In its heyday, Mount Ophir Estate's evocative, red-brick buildings near the north-east Victorian town of Rutherglen were Australia's largest winery complex. The winery closed in 1955 and while the property still runs sheep, and olive groves and vineyards fringe the buildings, the massive barrel rooms have been reshaped as a weddings venue, and the handful of houses on the property – including the Pickers' house, the Lodge and the Winemaker's cottage – can sleep up to 42 people, including a lucky two in The Tower.
Rutherglen is exactly halfway between Canberra and Melbourne. The former gold-rush town is famous for its durif, shiraz and muscat, although it's also making a name for its excellent sangiovese and rosé styles. The nearby Murray River draws campers, and the town has several good mid-range hotels and B&Bs, but The Tower at Mount Ophir goes next-level for its impeccable styling in a fabulous setting.
The Tower occupies one corner of the 115-year-old winery, and climbs three levels. You'll find a dining room/kitchen on the ground floor: climb a black spiral staircase up to the library and living area in the middle floor and up another flight of steps to the bedroom and bathroom at the top. Plan ahead so you're not scampering up and down the very steep stairs all night with your provisions.
A note left on the antique typewriter welcomes me to The Tower (and also shares the Wi-Fi code), and oversized mirrors reflect vases packed with branches of silvery olive and fruiting quince. The marble-topped tables and art deco drinks trolley were sourced from antique traders across the world, while the ocean-blue sofa and crushed-linen bed were chosen in part because they could be forklifted into the cylindrical tower through the slender windows. Feather-weight robes hang from old timber shoe lasts, the light switches are long, handwoven leather pulls and the shower, on the top floor, has Aesop toiletries, "because we like to keep it Australian," says Eliza Brown, who owns and has renovated the property with her sister Angela and brother Nick, of the Brown Brothers winemaking families.
Once you're here, you won't want to be schlepping back out for dinner, so shop up the cellar doors for a few bottles and stock up on the region's great antipastos, cheeses and your new best friend, smoked butter, made by the Indigo Food Co, also owned by the unstoppable Brown siblings: the produce store is open at their lavish All Saints Estate in nearby Wagunyah. You'll find quality muesli, yoghurt, sourdough and spreads in the ground-floor kitchen and a complementary bottle of All Saints Wine, of which Nick is chief winemaker, and responsible for their excellent rosé and the very French GSM. The Tower's second floor has a handy wine fridge stocked with designer tonics to complement the spirits on the nearby drinks trolley.
There are 21 cellar doors in the district, ranging from the workmanlike premises at Anderson's Wines, which recently released a 1998 sparkling wine for its 25th anniversary, to Buller Wines, with its popular Ripe restaurant and young Jones & Co, a light-filled, sangiovese-heavy cellar door on the Main Street. Hire a bike and cycle the rail trail to the NSW border, about 10 kilometres north, where you can take a dip or throw a line into the mighty Murray. Make a date for the long-standing Winery Walkabout (June 9-10). See winerywalkabout.com.au, pedaltoproduce.com.au
If you like busy streets and crushes of people, this is not for you. If you are impossibly romantic, love curved walls, fine decoration, food and wine with a great history, The Tower will make your heart pound.
Stays start from $550 a night, including a bottle of wine and breakfast provisions, 168 Stillards Lane, Rutherglen, Victoria. Phone (02) 6035 2222. See mountophirestate.com.au
Watching the sun set and rise over the countryside from the bed, layered in crushed linen, at the top of The Tower.
Don't underestimate the steepness of the stairwells; the tower is for agile adults only (no kids). Do not drink and wear socks on the stairs.
The writer stayed as a guest of The Tower, Mount Ophir Estate.