How to spend 48 hours on the Mornington Peninsula

By Cathy Gowdie

23 Apr, 2024

Here's how to spend a weekend on the Mornington Peninsula.

Loved for beaches, bushwalks, golf courses and thermal-spring spas, the Mornington Peninsula is part of what’s known as the ‘Melbourne dress circle’ of premium wine regions. High above the coast, the central Peninsula hills and valleys produce spectacular pinot noir, with this region’s flagship variety expressing its huge diversity of micro-climates and soils. It’s also known for elegant chardonnay and cool-climate pinot gris. 

The Peninsula is compact, with hundreds of vineyards and dozens of cellar doors separated by just a few minutes’ drive. It makes spontaneity easy, but plan ahead for peak holiday times. Opening days and hours can vary seasonally – check winery websites and socials for updates, tasting fees and advice on bookings. 

Main Ridge entranceMain Ridge.

Day one on the Mornington Peninsula

The saying goes that ‘a meal without wine is called breakfast’ but you need not go without at the charming 1920s-era Merricks Store, a picturesque coffee stop offering country breakfasts, glimpses of Western Port and tastings of Baillieu and Elgee Park wines.

It’s not far from here to Quealy Winemakers in Balnarring, where pinot grigio pioneer Kathleen Quealy accepts bookings for tastings as early as 9am; Quealy is among many Peninsula vignerons committed to minimising chemical inputs. From there, call in at the Avani cellar door in Red Hill South where mother-and-son team Shashi and Rohit Singh specialise in minimum-intervention and skin-contact wines. While you’re on the sustainability trail, stop at Red Hill’s Foxeys Hangout, the first Peninsula winemaker to gain full organic and biodynamic certification for its winery. 

Crittenden EstateCrittenden Estate.

By now you’re ready for a light lunch on Foxeys’ deck overlooking an organic vineyard, or head to their newer Morning Sun site in Main Ridge, where a pretty Italian-inspired cellar door offers small shared plates. Walk it all off with a half-hour jaunt along the nearby Kings Falls circuit in Arthurs Seat State Park or drive across to Cape Schanck for a longer trek to rugged Bushrangers Bay. Now it’s time for more wine: avoid queuing at a tasting bar by heading to Dromana’s Crittenden Estate Wine Centre for a seated, customised sampling of Peninsula classics and an array of alternative varietals. 

Continuing the living luxe theme, the day’s last tasting is up the hill at the architecturally exciting 10 Minutes by Tractor cellar door in Main Ridge. The winery’s sleek restaurant next door, serving polished five- and seven-course tasting menus, is home to one of Australia’s most awarded cellars. Time your tasting session to end shortly before an early dinner booking, then spend the intervening half hour by the fire in 10X’s new ‘Allis’ wine bar (Fridays and Saturdays).

Inside Kerri GreensKerri Greens.

Day two on the Mornington Peninsula

Head for the coast and find a perch facing the Dromana foreshore at upbeat Monkey Business, where the coffee is excellent and former fine-dining chef Brad Warton puts a casually skilled spin on brunch. (Smart wine service and a tightly curated list work nicely with his dinners, too.) Return to the tasting trail with a visit to the McCall family’s long-established Paringa Estate in Red Hill, which garners awards for pinot noir and earns accolades for chardonnay, too.

Follow your tasting with a four-course lunch at a linen-draped table in Paringa’s hatted restaurant, perhaps with matched wines – but if you haven’t booked, sit at an outdoor trestle and order from the relaxed terrace menu. Kerri Greens is along the same road and worth a post-lunch visit; the project of young vignerons Tom McCarthy and Lucas Blanck, it offers fresh, well-priced wines and a chance to spread out on the grass. (For wine lovers with kids in tow, Kerri Greens will let you reserve a picnic table online; buy drinks from the cellar door and BYO lunch.)

Merricks StoreMerricks Store.

Sprawling Pt Leo Estate in nearby Merricks, with its sculpture park and view across Western Port, is another option – as well as its two acclaimed restaurants, Pt Leo has an informal ‘wine terrace’ where tastings are held. (The terrace makes a good spot for parents to enjoy a glass while keeping an eye on children on the lawn.) Enjoy the afternoon’s final tasting at regional legend Main Ridge Estate. One of the Peninsula’s four original wineries, it’s warm and intimate; the hard-to-find ‘Half Acre’ pinot noir rightly remains a regional benchmark.

In Red Hill, local winemakers perch at the bar at Many Little for beers and wines by the glass, including co-owner Sam Coverdale’s Polperro and Even Keel labels. Join them for zingy, pan Asian bar snacks and light meals by chef Gayan Pieris, and grab a bottle of one of Many Little’s signature cocktail pre-mixes to add to your take-home wine stash.

Avani cellar doorAvani Cellar Door at Red Hill South.

Wine bars and restaurants on the Mornington Peninsula

Options abound in the towns of Mornington, Sorrento and Balnarring. Across the road from the sea at McCrae, newcomer Banksia Wine Room pours wines alongside Euro-style light bites and meals by chef Bernard McCarthy. If you see the ‘open’ board outside Dromana’s tiny, homestyle Sapore di Casa, stop for owner Ted Ori’s lasagne; it has a cult following and is often available to take home. In Flinders, the husband-and-wife team at Moke offer carefully crafted lunch and dinner set menus with a focus on Peninsula produce. If you’re hoping to snare a seat at Brigitte Hafner’s Tedesca Osteria in Red Hill, book many weeks ahead and allow an entire afternoon for a luxurious, fire-licked multi-course lunch.

Where to eat on the Mornington Peninsula

You’ve filled the boot with cool-climate wines – how about a picnic? At Safety Beach, Provincia Food Store is across the road from the sand. You’ll find excellent baked goods at Miller’s Bread Kitchen on the highway in nearby Dromana (there’s a second Miller’s bakery in Mornington). Got access to a working kitchen? Everything at Dromana’s Torello Farm is locally sourced: vegetables, superb grass-fed beef, goat cheese, olive oil, sourdough made from Tuerong flour and spring water from Red Hill. The coast is fringed by mussel farms; you may find mussels at Torello, too, or buy direct from piers and the trucks often found at Flinders, Safety Beach or Mornington. In Red Hill, Cellar & Pantry has quality refrigerated ready meals; Johnny Ripe cafés in Red Hill and Main Ridge bake pies and pastries to go.

Where to stay on the Mornington Peninsula

The Victorian grand dames of the Peninsula’s southern tip, the Hotel Sorrento and The Continental have each undergone recent and lavish refurbishments, recruiting celebrity chefs to oversee restaurant menus and updating luxurious rooms. Closer to the wineries, Flinders Hotel has comfortable rooms at the heart of a seaside village. Loved-up couples adore Cassis Red Hill, chic luxury villas with vineyard views. Abundant short-stay options at several price points include the family-friendly Main Ridge Barn, and couple’s retreat Hart’s Farm, situated on a working orchard and olive grove in the hills behind Shoreham.

Browse some of the best wineries on the Mornington Peninsula.