Road trip to Nagambie
Soak up the Goulburn Valley’s stunning, vineyard-dotted countryside.
Sunlight glinting through the eucalypts that hug the Goulburn River is a welcome change from the grey skies and intermittent showers that have followed us up the Hume Highway. The scenic route to Mitchelton Wines has taken us off the freeway at Seymour before tracing the river to a picturesque camping ground among the trees.
A pair of grey nomads pulling up with their off-road caravan can’t quite work out what to make of our big dual-cab pick-up. It’s the massive three-pointed star dominating the front grille that’s the cause of confusion – a reaction we’ve noticed several times on our trip from Melbourne to the Nagambie Lakes wine region.
The Mercedes-Benz X-Class pick-up still attracts attention more than a year after its Australian launch. The interest is perhaps unsurprising given it is the first ute made by a luxury car company.
Our ride is the Mercedes-Benz X350d Power, which uses a potent V6 turbo-diesel engine. It’s the flagship of the range and at $79,415 before on-road costs, it’s the most expensive mid-size pick-up in Australia.
It might be a workhorse, but it’s a comfortable ride even when tested on some fairly ordinary roads – and the cabin is quiet and well appointed. This is a ute, but it’s a fancy one.
By the time we arrive at Mitchelton Wines, about 13 kilometres south of Nagambie, it’s late afternoon and the sun is fading. The long driveaway to Mitchelton’s main buildings winds through the vineyard, home to the shiraz and riesling grape varieties Michelton is known for.
While the vineyard provides a stunning welcome, it’s the striking 55-metre tower and accompanying buildings that have drawn visitors here for decades. Famed Australian architect Robin Boyd started plans for the buildings, but after his death in 1971 Ted Ashton finished the project. The result is one of Victoria’s most stunning examples of modernist architecture.
Next to the tower and nudging the Goulburn River is the latest addition to the winery – a 54-room hotel from Accor’s boutique arm, MGallery, that opened in 2018.
Inside, the hotel’s reception area is filled with art and massive leather couches. There’s an inviting fireplace and a warm welcome from Tracie. It sets the scene for our king guest room with its contemporary, minimalist look and earthy tones. Low lighting casts a serene glow over luxury bedding and quality carpet.
To get our bearings, we head for the landmark tower with its gorgeous wood-panelled elevator and 360-degree vistas across the vineyards and beyond.
That luxe feeling continues at the in-house spa, where an expert 60-minute massage melts away the stresses of the working week and puts us in the mood for a pre-dinner gin and tonic. So we head for the winery’s restaurant, The Muse, an airy space with impossibly high ceilings. We’re torn between a seat at the bar at one end or a berth by the massive fireplace at the other.
Behind the menu is executive chef Dan Hawkins, who favours local produce with a modern twist on traditional favourites – as well as plenty of steak. My partner raves about the scotch fillet, a perfect match for Michelton’s Nero d’Avola red; but I wouldn’t trade it for my delicious half roast chook and Michelton Chardonnay.
After a glorious sleep in (blame the super-comfy beds), we’re back at The Muse for breakfast, before exploring the grounds. To get our bearings, we head for the landmark tower with its gorgeous wood-panelled elevator and 360-degree vistas across the vineyards and beyond. Beneath the tower, in a former cellar, there are views of a different kind, where works by some of Australia’s most celebrated Indigenous artists grace the walls of Michelton’s impressive Gallery of Aboriginal Art.
It’s a short stroll to the newly redesigned cellar door where you can sample more of Mitchelton’s wine varieties, while the onsite provedore tempts with an array of local goodies.
Beyond the Michelton estate, it’s worth a trip into Nagambie, well known to rowers across the state who race on the lake in the centre of town. Nearby you’ll find quirky Foxhole cafe where owner Kate doles out quality coffee, delicious homemade Anzac biscuits and friendly chat about the town.
It’s clear that this once unassuming town is coming into its own with its own brewery and distillery, a hip indoor plant store, and a clutch of trendy cafes.
Back on the road, we steer the big Benz ute through Seymour, and past the rugged granite rocks that mark the hills along the back road to Yea.
We stop for lunch at the charming Peppercorns of Yea, an old pub with exposed bricks and unusual wall hangings, including a taxidermied deer. After an astonishingly good chicken parmigiana with pepper sauce, brie and prosciutto and an enormous seafood platter, we’re back in the Benz for our final stretch. Winding our way through rolling green hills near Strath Creek and up Murchison Gap, our ute handles a series of steep hairpin bends with ease. But the graffiti-spattered remains of a Daewoo Cielo halfway down an embankment is a reminder of the dangers of tackling these curves too quickly.
People might still be confused by a Benz badge on a ute, but we’re even more grateful for the safe handling of the supremely comfortable and capable X-Class.
Tim Nicholson stayed at Mitchelton Wines as a guest of Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia.