Rutherglen reloaded

Last year the Terrace restaurant at the All Saints Winery in Wahgunyah scored a chef’s hat in The Age Good Food Guide 2014.
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Given that it is the only restaurant in the Rutherglen winemaking region to have received such a gong, it attracted a lot of attention and chef Simon Arkless was perceived by some as a shining light in the region’s culinary darkness.

But there is a more interesting dimension to this story than just the successful tree-change of a formerly Melbourne-based chef. This is not to diminish Arkless’ achievement (the Terrace under his watch is an excellent restaurant, deserving of the accolades), but to see it as part of a bigger picture, a generational change that is making one of Australia’s oldest winemaking regions one of its most interesting and exciting, too.

There is a weight of history here. The first vines were planted in the 1850s, and Australia’s first wine festival was held here in the late 1960s. Rutherglen fortified wines – tokay, muscat and port – have been world famous for years and the family names associated with them (Campbell, Chambers, Jones, Morris) are comfortably familiar.

It can all sound a bit dusty, but the place has a real energy that has been building since the mid-2000s, when many of the next generation of the winemaking families began to return to the region after studying, travelling, working and living in other parts of Australia and around the world.

Eliza Brown owns All Saints and St Leonard’s wineries with her sister and brother. She and husband Denis Lucey, owner of Melbourne restaurant Bottega, have worked to get the Terrace on the culinary map and, for six nights in January, ran a pop-up bar called Brown and Jones with Mandy Jones, of Jones Winery and Vineyard, in Rutherglen’s old fire station.

”It was packed every night,” she says. ”The locals, in particular, were very supportive. It seems that there is a market for such a business in Rutherglen and perhaps that’s part of a rolling effect from the energy that this next generation of winemakers brought with them.”

Jones returned to Rutherglen after living in Bordeaux for 14 years and not only became the winemaker at the winery that has been in her family since 1927, but opened the charming Jones Cafe, which offers a simple menu of French bistro-inspired food.

At Scion Winery, mother and son Jan and Rowly Milhinch, descendants of the Morris family, are making innovative, handcrafted wines using local heroes muscat and durif, while Michael Chambers has recently moved the cellar door of his Lake Moodemere Vineyards to the heritage homestead, home to four generations of Chambers, where lunch and tasting platters are served overlooking the lake.

Add picnics, with hampers available by prior notice, at Pfeiffer Winery; pizzas baked in the outdoor oven at the sustainably run Valhalla Winery; Pickled Sisters’ classic cafe fare; and the festivals Taste of Rutherglen and Day on the Green, and Rutherglen is, again, the region to watch.

Tastes of Rutherglen festival is on March 8-9 and 15-16. Phone 1300 787 929; see winemakers爱杭州同城论坛m.au.