2019. When lockdowns pressed pause on an influx of visitors, Coverdale and his team thought deeply about their offering. Executive chef Gayan Pieris' Sri Lankan fare was sold as takeaway and bar manager Douglas Duvoisin's cocktails took a turn to the take-home variety. "COVID let us nut out what we're about and offer something completely unique," Coverdale says. "When we reopened, we decided to go full Sri Lankan and modern Asian. The bar now has equal weighting to the dining room (which offers a set menu at $130/head)." The bar, beautifully fitted out by Hecker Guthrie, is pumping. Local wine, Aussie sparkling, eight local beers on tap, and high-end cocktails add to the fun (give the Ceylon Old Fashioned a whirl). Sri Lankan street food and the high-end Singaporean bar snacks are stellar too. Think chicken ambulthiyal, hot butter mushrooms, coal grilled duck or a bowl of curry for one – all served late into the night and made using produce from Polperro Organic Farm. "Local winemakers come down for a drink and chefs drop by on Sunday nights after work," Coverdale says.

2-5, 159 Shoreham Road, Red Hill South, manylittle.com.au

Noble Rot

Not to be confused with the London bar and magazine of the same name, this coastal hangout is run by proprietors Trish Barry and her son Jordan. Community spirit runs deep here. "We aim to create a laid-back coastal vibe where the wine is the main feature," Jordan says. Go straight for the Coravin offering, where special drops are served by the glass. It's a great chance to try the 2015 Domaine Rougeot Bourgogne Chardonnay from Burgundy, the 2017 Robert Weil Kiedrich Turmberg Riesling from Rheingau, Germany, or the 2020 By Farr "Farrside" Pinot Noir out of Geelong, Victoria. Indoors, the menu ranges from substantial dishes such as a half chicken cooked over coals or a Cape Grim sirloin (for two). Outdoors, charcuterie and cheese are king.

51 Point Lonsdale Road, Point Lonsdale, noblerotwine.com.au

52 Weekends Away
(handout photo, no syndication)
Royal Mail Hotel
Credit-Emily Weaving

The award-winning Royal Mail Hotel wine cellar. Photo: Emily Weaving

Royal Mail Hotel wine cellar

It's been a month of celebration for the team at the Royal Mail Hotel wine cellar. Their 25,000-plus liquid arsenal recently earned them the World's Best Long Wine List award from Britain's World of Fine Wine magazine. Perhaps it had something to do with the largest privately owned collection of Bordeaux and Burgundy in the southern hemisphere. The location is something special. The Royal Mail Hotel Wine Cellar and associated restaurant Wickens call the Grampians National Park home. The wine list is an adventure. Rare beauties and back vintages span Australia, France (Barolo gets a lot of love), Germany, New Zealand, Austria, Georgia, Slovenia and Armenia. Education is at the heart of the cellar wine tutorials which are led by Royal Mail Hotel (at 3.30pm from Wednesday to Saturday). At $25 per person, it's great value. Priority is given to hotel guests but the general public can join on the day if not fully booked.

98 Parker Street, Dunkeld, royalmail.com.au

Andy Leigh and Lewis Phiddian at Union Street Wine Bar in Geelong.
For Katie Spain feature on regional wine bars. Good Food, Oct 8, 2021
Pic credit: Nic Stephens Photography

Andy Leigh and Lewis Phiddian at Union Street Wine Bar in Geelong. Photo: Nic Stephens Photography

Union Street Wine Bar

This big town/little bar exudes plenty of heart. Andy Leigh and Lewis Phiddian's wine library is utterly approachable and laid-back in style (think sundowners accompanied by Italian charm and snacks). The offering is thoughtful and far-reaching. Forget the worries of the world with the likes of Fleet Wines Pinot Noir (south Gippsland), A. Rodda 2020 Willowlake Vineyard Chardonnay, and exquisite Dormilona drops – all the way from Margaret River. There's also a decent line-up of grower champagne, German riesling, or Rhone's Herve Souhaut Syrah with a side of cheese and charcuterie. Turn on the out-of-office and let the good times roll.

8 Union Street, Geelong, unionstreetwine.com.au

Winespeake Cellar + Deli

Take a perch in front of Winespeake's floor-to-ceiling windows and watch dreamy Daylesford life go by. Jen and Owen Latta (from family-run winery Eastern Peake) previously ran Wine and the Country and neighbouring Dos Deli on Daylesford's main drag. This Vincent Street gem is a culmination of the two and specialises in the good things in life: fromage and fermented fruit. The wine list is curated by respected sommelier Jeremy Shiell, who dedicates 60 per cent of the spotlight to local drops from the Macedon Ranges, Ballarat, Bendigo and western Victoria. "Pinot noir and chardonnay are a big focus," Shiell says. "From here and from other parts of the world, like Burgundy."

Shop 4, 26 Vincent Street, Daylesford, winespeake.com.au