Macedon Ranges wine country in rural Victoria is Australia’s “coolest” in more ways than one.
More than 40 of its vineyards are between 350 metres and 700 metres above sea level, and the grape varietals grown are diverse.
Passing Clouds, at Musk just outside of Daylesford, is one of the highest – and to top it off now has its very own train station. It officially opened just last week and a historic two-carriage Railmotor runs from Daylesford Market and back every Sunday.
Winemaker Cameron Leith and his wife Marion, who own and run Passing Clouds alongside Cameron’s father Graeme, worked with Spa Country Railway and the Wine Growth Fund to create a unique experience for wine tourists. The project included a re-build of the cellar door and its adjoining Dining Room.
The skies are dark and damp and threatening snow when the Herald pops in for a visit. Cameron Leith hops off his tractor to greet us. It’s all hands on deck at this working vineyard.
A light-filled cellar door leads to the Dining Room where two chefs are busy firing up the coals for lunch. There are no ovens or stoves in this kitchen. Everything is cooked on charcoal.
On one side large windows take in a view of the vines threading their way up a hillside, and on the other a window allows a sneak peek into an adjoining shed filled with barrels and equipment.
“Our focus is on creating a holistic wine experience, and food is a strong aspect of what we do,” Leith said.
“We are a family business and we have designed our Dining Room as an extension of our cellar door. It’s not pretentious at all – we want it to feel like you are coming to our place for lunch.”
Leith, who says he has been learning about winemaking “since he could walk”, believes wine and food should be shared and enjoyed.
Diners watch on as chefs Greg Andrew and David Willcocks work their magic in the open kitchen. Head chef Cameron McKenzie is enjoying a day off but his presence is still felt – his made-to-order Max & Delilah chicken liver pate features as a flavoursome starter.
The $55 per person Feed Me option for two features a half chicken with pumpkin, carrots and cashew, accompanied by peas, jamon and cos, all cooked over the coals. The meat is tender and every element enhanced by smoke from the charcoal.
The “Passing Clouds train + wine + dine” package costs $290 per couple. Leave the car behind, travel by train to Passing Clouds, receive a glass of sparkling wine on arrival and then enjoy a four-course share plate lunch with matching Passing Clouds wines.
The name Passing Clouds was adopted in 1974 when the Leiths, having tirelessly hand -planted their central Victorian Bendigo vineyard, were hoping for rain. Rain clouds would come, threaten and pass. Today, Shiraz and Cabernet is produced at the label’s Bendigo site, and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at its Musk headquarters.
The cellar door is open seven days a week, 10am to 5pm. The Dining Room is open Friday to Monday for lunch from noon.