The great Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Had he lived today, you’d think he was talking about Montalto, an expansive culinary experience on the Mornington Peninsula.
Montalto combines a vineyard, olive grove, restaurant, sculpture trail and expansive kitchen garden to offer its visitors a moment out of the ordinary. The property shares its creative, life-affirming experiences through its award-winning wines, its hatted restaurant and delicious produce.
John and Wendy Mitchell are the smiling faces welcoming you to the property. Their path to Montalto started in the 1980s when they were living in the UK and spent summers in the south of France admiring the vineyards along the Mediterranean coast. It was here, over lazy afternoons and glasses of rosé, that the dream of planting a few vines back on their property in Mornington was first born. When they returned home years later, John took the first step to make this a reality, studying viticulture at the University of Melbourne.
Before they planted their own vines, John and Wendy discovered the established vineyard and luscious landscape of the Montalto site. They immediately fell in love, and over the next few years, worked to bring this slightly altered dream into being. In January 2002, Montalto threw open its gates.
Building on an established vineyard means Montalto’s vines are older than the brand. The earliest vines were planted in 1985, with the property now growing 30 acres of pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris and riesling. To take advantage of the diverse sub-climates of the region, they also have four other vineyards throughout the Peninsula.
Tuerong is a 20-year-old vineyard, with a warm microclimate. Here, the Montalto team sources rich pinot noir and shiraz, while additional pinot noir is found at the dedicated Merricks Vineyard.
The Black Rabbit block is located in Red Hill South, where it is well protected from the cool southerly winds. It holds pinot gris and gamay grapes, which produce a distinctly different style to the grapes from Main Ridge, where the cool southerly air produces elegant and fragranced pinot noir and grigio.
The combination of these sub-regions and diverse climatic influences leads to a wide range of varietal expression, especially throughout the pinot noir range. You can taste the differences at the Cellar Door, where Head Winemaker, Simon Black – who brings experience with classic French vintages in Burgundy – and Cellar Door Manager, Justin Crow, are on hand to explain the intricacies of each drop.
You’ll want to try the single vineyard Eleven Chardonnay, arguably Montalto’s signature drop. It gets its name from the oldest eleven rows of the North Face vineyard, and features intense flavours and long-lasting complexity and structure. If you prefer the bold tannins of red wine, taste the variety of pinot noirs. Trying each one will plainly show how much the climate and soil affects a wine.
When your palate is exhausted, it’s time for lunch. Wander through the comprehensive sculpture collection and huge kitchen garden and orchard before taking a seat at the Restaurant, or Piazza and Garden Cafe.
The entire team at Montalto follows the ‘estate to plate’ philosophy: if they can grow it and use it on-site, they will. Therefore, an abundance of produce is grown in the enormous kitchen garden and orchard. The dining room looks over the vines, sculptures and olive grove, meaning you’ll be able to see just where everything has come from with each bite. If it’s not available on-site, the kitchen team sources as much as possible locally, preferencing sustainable and ethical production methods.
After renovations in 2017, the linen table cloths disappeared and Montalto’s restaurant took on a new life under the careful supervision of a new head chef, Gerard Phelan. Boasting stints at Rockpool, Atlantic, The Lakehouse and Moor Please, Gerard dedicates his cooking to simplicity. He says, ‘it sounds clichéd but if we pull a carrot out of the ground at work whatever we do to it, it has to remain a carrot.’
This philosophy has allowed Gerard to let the Montalto gardens really shine through a new menu that celebrates fresh, seasonal produce. The exciting addition of an Asado grill means that fire is set to be a big focus and Gerard is hoping that this chapter of the hatted restaurant will be more vegetable driven, though locally sourced fish, meats and fowl will still be scattered throughout the menu.
Fresh, exciting plates fill the recycled timber tables of the new restaurant, featuring beautiful Victorian produce. Treat yourself to impressive delicacies such as blue swimmer crab with sweetcorn, miso and baby cos, or perhaps eggplant with lentils, tomato and burrata. All dishes match perfectly with Montalto’s award winning range of wines and are made all the more special when followed by a stroll through the estate’s famed sculpture garden.
When your belly’s full and your car is full of wine for the cellar, don’t forget to grab some olive products on your way out. Montalto’s olive grove produces olive oil and table olives that more than match the quality of its food and wine offerings, meaning you’d be silly not to add a bottle or two to your bounty.
One thing’s for sure: you won’t be leaving Montalto empty handed. Between the award-winning wines, mouth-watering fare and fresh-as-can-be produce, there’s something for every taste.