By Charlotte Burns
After being in lockdown for so many months and still limited in terms of travel, we will soon find unadulterated joy in exploring our region and supporting local businesses. Whether you’re buying organic ingredients from the farmer’s markets or seeking out the latest Pet-Nat wine release, there is so much to experience right here under our noses – and on top of our taste buds.
For a discovery day trip where you’ll find some hidden regional gems, you only need to ask June O’Brien from Epic Taste Experiences where to go.
Since June moved to Geelong, she has explored all of our many food and drink venues. Her passionate enjoyment of exceptional local produce has become a day tour company that showcases our amazing regions.
Moorabool Wine Country
One of June’s favourites is the Moorabool Valley and Barrabool Hills which are just 10-15 minutes from Geelong CBD.
The green rolling hills are a beautiful sight and the whole place is relatively untouched. Visitors can expect award-winning wines, delicious meals, gourmet foodstuffs, incredible landscapes and fine art.
“There’s a lot of history in the area. The bluestones that are found in the Valley were actually quarried to build the churches in Melbourne,” June says, “but for me, it’s always about the story behind the operation.”
One of the first places June will take you is Provenance Wines. Provenance – is only 5 minutes from Geelong CBD at Fyansford & owned by Scott and Sam, all of their grapes are locally selected from eight vineyards in Geelong, Ballarat, Macedon and Henty region and they complement perfect food pairings. Their mission is to provide the community with great wine and preserve the identity and origin of their place.
“Provenance is just gorgeous,” June exclaims “and it ties everything back to the indigenous community which I feel very strongly for. After all, Fyansford was a meeting place for the Wadawurrung people.”
With the Old Paper Mills just down the road, the area is also considered a bit of a creative hub attracting jewellers and fine line artists. Moorabool is also home to Barwon Ridge which June claims has the best bubbles in the Geelong region. Husband and wife team Geoff and Joan Anson are rated by James Halliday as a top 50 wine and most recently came second for Dark Horse Winery.
“Jeff and Joan are great because they are all about sustainability. They are replanting to bring back all of the native birds and animals to their area. You can go and see some Tawny Frogmouths and they have just had babies so they are so cute,” June describes.
“It is their bubbles that people must come for. Their bubbles remind me of being in France, it’s that good.”
The Tastes of Europe
June exclaims that Geelong is spoilt for choice as many of our local producers can rival the flavours of France, Greece, Spain or Italy. One of those places is Del Rios, located in Anakie right next to the Fairy Park, where Gus and Esther make beautiful Spanish tapas and wines.
“They have owned the land since 1994 and are slowly growing but it has one of the best lookouts in our area. The waterfalls are right there and you can see all of the You Yangs,” June says. In addition to producing some delicious wines, Gus and Esther also value local produce and sustainability, farming their own lamb and beef to ensure the great tasting paddock to plate on their menu.
If you are a francophile or a dedicated sweet tooth, June highly recommends That Place, a french patisserie located in Belmont.
“I absolutely love the name, and I say to my friends ‘have you been to That Place?’ and they go ‘What place?’” June jokes. “Ash is a local Geelong girl who went to France and studied under some French patissiers, then came back to Geelong and decided we needed some delicious French pastries,” June says. That Place is June’s go-to cafe as their pastries, homemade lemonade and little cakes are “next level beautiful.”
Another place on June’s list of beautiful scenery, great food and fabulous wine is Lethbridge @Hat Rock on the Bellarine. The actual home and mother vineyard is in Lethbridge 25 minutes from Geelong, June jokingly describes the vineyard as “kind of hidden away in the beautiful valley and run by fad-fun scientists who fell in love with wine.”
Owned by Maree and Ray, they are passionate about growing and making wine that represents their site. Their biology and chemistry backgrounds have helped the pair reinvigorate an old vineyard after it was originally destroyed due to phylloxera, an insect pest known to contaminate grapevines. For them, winemaking is a science that is fruitful in flavour if done right.
For people looking for something to snack on between wineries, June takes them to Ket Baker in Wallington.
“Miek hands down makes the best handcrafted sourdough in our region. Her sourdough croissants with hazelnut or raspberry, in particular, are to die for,” June says. These sourdough croissants in particular take Miek five days to construct the flavour profile which is why they taste so good.
If the fact that they have amazing croissants wasn’t enough to make you drive there right now, Miek also sources everything locally including her butter from local artisan Monica (the butter maiden) of Lard Ass Butter.
“Monica’s Lard Ass is the only handmade artisan butter place in our region and she is just an awesome lady who hand-paddles butter and makes divine buttermilk. You really can’t get much better. To know that everything is made and sourced locally is a real treat.”
“The Bellarine Smokehouse is another one of my favourites,” June says. Owned by Kiwi natives, Jason and Sarah, June describes the Bellarine Smokehouse as having some delicious smoked fish made with local whiskey and juniper, “it’s another level of flavour.”
The pair believe in utilising fresh, fairly caught fish and traditional smoking methods to produce the first-class smoked fish which they wholesale to local Geelong delis and sell at local farmers markets.
“I like to finish my tours at Federal Mills at Anther Gins,” June explains. The distillery is quickly making a name for itself as one of the best gins in the region. Having opened in mid-2020, Anther Distillery has exploded due to high quality bottled cocktails that can be delivered to your home and gin discovery tasting sessions.
“It’s just awesome gin and the story is amazing. plus the buildings history. It’s an all-female distilling team,” June says.
Discover it all in a day
As June explains, you can eat, drink their way through different parts of Geelong on a day tour without having to map out a journey or spend hours driving as you might do in the Yarra Valley or interstate wine regions.
“I always say to people, it’s right here. Everything is right in our own backyard,” she insists.
When you’re ready for that much-needed day drinking and eating frenzy with friends, go out and explore Geelong or book an Epic Taste tour with June O’Brien.