The Mitchell family lived in the UK during the 1980s and luxuriated in summer holidays in the south of France. They loved visiting vineyards that spilled down hills towards the Mediterranean and the joie de vivre that went with the surroundings.
At the same time, on the other side of the world, what would become the Montalto vineyard was being planted.
On their return to Australia the Mitchells planted some vines on their property on the Mornington Peninsula, did some viticulture courses, purchased more land and opened to the public in 2002.
The family's passion for good food, wine and the arts is everywhere you look and a visit to Montalto rewards many senses. Their growing sculpture collection is displayed throughout the property and there exists the Montalto sculpture prize.
There are 12 hectares of vineyard producing Montalto and Pennon Hill rieslings, chardonnay and pinot noir. They have well-balanced vines, no irrigation, low cropping levels, hand harvesting and pruning, all going towards consistency in the end product.
Over 1500 olive trees of 13 varieties were planted in the late '90s and each July they have the Abundance Olive Festival. They also grow figs, stone fruits, hazelnuts, almonds, citrus, strawberries, raspberries and loganberries.
Much of what is grown on the property is used in the restaurant, a building of rammed earth walls, timber frames and rough-hewn floorboards. Floor to ceiling windows provide magnificent rural views of vines, olive groves, lakes, wetlands, pieces of sculpture and, in the distance, the ocean. Cuisine is inspired by regional France, manipulated to gain the benefits of local produce.
The Piazza and Garden Café is a more casual dining alternative at Montalto. There is a covered courtyard amongst the kitchen garden and views are quite wonderful.
The most special way to enjoy an afternoon at Montalto has to be a picnic. Staff help picnickers choose a place just right for them maybe under towering gums with views to the sea, tucked away near an orchard or close to a reedy dam.
As you relax and enjoy a glass of wine, your table is set with white linen, quality china, glassware and cutlery and everything is delivered in the estate Morris Minor. Picnics can be enjoyed on weekends between November and April and they need 48 hours notice.