Saddle up to taste Victoria's delicious wines between bursts of thirst pedalling, writes Shandelle Battersby.

Every wine lover this side of the Tasman has heard of Victoria's Yarra Valley, but if you're a fan of a fine drop you should make sure the state's northeast is also on your radar.

You can find one of the area's top wine-growing spots less than a three-hour drive from Melbourne's CBD among the gently rolling hills of the King Valley, which is tucked under the foothills of the Victorian Alps.

So, why is the wine from the area so good?

A lot of credit has to go to the northeast's Italian migrants, who brought with them from the Old Country the know-how to get the best out of the area's cool climate to produce crisp whites and savoury, spicy reds.


After an excellent long lunch in the region, you might also want to thank the Italians for their influence on its outstanding foodie scene.

There are plenty of ways visitors can explore the wine and food this corner of Victoria has to offer. Many places offer free bikes so you can tackle the Pedal to Produce or the Murray to the Mountains trails, which take in farms, orchards, vineyards, breweries, cafes and other local growers.

The King Valley has a Prosecco Road trail, for lovers of the sparkling white. Stretching 50km, this trail visits six wineries where you can sign up for prosecco masterclasses, take part in tasting sessions, and try food made using the wine, such as Rocky Prosecco Road.

The tiny settlement of Milawa, home to the King Valley's best-known vineyard, Brown Brothers, boasts 30 wineries within 30 minutes' drive. On the food front, there's the excellent Milawa Mustards, Milawa Cheese Company, Olive Shop, and top-notch Restaurant Merlot at Lindenwarrah Hotel.

Brown Brothers sets a high standard. Set in picturesque grounds with historic structures, barbecue facilities, outdoor beanbags, a playground and an airstrip, it's not unlike some of the wineries you'd find in New Zealand, with an expansive cellar door and knowledgeable staff. Its Epicurean Centre serves dishes that use local produce designed around the company's 40-plus varietals.

Head chef Douglas Elder's menu features delicacies designed around Brown Brothers' wine, such as Moreton Bay bug ravioli with smoked trout mantecata, paprika oil and pangrattato; and king brown mushrooms with Milawa Ceridwen porcini custard and hazelnuts.

The Browns bought the site in 1857 and made their first vintage in 1889. Members of the family have worked for the business in every capacity ever since. The family's continuing passion for wine is one key to its longevity; another is its dedication to innovation, borrowing techniques and varietals from the Italians and progressively adapting those styles to the Australian climate and soil.

In 1989, Brown Brothers opened its Kindergarten winery, a research centre for experimentation, and they also collaborate with government scientific research agency CSIRO to develop varietals.

One eye on the future; one eye on your glass.

Beery nice

Melbourne is Australia's hipster capital, and the beard-fuelled craft beer movement has happily spread to its rural regions.

The excellent Bridge Road Brewers, which has jumped on board with the northeast's Ned Kelly connection using a cartoon version of his famous armour as part of its logo, has a cellar door in the centre of Beechworth. It offers 10 ales on tap and beer tastings, as well as a pizzeria and restaurant, in a cool space that is a 150-year-old former coach house and stables.

There is also a great beer garden and children's play area, and you can watch the brewers at work led by Beechworth local, Austrian-trained brewer Ben Kraus.

Also of note is Bright Brewery, down the road in the town of Bright, and the Sweetwater Brewing Company in Mount Beauty.

Getting there: Air New Zealand offers several daily flights to Melbourne. From here the northeast is an easy 2.5-hour drive on the Hume Highway.

Accommodation: Lindenwarrah Hotel - Milawa-Bobinawarrah Rd, Milawa, ph +61 3 5720 5777; Wombat Hills Cottages - 55 Lochiel Rd, Barwite, ph +61 3 5776 9507.

What to do: Visit Brown Brothers - Milawa-Bobinawarrah Rd, Milawa, ph + 61 3 5720 5540.

Shandelle Battersby visited Victoria's wine country courtesy of Tourism Australia and Tourism Victoria.