Geelong's main wine, food and music festival, Toast to the Coast, is once again being held over two days of the Melbourne Cup weekend - Saturday and Sunday, October 29-30.
Now in its 15th year, Toast to the Coast attracts several thousand visitors, who attend the festival to sample wines from 33 leading and lesser-known wineries participating.
Wineries throughout the region offer guests the chance to soak up the atmosphere while showcasing award-winning cool-climate wines and offering the opportunity to meet the makers behind the wineries.
In addition, guests can meander through the vineyards, enjoy a delicious lunch and be entertained by the best local musicians.
The Geelong wine region actually comprises three very different regions; the Surf Coast in the direction of the Great Ocean Road, the Bellarine Peninsula and the often-overlooked Moorabool Peninsula, where I recently spent a couple of extremely enjoyable days.
Take Clyde Park winery at Bannockburn (below).
On any given weekend there are a couple of hundred people enjoying the buzzy atmosphere, some of them tasting the new vintage wine releases, others tucking into a veritable lunchtime feast in the cellar shed that serves as a bistro.
Here dishes like Moroccan lamb shank pie with chickpea and pumpkin hummus; or perhaps a classic bouillabaisse or wood-fired pizza are matched with the winery's stand-out chardonnays, pinot noirs or maybe a new-release sangiovese.
Just down the road at Del Rios winery at Mount Anakie, there is a crowd feasting on Spanish-accented food and wines.
Here visitors enjoy a tapas menu featuring albondigas (Spanish meatballs), garlic prawns and mussels Espanola, while paella for two can be matched with the 2015 Carmen Tempranillo.
The Moorabool Valley is something of a well-kept secret to those outside Geelong and Melbourne, overshadowed even by the Bellarine Peninsula and Surf Coast - but the largely rustic cellar doors, and family-owned artisan wineries, offer a delightful contrast to the slick sales operations often found in more high-profile wine regions.
The Moorabool Valley, nestled in quiet countryside between Geelong and Ballarat, is regarded as one of Australia's best cool-climate wine regions with a range of classic and new varieties.
The region was first planted with vines by Swiss migrants in 1842 before being wiped out by the Phylloxera virus in the late 1800s. The valley's renaissance began in the 1960s – and is now in full swing.
Scott Austin, from Austins & Co, says: “The difference out here is it is a bit more rugged. It's a farming region where everyone is very hands-on. There are no corporates out here. We are all intrinsically connected to the land and that is the experience we want to give people.
“The Moorabool is very dry, so vines struggle, but also get a longer ripening period to add balance. It's also a very exciting region which is best known for chardonnay and pinot noir, but shiraz has huge potential here, as does riesling.”
Maree Collis from Lethbridge (below) says the Moorabool has its own style, due largely to geology. “There is a lot of basalt, a lot of rock here and at Lethbridge, particularly, there is low vigour and good concentration of flavour. Water can be an issue, however.”
Collis and partner Ray Nadeson are experimenting with several different grape varieties including Italian varieties nebbiolo and nero d'avola – and sometimes buy in fruit from other regions of Victoria.
She describes the Moorabool as offering an “authentic” experience for tourists.
While two of the biggest-name producers in Bannockburn and Farr/Farr Rising (as well as tiny producers like LiveWire and AttWoods) do not have cellar doors there are several star wineries to visit, including Clyde Park, Lethbridge, Austins and Paradise IV along with tiny producers like Moorabool Ridge, Rowsley Fault and Spence's Wines.
Clyde Park, where the bistro is open seven days a week and where there are three different ranges of wines, is the biggest tourism drawcard with vines dating back to 1979 and a wide range of wines sparked by the enthusiasm of owner Terry Jongebloed.
The warm ambiance of Del Rios, meanwhile, makes it hugely popular at weekends. Some of the vines here are planted on the side of an extinct volcano.
Lethbridge is another ”must visit destination”. The wines – and there is a large range – are both innovative and outstanding.
Some of the smaller producers are open only on the first weekend of each month, or by appointment, but that is changing fast with Austins building a new cellar door to replace their barrel room pop-up tasting facility.
Paradise IV was replanted in 1988 on the site of a vineyard dating back to the 1840s, and winemaker Doug Neal is hugely knowledgeable about the region, while Moorabool Ridge is a tiny cellar door with great views and ideal for a picnic or light lunch.
Here you'll find a vineyard overlooking the Moorabool River, an olive grove and a shop selling farm produce. Owner Tim Harrop (above) is usually on site at this unpretentious tasting facility, which is open only at weekends.
NEED TO KNOW
How to get there:
NEED TO KNOW
How to get there:
The Moorabool Valley is a one-hour drive from Melbourne Airport, or 20 minutes from Avalon Airport, which is served exclusively via Jetstar.
Where to stay:
Where to stay:
Recently-opened Devlin Apartments is well-situated in Geelong, Victoria's second-largest city. There are 37 self-contained apartments on Moorabool Street, next to Skilled Stadium and within walking distance of restaurants and wine bars. www.devlinapartments.com.