A trip to Moorabool is not complete without a visit to Ray Lethbridge and his winery.

From the slightest pimple of a hillock to the bosom of hills, in a land as vast and overwhelmingly flat as Australia, a little undulation gives life a little perspective. The Moorabool Valley, a wrinkle in the Golden Plains that stretch west from Geelong, is no exception. Family-run cellar doors of all shapes and sizes are scattered throughout the rustic region, threaded together by the river that breathes life into the land. At every turn, there’s a secret waiting to be discovered, a new outlook to behold and many wines to be tried.

The wine region traces its roots back as far as the 1830s when Geelong first established itself as the gateway to the gold fields. The geology is rich, varied and well documented – the perfect combination to attract pioneers both past and present. The grapes were first planted by Swiss settlers in the 1840s who brought vines with them from Europe.  

Fast-forward to today, and the region is thriving thanks to a collection of family-owned wineries. The Geelong wine region, of which the Moorabool valley is a part, enjoys a cool climate, rich soils and low rainfall. While pinot noir and chardonnay are the mainstay, you’ll also find shiraz and cabernet alongside some unexpected whites. Most wineries are only open for the weekend so plan your trip accordingly.

The Geelong Cellar Door is a great spot to try regional wines.

Day One

There’s no better place to start your adventure than Lethbridge Wines ( lethbridgewines.com). If you’re lucky enough to be hosted by enigmatic winemaker Ray Nadeson, be sure to allow plenty of time because his insights, passion and – of course – wines will leave you wanting for more. Twenty-five years ago, with two science doctorates between them and a desire to create something tangible, Nadeson and partner Maree Collis put down their lab coats and picked up their shovels, ready to plant some vines. Combining their analytical minds, creative spirits, and a desire to be outside, Lethbridge Wines was born. After years of hard work, trialling and testing, honing and refining, the resulting wines are a marvel.

Sourcing fruit from their own vineyard and others around the Geelong region, Henty and further afield, Nadeson says he wants to make, as the French would say, “nervous wines”. Crafting nervous wines full of tension, that seamlessly combine the expected with the unexpected, is no mean feat. Nadeson leaves no detail to chance; from vine to bottle; every decision is analysed. Not happy with any old barrels, Nadeson’s are crafted from individual trees he’s selected from the forest and toasted to perfectly complement the parcel of grapes he’s spent the year diligently growing. The resulting wines are full of energy, showcasing the quality of the fruit without ever being fruity in profile. All the wines are savoury and complex with a clean finish that Nadeson signs off with in all his wines. Don’t leave without trying some of the single site chardonnay and pinot noir.

Ravensworth’s Bryan Martin makes wines that get noticed.

If you can extract yourself from the wines at Lethbridge, your next stop must be Clyde Park ( clydepark.com.au). The restaurant and cellar door were originally bought as a weekender by owners Terry Jongebloed and Sue Jongebloed-Dixon, but it’s the ideal spot to enjoy your own weekend. The cellar door, a modern take on a rustic farmhouse, sits atop a natural amphitheatre with 180-degree views of the vineyards below. Greeted by friendly staff, the sumptuous smell of wood-fired pizzas and the chitter-chatter of friends and family enjoying themselves, you’ll find it hard not to park up and spend the afternoon sampling your way through the estate wines. The food is inspired – and cooked – by Jongebloed-Dixon. There’s hearty starters to share and pizzas with a twist: Peking duck; turkey, brie and cranberry; or, our personal favourite, roast lamb with all the trimmings. The wine list has current and museum releases; be sure to work through their single site pinot noir and E Block shiraz – both reflect the vineyard’s varied terroir. If you do find yourself there for the afternoon, check out the friends and neighbours’ collection of wines from other producers around the region.

After indulging in the delights of the valley from above, it’s time to dip down and enjoy it from below. Moorabool Ridge ( mooraboolridge.com.au) provides an insight into what life might have been like for pioneers in the 1800s. The cellar door, an old shepherd’s hut, once part of Clyde Station, was built in 1856 from locally quarried stone. Owner Tim Harrop bought the property off the fourth-generation Scottish family who first lived in the hut. He planted all the vines himself in 1982, when he was inspired to have a crack after a wine weekend in the Yarra.

Today Harrop focuses on growing the best grapes he can, leaving the winemaking to Ray Nadeson at Lethbridge. You must try Harrop’s award-winning semillon, contrast and compare his Bordeaux blends and sample the shiraz vertical. If time and your tummy permit, have a taste of Harrop’s homemade jams and chutneys as you sit on the terrace overlooking the vineyard and river beyond. Everything is homegrown except the mango and onion, and one day soon, there might be homegrown olives on the blackboard, too. Olives or not, this cellar door is the perfect place to bring your family one sunny afternoon.

Provenance Wines.

Trace the Moorabool River all the way to Geelong, where it meets the Barwon River in green and leafy Fyansford. The old paper mill, nestled in the shadows of the riverbank, is home to cafes, galleries and the Provenance Wines ( provenancewines.com.au) cellar door. Having spent the day immersing yourself in the detail of the valley, this is a chance to zoom out and experience the culinary and vinous delights the region at large has to offer. The chef’s selection degustation walks you through wines past and present. Let the team’s knowledge, enthusiasm and theatrics take you away for a night of perfectly paired morsels and drops. A highlight of the meal was the lamb neck, lovingly prepared for weeks beforehand, accompanied by the 2018 Provenance Ironstone Shiraz, which is power and sex appeal in a bottle. If the martinis ever run dry, this would be Bond’s back-up drink.

On your way home, dip into the Geelong Cellar Door Wine Bar ( geelongcellardoor.com.au) for a nightcap. Located in the heart of town, it’s time for your designated driver to hang up the keys and indulge. Not all wineries in the area have cellar doors, so owner Jon Helmer, a stalwart in the region, opened the Geelong Cellar Door to collate and share the best of the region in one spot. Helmer rotates the wines by the glass every month or so, offering plenty of variety for returning visitors to enjoy something new every time. Grab a bottle and drink in the bar, the courtyard, or al fresco in the hubbub of Little Malop Street – all for just $10 corkage a bottle. Wined out and fancy a cleansing ale? No worries, there’s a strong list from lager to pales and ending with a sultry smoky stout from one of the local brewers. It’s an intimate vibe, and the perfect place to unwind.

Rest your weary head at the newly opened R Hotel ( rhotelgeelong.com.au). Having laid dormant for 40 years, the Belle-Vue Hotel, as it was originally known, is a beautiful white colonial building built in 1854, which today rises in modernity high into the Geelong skyline with wonderful views over Corio Bay. The interior is modern, chic and comfortable.

Provenance Wines.

Sunday’s delights are an eclectic offering that continue to showcase the ingenuity and diversity the region has to offer. Having meandered your way through the valley, today you’ll zig and zag across the plains, from ridge to ravine and back again. Start out in the Barrabool Hills and Barwon Ridge ( barwonridge.com.au), where the wonderful Geoff Anson will welcome you as long-lost family. On arrival you’ll drive past the recently planted pinot meunier block, a collaboration with Best’s Great Western to return cuttings of the original vines that were lost to phylloxera back in the 1800s.  

The cellar door, a little wood cabin set amongst the gum trees, is the perfect place to enjoy Anson’s array of wines and a platter of local cheese. The wines are estate grown atop the ridge in a windy vineyard with views overlooking the You Yangs. Anson encourages everyone to take a walk up to have a look, and you’re welcome to have a picnic in the paddock that he recently replanted with native bush. In due course, look out for Anson’s new sparkling wine, a tribute to his wife Joan Anson, who recently passed away. Barwon Ridge was their project, a project he’s keen to continue sharing with the world. It’s a beautiful place, tranquil and homely. The $5 tasting fee is donated to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.  

The Geelong Cellar Door is a great spot to try regional wines.  

Try and make time to zip up the road for a little aperitif ahead of lunch. Spence Wines ( spencewines.com) is another secret secluded from view. It’s the project of Peter Spence, who engineers by day and grows grapes by night after falling love with the idea on a trip to Provence. It’s a low-key affair here, but the wines, all farmed biodynamically, are well worth the visit. Predominantly growing shiraz, Spence also grows viognier, which he ages on lees and ferments in a Yunnan wine jar.

Work up all the appetite you can before driving out to Del Ríos Winery and Restaurant ( delrios.com.au) for a long, Spanish-inspired lunch. Esther and Gus del Ríos originally bought the property in 1994 to run horses. Fast forward to today, and there’s horses, cows, llamas and – of course – vines. The cellar door stands proud on the slopes of Mt Anakie, with views as far as the eye can see.  

It’s a family affair from start to finish. You’ll be welcomed by Esther, hosted by one of the kids, taste through Gus’ wines, round it off with Yaya’s traditional churros and their son’s homemade limoncello (Ciclo). It’s deliciously refreshing and just the ticket after a large, and hopefully long, lunch full of some of the most authentic tapas I’ve tasted outside of Spain. All the dishes are made for sharing, and any produce that isn’t homegrown is sourced from the region.

Del Ríos Winery and Restaurant.

Duck into Austin’s Wines ( austinswines.com.au) for one last hoorah before you head home. Up until last year, the new cellar door was a fully functioning woolshed. Out with the sheep and in with the humans; today it’s the perfect place to sit and enjoy a little digestif with panoramic views of the vineyard beyond.  

The 6Ft6 wines, a staple at every dinner party I’ve ever been to, are the entry range to the Austin’s family estate wines, which showcase the vision the family had when first planting the vines in 1982. There’s riesling, chardonnay, plenty of pinot noir and the 2021 (unofficially named) ‘egg’ shiraz. Yet to be released, it’s partially matured in Croatian wood. Belinda Austin runs the dynamic wine club that offers you the chance you to rent a vine and make your own wine. It’s an immersive and enjoyable experience for all.

The cellar door at Austin’s Wines is housed in an old wool shed.

Bottles for the Boot

2017 Lethbridge Mietta Pinot Noir, A$110
80% whole bunch, with intense aromas of ironstone, forest floor and soaring spices; the palate is full of energy and tension.  

2018 Clyde Park Shiraz Single Block E 18, A$85
Inky purple in colour, the palate is rich in primary blue fruit, hints of coffee and spice with great acidity that will reward time in the cellar.  

2016 Barwon Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, A$40
A lighter and brighter style of cabernet with a pretty nose of blackberry juicy hints of cassis, blackcurrant and black olive.  

Austin’s Wines.

2018 Provenance Ballarat Chardonnay, A$52
Intense aromas of smoky bacon (I kid you not), the palate bursts with white peach and a subtle nuttiness that is perfectly balanced with a natural acidity that gives this wine a long life yet.  

2019 Moorabool Ridge Estelle Reserve Semillon, A$26
Quince, apple and honey lead in to a floral mid-palate and a clean citrus finish that keeps you guessing right until the end.  

2015 Del Rios Cabernet, A$54
Aromas of cassis and pipe tobacco give way to a broody and savoury palate of stewed plums with soft, silky tannins.  

2019 Austin’s Riesling, A$32
Grown from one of the few riesling blocks in the area, a lively wine all lemon and lime, with a generous mid-palate and a pleasant minerality.  

Spence Wines.