The discovery of gold in Beechworth in Victoria's north-east in the 1850s created an isolated town with majestic buildings, hewn from local granite and perched on the edge of a dramatic gorge. Today it is a hotbed of Australia's best winemakers and great food.
Every October winemaker turned brewer Ben Kraus turns on the oom pah pah and dons the lederhosen. He and his Austrian wife celebrate a traditional Oktoberfest at Bridge Road Brewers with pretzels, sausages and wall-to-wall guests decked out in leather shorts and flouncy, low-cut blouses. It's a weekend of fun and craft beer.
Saturday October 10-11, (03) 5728 2703, bridgeroadbrewers.com.au
From Melbourne, turn right at Wangaratta for one of the state's best destination restaurants, Provenance. This is Michael Ryan and Jeanette Henderson's multi award-winning, fine-dining restaurant in an old bank offering modern food with delicious Japanese influences. For example, the whipped butter is flavoured with smoked miso, the wine list is deep and diverse, as is the sake selection, and delicious sauces with fermented soy and bonito complement the dishes. A new local mushroom supplier has recently arisen so look out for Ryan's stunning grilled Japanese mushroom dish. Diagonally opposite is The Press Room Wine Bar. This was once home to the town's newspaper, hence the moniker, and the dining room is still covered with the original hand-split wood shingles. The menu is modern Spanish, think MoVida in the bush, with a few nods to the Middle East with spicy chickpea fritters and fried eggplant.
In the centre of town is the Ox and Hound Bistro. Come here for country-sized portions of modern bistro food, perfectly cooked. The duck breast is just rare, the scallops served with prawn and spring vegetables delicately translucent in the centre. A compact but appealing wine list highlights Beechworth wines. Up in Mayday Hills, the site of the historic asylum and gardens with century old trees, is the Breton Creperie at the George Kerferd Hotel. The dining room is perfunctory but come here for real Breton crepes, by French chef Michel Renoux. Sit on the deck surrounded by the rhododendrons and magnificent towering monkey puzzle trees. Eight kilometres out of town, through the eucalypt forest and past the cherry and apple orchards is the Stanley Pub. It's a historic hotel with a cosy bar and dining room with casual bistro food, such as a crisp-skinned fillet of salmon with steamed baby potatoes and spring vegetables. On a warm summer's evening enjoy a bottle of chilled rosé and a plate of Bridge Road beer-battered flathead in the garden under the weeping willow. For breakfast and light lunches try Beechworth Honey Discovery in the impeccably restored 19th-century Bank of New South Wales building. With kitchen garden, beehive and cooking school, this is a place to learn about the importance bees have in pollinating our food plants as well as making honey.
Provenance, 88 Ford Street, (03) 5728 1786, theprovenance.com.au
The Press Room Wine Bar, 37 Camp Street, (03) 5728 2360, thepressroomwinebar.com.au
The Ox and Hound Bistro, 52 Ford Street, (03) 5728 2123, oxandhound.com.au
The Breton Creperie, George Kerferd Hotel, Mayday Hills Village, (03) 5728 2618, gkhotel.com.au
Stanley Pub, 8 Myrtleford-Stanley Road, Stanley (03) 5728 6502, stanleypub.com.au
Beechworth Honey Discovery, 87 Ford Street, (02) 6033 2322, beechworthhoney.com.au
While Beechworth makes some of the best wines in the nation, it can be difficult to sample them. Cellar Door Wine Store in the main drag is a bottle shop, bar and cafe where you can order a little plate of cheese and charcuterie and one of the dozen or so local wines on offer from winemakers such as Sorrenberg and Savaterre. There is also a wall of really good wine from local winemakers at good prices. A few doors down is the Tanswells Commercial Hotel. This beautiful double-storey pub was built in 1853 and the main bar is a glorious space with moulded metal poles, an old fireplace, a wooden bar and gantry. It is called the Kelly bar after bushranger Ned – though whether he ever drank here is another matter. Come for the ice-cold Beechworth brews and really good bar snack menu, including the cod croquettes and quail scotch eggs.
Cellar Door Wine Store, 62 Ford Street, (03) 5728 2882, cellardoorwinestore.com.au
Tanswells Commercial Hotel, 50 Ford Street, (03) 5728 1480, tanswellshotelbeechworth.com.au
On the edge of town is the beautifully bucolic Pennyweight Winery where the Morris family grows grapes from which they make some of the most delightful gamay and pinot noir in the state. Their cellar door and winery is a series of corrugated iron sheds in the forest where visitors can try their incredibly Spanish sherry-like fino and oloroso. Further down the hill towards Wangaratta is Amulet Vineyard and Winery, a fun place specialising in approachable wines – they go so far as bottling some in stubbies. Down the road is Indigo Vineyard where they offer structured tasting involving two flights of four wines (four whites and four reds) with a little plate of cheese and olives – for free! Other great wineries such as Castagna (castagna.com.au) and Giaconda (giaconda.com.au) are not open to the public but accept visits from people genuinely interested in buying wine. We visited one such winery, Savaterre, where winemaker Keppell Smith, an eloquent bon vivant and raconteur, showed us around his brutalist but beautiful new winery complex before letting us taste his chardonnay and shiraz and home-made sausage. "We are pleased to meet people by appointment," he said. "We are small, boutique producers of quality wines so it doesn't make sense to run a cellar door but ring ahead to make sure we're around."
Pennyweight Winery, 13 Pennyweight Lane, (03) 5728 1747, pennyweight.com.au
Amulet Vineyard and Winery, 1036 Beechworth-Wangaratta Road, (03) 5727 0420, amuletvineyard.com.au
Savaterre, Beechworth-Wangaratta Road, (03) 5727 0551, savaterre.com
Diners at Provenance often stay in the Japanese-themed rooms with spa en suites built in the old stables on site. Across the road is Freeman on Ford. This is a private hotel with Victorian-themed en suite rooms with king-sized beds and a pool garden out back set in the old Oriental Bank building. 97 Ford Street, (03) 5728 2731, freemanonford.com.au
For comfortable, modern rooms with a view over the Mayday Hills gardens, try the George Kerferd Hotel. In the heart of town, in the colonial era Hotel Nicholas are comfortable art deco rooms in this authentic old pub. 1a Camp Street, (03) 5728 1051, hotelnicholas.com.au