Peninsula bounty at Montalto

By Michael Harden
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The award winning restaurant and vineyard of Montalto on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

The award winning restaurant and vineyard of Montalto on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

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Heidi Mitchell, Montalto Vineyard, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria [©VisitVineyards.com]

If you’re looking for a place that illustrates the food and wine aspirations of the ‘new’ Mornington Peninsula, Montalto Vineyard and Olive Grove is a good place to start.

The site of one of the region’s most feted restaurants, Montalto combines great food and service with a host of other activities – extensive vineyards, a range of wine from estate and Peninsula grown grapes, vegetable gardens, fruit and nut orchards, olive groves, sculpture - that show just how much good quality stuff the Mornington Peninsula is capable of producing.

Montalto is the result of a retirement project and a sea change happening simultaneously in one family. During his years as a food industry executive, John Mitchell lived in the UK and spent many holidays in the south of France where he and his family fell in love with the sight of vineyards growing on hills that sloped towards the sea. Seeing similarities in the landscape of the family’s property at Merricks, John decided to plant a few vines after he retired. Hobby turned to passion and when the opportunity came to buy the incredibly beautiful Red Hill South site with its ten acres of vines, he decided to expand his horizons. Soon after, his daughter Heidi Williams, a Melbourne-based lawyer, expressed interest in joining him and the idea of Montalto as a business was born.

After eighteen months of discussion with her parents, Heidi quit her job and moved to the Mornington Peninsula with her husband Neil Williams and the business really began to take shape. Wine remained a primary focus with more vines planted across the property but a restaurant also became integral to the plan as did the idea of an olive grove and restoring the natural wetlands. The ruggedly handsome wood and glass restaurant building was constructed, sited to capture both the beauty of the property’s gorgeous hinterland position and the distant sea views and, after internationally renowned chef Philippe Mouchel became involved, the new venture attracted attention both locally and in Melbourne.

Mouchel moved on after setting the restaurant’s produce-driven philosophy in motion. His protégé James Redfern maintains the passion for locally grown ingredients, even overseeing, with John’s wife Wendy, the planting of kitchen gardens that are supplying more and more of the restaurant’s herbs and vegetables. Montalto’s olives (both as table fruit and oil), nuts and wines also feature on the menu.

The thirty acres of vineyards that follow the slopes of the property’s natural amphitheatre include pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot meunier, riesling and semillon grapes. Montalto also manages another 100 acres of vineyards across the Mornington Peninsula that include plantings of shiraz and pinot grigio. There is no winery on the site, Montalto’s locally grown fruit being made into wine by winemaker Robin Brockett at Scotchman’s Hill on the Bellarine Peninsula.

Not only is Montalto a hive of food and wine activity, it also hosts an annual sculpture competition with the entries carefully sited around the property from February to April. Montalto acquires the winning sculpture each year and so its permanent collection is growing alongside the grapes, nuts, olives and vegetables.

Heidi Williams has no regrets about leaving Melbourne and sees Montalto as a part of a movement on the Mornington Peninsula that is pushing the quality of both wine and food higher and higher.

“It is great to be in a business I am so passionate about in a region I am in love with that has so much to offer,” she says. “There is still a long way to go in many respects but that is what makes being here so exciting.”

Regions

  • Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

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December 11th, 2009
 
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