From his first visits as a football-mad youngster to meeting his wife-to-be, Melbourne's dynamic multiculturalism has always had a hold on winemaker Steve Webber's heart. Read his Melbourne travel guide here.
My wife Leanne De Bortoli and I live and breathe Melbourne and its gorgeous surrounds. From our home in the Yarra Valley, about 50km east of the city’s bustling cultural centre, we are quite fortunate to live where we do.
My first trip to Melbourne was as a youngster to see my Australian Rules Football team, the Geelong Cats, play at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The thrill of being at the MCG (or the ‘G’ as it is known) continues to this day, and has to be experienced to be believed. And if you are lucky to get a ticket to the Grand Final in late September, the atmosphere among the 100,000 football fanatics is electric. After the game finishes, people spill out into the city to either celebrate or commiserate with their teams, and the vibe is palpable.
No matter where I have lived and worked, I have always enjoyed visiting Melbourne. In 1986, I caught up with Leanne at the Melbourne Wine Show and from there our relationship blossomed. I was living and working in Mildura at the time (about 550km northwest of Melbourne), but would come down to the big smoke most weekends and we would visit different bars and restaurants, including institutions like Pellegrinis in Bourke Street; it is still there and you can still slurp your way through a bowl of minestrone as we did all those years ago.
Fast-forward three years, we were married and then given the opportunity to manage the newly acquired vineyard by the De Bortoli family in the Yarra Valley. It is here we have lived for 25 years, but when the big city beckons, as it often does, we can be in downtown Melbourne in just under an hour. A fabulous city with something for everyone, the wine and food – and particularly coffee – scene has blossomed over the past 20 years to such an extent that Melbourne is now a gastronomic centre right up there with the very best.
Global dining and bar hopping
Melbourne owes much of its culture to Italian and Greek immigrants, who brought with them the lovely habit of drinking wine with food. Since those early days, a whole wave of other nationalities has contributed to a vibrant and multicultural city. Wander down Victoria Street for tasty (and cheap) Asian treats; amble around Carlton for a history lesson in Italian cuisine – DOC is still a favourite for thin-crust pizza with delicious toppings – or pop into Casa Iberica on Johnston Street for authentic Spanish chorizo and manchego. Down the other end of Victoria Parade, the Queen Victoria Market is bustling with activity, selling everything from organic veggies to tacky souvenirs.
Australia’s small bar movement began in Melbourne about 20 years ago when the state government loosened up the liquor-licensing laws. Punch Lane on Little Bourke Street was one of the first to obtain one of these new licences, becoming perhaps the first of the so-called ‘laneway’ bars. It has been joined by dozens of others, of all flavours and sizes, and historically Punch Lane has always been a good place to start a bar hop. It’s just minutes walk away from Von Haus, Bar Lourinhã, and loads more, old and new.
Walk along Flinders Lane, formerly home to the rag trade but now taken over by groovy little wine bars and restaurants, peppered with the occasional art gallery and shops selling interesting wares. Bar-hop from Cumulus Inc and Cumulus Up to Chin Chin to Coda Bar for starters.
People often criticise Melbourne for its climate – four seasons in one day – but I love it. If it’s cold or raining you can hunker down in a cosy restaurant or bar, but the minute the sun shines everyone clamours around the outside tables, enjoying a little warmth from the gas heaters. Another favourite spot is the City Wine Shop. Sit outside over a glass while you watch the trams and people trundle by. Quintessential Melbourne!
Steve Webber is chief winemaker and manager at De Bortoli Wines
Written by Steve Webber