Far from the city, Tim Richards discovers good food and good wine on a walking tour of Milawa, in Victoria's high country.
I'm deep underground in a cellar, looking at wine lying on its side under a thick coating of dust, when a voice in my head says: "Only drink the cheap old dusty bottles, not the shiny new expensive ones."
It's a line from the BBC sitcom Black Books, in which a hapless character mixes up instructions and downs a £7000 bottle of someone else's wine. Luckily that hilarious scene is not possible here, as the oldest bottle is a 1958 port and I'm not being left alone with it.
My wife, Narrelle, and I are in the company of Andrew Harris, wine educator at Brown Brothers. The family winery, founded in 1885, is located in tiny Milawa in Victoria's high country. We're exploring behind the scenes via a winery tour ($20), which visitors can book in advance.
Wine needs as much imagination as science, we discover when Harris leads us into the Kindergarten Winery. This is the area where the winemakers' creative minds come to play as they try out new grape varieties and methods. If a new drop turns out well here, it's given a trial run on sale at the cellar door.
However, wine is only one part of Milawa's foodie appeal. As the hub of the Milawa Gourmet Region, the town is full of businesses selling produce from the surrounding area.
It's also very walkable. Most of the food outlets are gathered around the town's central crossroads, with the furthest, the Milawa Cheese Company, just two kilometres away along a flat road.
Our first stop on a food-gathering expedition is Walkabout Apiaries, on the edge of town near an old church. These honey makers regularly relocate their bees around the high country to produce different flavours. Co-owner Rod Whitehead is minding the shop and leads us through a series of tastings.
We then walk north to the Milawa Cheese Company, passing old houses and fields along the way. This complex, which also houses a cellar door and an art gallery, is famous for its excellent cheeses. My favourite is the Milawa chevre goat's cheese, which has a variant dusted with grapevine ash.
At Milawa Mustards we sample home-made mustards within the attractive former courthouse and hotel, which has a historic timber lock-up out the back. Here we pick up some dill and lemon mustard.
Next stop is the Milawa Bakery Cafe for rolls made of seven grains with a dash of honey. Finally, The Olive Shop sells us a jar of chilli and garlic olives grown in nearby Markwood. We're set for an excellent meal. Seated at a table in the courtyard of our accommodation, Lindenwarrah, eating fine local food with a close-up view of the adjacent vines, city life seems very far away indeed.
Milawa (milawagourmet.com) is 2 hours north-east of Melbourne via the Hume Freeway.
■ Brown Brothers, 239 Milawa-Bobinawarrah Road, Milawa, brownbrothers.com.au.
■ Walkabout Apiaries, 1531 Glenrowan-Myrtleford Road, Milawa.
■ Milawa Cheese Company, 17 Milawa-Bobinawarrah Road, Milawa, www.milawacheese.com.au.
■ Milawa Mustards, 1597 Glenrowan-Myrtleford Road, Milawa, milawamustards.com.au.
■ Milawa Bakery Cafe, 1605 Glenrowan-Myrtleford Road, Milawa, milawabakery.com.au.
■ The Olive Shop, 1605 Glenrowan-Myrtleford Road, Milawa, theoliveshop.com.au.
Tim Richards travelled courtesy of V/Line.