Published on 8 April 2021
There’s a feel to the Pyrenees that you don’t get in the rest of the country. A straight road is hard to find, and you can see the meandering creeks and waterways a mile off, lined by bent and ancient river red gums. Blacktop roads give way to gravel avenues and there is a winery around every bend. The golden plains rise to forest-cloaked ranges where waterfalls tumble down rock faces in cool green gullies. Old houses and colonial pubs form the streets in the towns and historic buildings that were once drapers or haberdashers are now modern cafés and popular galleries. While the Pyrenees is famous for its wine and food, it’s a beautiful, diverse and energetic place to enjoy culture, history, the outdoors and a quiet stroll through a beautiful old country town.
With the 2021 vintage almost behind them, the winemakers and grape growers of the Pyrenees are preparing for their annual harvest shindig, Pyrenees Unearthed Wine and Food festival. Held on Saturday April 17 under the ancient river red gums along the banks of the Avoca River in Avoca, 45 minutes west of Ballarat, the one-day event sees locals and visitors lay out their blankets in the shade and casually work their way around the marquees of the 25 or so winemakers tasting their back-vintages and new releases. It’s pretty great way to spend a day. But there’s plenty of other great attractions in this part of the world, in or out of harvest.
One of the main towns is Avoca, home to The Avoca Hotel, a beautifully restored Victorian era pub serving great food and local wine. If you like an old fashioned finger bun or a bacon and egg pie rich enough to cure the excesses of the night before, try the traditional country baker Shear Delights. For local honey or some home-grown veg head down to the Avoca Riverside Market, held on the fourth Sunday of the month along the banks of the Avoca. Above this is the beautifully tranquil Avoca Chinese Garden celebrating the thousands of people, mostly men, who travelled from Canton in China to work the goldfields.
A short drive away is Moonambel, home to Summerfield Wines cellar door, which is also a great place for a great feed. The Summerfield family raise their own sheep and pigs to supply the restaurant, and it offers great indoor and outdoor dining spaces. Another place for a great little meal, Sally’s Paddock at Redbank Winery has beautiful red wines and is a fine place to enjoy a cheese or antipasto platter or a smoked lamb roll. One of our favourite places for a shared plate is Blue Pyrenees Estate, where the generous platter of hot and cold bites ranges from arancini to charcuterie.
We love heading to the Pyrenees on a good day to explore the parks and forest of the area. One popular spot is Avoca Falls at Percydale where, after a good rain, the ephemeral falls spring to life. The Pyrenees is a popular fungus-foraging destination, too, with saffron milk-caps emerging in the pine forests in the autumn and morels in the north of the region in the spring. Mushroom basket or not, walking and camping in the Pyrenees is becoming a very popular weekend pastime, with Mount Buangor one of the more accessible areas.
Another way of navigating your trip around the Pyrenees is to put growers and makers at the heart of the experience. The Pyrenees Farm Gate Trail lists scores of makers, growers and artists from around the Pyrenees including the beautiful hand thrown ceramic bowls at Lexton Pottery to the stunning cakes made by Sarah Kittlelty, formerly of the Ballarat Art Gallery.
But at the heart of the Pyrenees is the wine industry. It’s a region famous for its sparkling white wines, with a modern history going back to the Chateau Remy vines, planted by the French brandy house in the 1970s. This is now known as Blue Pyrenees Estate. Then there are the different cabernet sauvignons grown around the Pyrenees. While there are many different aspects and soil types that define this red grape variety, the common thread between the 20 or so wineries that make this wine is the climate. Warm summer days but cooler nights allow full ripening and good acid structure, meaning Pyrenees cab savs are beautifully structured, with soft fruit tannins and long, balanced acidity.
There are too many wineries to go into depth with, but Amherst, Bigibila, Blue Pyrenees Estate, Dalwhinnie, Dog Rock, Mount Avoca, Peerick, Sally’s Paddock at Redbank, Taltarni,Grape Farm, St Ignatius and Kara Kara are all great places to start.
If you’re heading to Pyrenees Unearthed Wine and Food Festival 2021, consider staying in Ballarat and catching the coach leaving from the heart of town. General admission tickets have sold out, but some Ballarat accommodation providers such as The Provincial and Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments are offering stay-and-play packages; find them (and sign up for news of the next festival) at the link below.
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