Fowles Wine One of the Best Winery Visits in Victoria
Fowles Wine in the Strathbogie Ranges, only 1 1/2 hours from Melbourne, is one of the best winery visits in Victoria and Australia. It is something of a game changer when it comes to winery experiences. Recently The World Loves Melbourne was invited to experience lunch and a tour of Fowles Wine, connecting with Chief Executive Matt Fowles (his business card says simply "Vigneron, Hunter, Farmer"). One of the most popular winery visits in Victoria, Fowles has been awarded the RACV Tourism Winery of the Year three times. With a recent upgrade and further planned innovations, the best is yet to come!
Pumping on a rainy Melbourne Friday.
Fowles Wine is not formal and intimidating like some cellar doors and wineries; they break down the barriers with innovation and flair and accessibility. It's more "come around the table and eat and drink and engage" rather than "hard sell". "Mindful meat" meets "mindful wine"; sustainability and ethical hunting combines with wine prepared purposefully to match with food. One of the best cellar door experiences in Australia. Not only that but the value here is excellent with reasonable prices for high quality wines and restaurant dishes.
A newly renovated cellar door modelled on the quintessential Aussie shed and using up-cycled materials has opened at Fowles Wine in the Strathbogie Ranges. Everything from the design through to the menu captures the essence of the Australian landscape, yet with a modern edge. This is not a pretentious winery, but engages with customers at every level, from quality of the wines and sweeping views, to generous portions and outstanding dishes in the restaurant.
A glass hall connects to the tasting bar, featuring floor to ceiling windows and booth seating that looks out onto the courtyard and kid’s playground.
Keeping in with the Fowles way of doing things, this new project has been something of a family affair with the interior styling designed and executed by Jay Phillips, long-term partner to Matt’s brother Jim. “Across the Australian landscape, our land is dotted with corrugated iron sheds. We have taken a simple shed and created a beautiful restaurant and cellar door within its shell, without losing the shed’s heritage,” Jay said. “When you visit, look up and see the galvanised corrugated ceiling, reminiscent of the humble shed. “But look a bit closer and you will see that we have cleverly engineered it to make it an acoustic ceiling for our customers to enjoy a pleasant dining experience.”
Fabulous views of the Strathbogie Ranges. With large windows and plenty of natural light this is one of the most attractive winery destinations in Victoria.
Fowles Wine brings an "engage with the farm" philosophy to bring a unique experience. Check out the fabulous Farm Store where there is a promotion of local produce such that you can take away high quality produce for yourself from the shelves and large fridges. Local farmers and encouraged and their produce featured - it's not just a Fowles thing but celebrates the local region. If you can’t bear the thought of leaving without your own little stash of Fowles hospitality, the Farm Store showcases premium pre-packaged meals and local produce including Fowles Wine’s own range of Small Batch products. And we can highly recommend their Beetroot Relish - likely to become your new addiction.
CEO Matt Fowles shows us the Farm Store. Showcasing local produce.
Wines are made to be food friendly from farm to table. The Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch range of wines have been a huge hit for the quality of the wine, as well as the brilliance of the art deco label. Matt’s wife Lu was the brains behind the cheeky name and funky graphic design of Fowles ‘Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch’ label. The label’s different varietals have been rated 95 points by wine reviewer James Halliday.
A tasting at Cellar Door included the highly impressive Ginger Prince Sparkling Rose Wine; definitely a unique wine I want to return to. The weekday we visited the place was pumping and the restaurant almost packed. Fowles is obviously resonating with the punters.
Prime cuts like this Eye Fillet with herb potatoes excite, as well as the wild game options. All part of the philosophy at Fowles Wines.
Matt Fowles was once a corporate lawyer in Melbourne but has returned to his passion of the farm. Fowles winemakers, Victor Nash and Lindsay Brown, also made career changes - Victor was an aeronautical engineer for a Formula One racing team, while Lindsay spent 17 years as a research scientist in a biotech lab. You can find a refreshing "think outside the box" and "approach everything with a fresh canvas" philosophy here.
The new Tasting Bar includes offal and game meat selections. The Chef gave us a sample of the Tongue offering.
Matt gave us a tour of the exciting new Tasting Bar which will cater for traditional and non traditional cellar door experiences. While there's a counter with wines for a traditional experience, the space features a curved counter and tables which bring a non traditional cellar door experience. This includes offering of game meats and offal dishes, and roving cellar door staff who will come out from behind the counter to engage with customers. Think Chicken heart skewers. Imbibe the range of wines and compelling food options to pair, while enjoying views of the Strathbogie Ranges.
Matt showing us vineyard lay out.
Amongst other things Matt Fowles is an ethical hunter (not a redneck!) who believes in using the whole animal, hence the offerings of not only prime cuts, but offal as well. The World Loves Melbourne loves its prime cuts but we welcome any deep dive into offal. Matt also spoke of the wines prepared to complement wild meats. Wines with intense aromatics and silky structures can perfectly match game meats. We want to return to explore this further!
The use of recycling and up-cycling is inspirational. Fowles Wine chief executive officer Matt Fowles said he wanted to incorporate disused objects from around Victorian farms that would otherwise have ended up in landfill. “We have been on an amazing journey across the Victorian countryside sourcing objects,” Matt said. For instance, a 90-year-old rusty fence has been used to create 36 rolled fencing-wire light features in the Wine Shed function space (above), while disused old hard wood droppers, piled up under the shade of the gums beside the vines, have been repurposed as restaurant tables. “It’s been a fun and very creative journey for us all,” Matt said.
Matt and Jay also scoured Victoria to find vintage sinks “like what our Grandmothers used to wash their clothes in”, which have been repurposed as vanities in the bathrooms. One was sourced from a collapsed gold miners’ pit in Warrandyte, another from a horse paddock in Macedon and another from the Dandenong Ranges.
Arbour (wisteria just planted) and deconstructed vineyard.
There's activity everywhere here; animals raised on the farm are visited by school groups and children to learn about farming. An arbour is built so that customers can hire the space and entertain with a spit roast for 30 people. A deconstructed vineyard has been created next to the arbour where samples of vines from each variety are grown. The innovation is endless.
A close up of the unique custom-built "wool bail" couch.
Another key feature is a custom-built sofa lounge, modelled on old wool bails. “The venue needed a place where people could relax and enjoy the space, much like shearers, who, after returning from a hard days’ work on the farm, would generally collapse on the wool bails and enjoy a drink or two,” Jay said. “We created a modernistic view of these jumbled-up bails as a custom-built sofa lounge in front of a large open fireplace, in tribute to the shearing shed.”
The kitchen is spearheaded by head chef Adele Aitken, with an emphasis on farm and game meats and ingredients from the local region; the same region that fruit for Fowles’ wine is sourced.
Top notch charcuterie, with the smoked eel a personal favourite. Fowles offers some of the best winery platters in Victoria.
Croquettes and Arancini are must order dishes.
The menu centres around wholesome produce and dishes that reflect the authentic country style of the region, from light salads, cheese and charcuterie right through to comforting larger plates.
Generous dishes with high quality produce, and compelling wines to match.
Melt in your mouth Seared Eye Fillet with garlic and herb potatoes and caramelised herb butter.
Pork belly with mash hit the high notes with standout crackling.
Market fish (Barramundi) with crushed kipfler potatoes another top notch dish with a generous portion of fish.
Dessert was also compelling with Chef's Selection.
The main restaurant overlooks the chef’s herb garden and a feasting area where groups can gather on long picnic tables underneath a vine covered arbour and spit-roast a pre-ordered lamb from the Fowles farm.
A separate private dining room, accommodating up to 20 guests, is available for intimate functions or dining reservations. The room features a bespoke ceiling feature modelled on ancient fish traps. Made from rusted metal and willow branches, it has been created to reflect Matt and his wife Lu’s hunter-gatherer principles. “The family aren’t just wine producers, but passionate farmers and hunter-gatherers, so we have shown this farming story throughout,” Jay said.
Fowles Wine is located in the foothills of the Strathbogie Ranges; an area blessed with the perfect combination of granitic soil and a cool climate – the ideal conditions for producing wine with character and elegance.
Matt and his team, including winemakers Victor Nash and Lindsay Brown, create four distinct categories of wine – Vineyard, Hunting, Farming and Experimental – all of which can be tasted at the vineyard’s cellar door.
The Fowles Wine cellar door and restaurant is open seven days a week from 9am to 5pm, except Christmas Day.
Fowles Wine is located on the corner of Hume Freeway and Lambing Gully Rd, Avenel, about 90 minutes’ drive northeast of Melbourne. fowleswine.com