ARRIVING at Bress Winery, you might well wonder about the chook connection. They're everywhere: on rustic signs, grazing in the grounds (there's even a Henndorf — or "chicken Hilton") and, of course, on labels.
Owner-winemaker Adam Marks spent a vintage near Beaujolais in France at Bourg-en-Bresse, famous for plump-breasted table chickens. He fell in love with the plucky fowls and, when he returned to Victoria, raised some — even showing them in local shows before buying the 11-hectare vineyard and transforming it into a biodynamic property.
As well as some fine ciders made from local Harcourt apples, Bress produces wines that salute chooks, too, with names such as Silver Chook, Gold Chook and Le Grand Coq Noir. Chooks sometimes find their way on to the fixed-price ($40) set menu at weekends in dishes such as boned chicken thighs with tomato agridolce served on couscous.
Vegetables come from the kitchen garden, with main courses prepared in an outside wood-fired oven. Food styles change with the season; last year it was Sicilian-inspired, now it's Mediterranean and next summer it could be North African the restaurant also caters to vegetarians and gluten-intolerant diners).
We sample estate ciders and wines before taking a seat at a table outside the cellar door. Sun-warmed cocktail tomatoes arrive in delicate toffee on basil leaves. Then comes an entree platter of "zucchini three ways" (pictured): crisp zucchini fritters rolled in parmesan and polenta; bruschetta with roasted zucchini and fetta; and a fresh slivered-zucchini salad dressed with lemon juice, chive flowers and basil — perfect with a glass of rosé ($6 a glass, $22 a bottle).
The main course is a boned leg of tender local lamb seasoned with fennel seeds, cumin and home-preserved lemon, served with salsa verde and a simple salad of lettuce greens with roasted beetroot, orange and Spanish onion. We stay summery and opt for a glass of chardonnay ($8 a glass, $30 a bottle). Dessert is again simple but a summer triumph: a granita of figs poached in Bress Bon Bon Cider atop smoked nectarines with vanilla beans.
Reviewed by Tricia Welsh, who was hosted by Goldfields Tourism.
Bress Winery, 3894 Calder Highway, Harcourt, 5474 2262. Kitchen open Sat-Sun, noon-3pm (closed after May 8, Mother's Day, until the first week in October); cellar door open Sat-Sun, 11am-5pm. See bress.com.au.
To stay: nearby options include the Yellow House (castlemaine.au.com/yellow), the Empyre (empyre.com.au) and Allawah (allawahbendigo.com).