Read our writer's views on this property below
Robert Upe finds a wine region ready to pop the corks again.
Puffy cumulus clouds are rolling across the sky above the hills in the Yarra Valley and a baritone is belting out the lyrics to Phantom Of The Opera across a vineyard in the fading light of day.
I'm a somewhat guilty observer of an Opera Under The Stars concert at Rochford Wines.
The recent concert - one of the first signs that tourist life is returning to normal in the Yarra Valley after the Black Saturday bushfires - seems a little at odds with the devastation that swept the area. Earlier in the day I had driven by burnt-out houses, charred paddocks and blackened trees. Local cricketers, dressed in their whites, contrasted with the blackened grass around their playing field.
We feel a little guilty taking it all in; like we are prying. But the manager at Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort and Spa, where we are staying, is reassuring.
Ross Greenaway says: "Our message is simply for people to come back. We fully appreciate that people believe that they are being respectful [by staying away], however we employ 62 locals and we need to keep them in work and they need to be kept in work. The best thing people can do is support the region by visiting and resuscitating local businesses."
Balgownie was under threat from the bushfires on February 7, as can clearly be seen by a burnt hill behind the property. Greenaway says 155 guests and staff were evacuated and the property lost power and phones but otherwise escaped damage.
Balgownie sits in prime wine-touring country near Yarra Glen and provides a good springboard to attractions like the Rochford concert and nearby cellar doors and eateries such as De Bortoli. But Balgownie's own cellar door is not to be missed, with free tastings through a range of wines from shiraz to sauvignon blanc.
What strikes us about Balgownie is the friendliness. The people pouring the tasting glasses, the office staff and even a handwritten note left by our room attendant make us feel more welcome than usual.
Balgownie has 65 modern rooms and spa suites. Our one-bedroom suite is comfortable and includes a wacky shower with a massive window that looks through to the lounge room, which has Foxtel, soft sofas, a dining table and a private veranda looking over the gardens and vineyards in the distance (as well as a glimpse of the staff car park). The suite has a microwave and small kitchen area with well-stocked mini-bar that features, among other things, Balgownie wines from about $20 a bottle for the sparkling pinot noir chardonnay.
The room service menu offers burgers or club sandwiches for $20.
The food comes from Balgownie's Rae's Restaurant. We don't have time for dinner (because we're at the opera) but the menu beckons for a return visit with offerings like smoked-eel salad for $19, crisp-skinned barramundi for $32 and crepes with Grand Marnier syrup for $14.
Instead, we have a buffet breakfast before our checkout. It's included in the tariff and is a decent spread that includes champagne. Rubbery sausages are the only disappointment.
When we return we'll also try the day spa, which has a long menu of treatments, from facials to massages, pedicures and manicures.
And we'll try the walking trail and hire some bikes, perhaps play some tennis . . . and maybe just relax into the surroundings.
For information about concerts at Rochford Wines, including a bushfire benefit on April 19, see rochfordwines.com.au.
Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort and Spa
Address Corner Melba Highway and Gulf Road, Yarra Glen.
Bookings Phone (03) 9730 0700,see balgownieestate.com.au.
Getting there About an hour from Melbourne via Maroondah and Melba highways. Melways reference 267 G7.
Summary A big resort for this part of the world, which includes day spa, pool, restaurant and cellar door. Nicely done.
How much One-bedroom suites from $279 a night Sunday to Friday and $415 Saturdays in limited "Welcome Back" special, with breakfast.
The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable, well-run.
All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.