A drive in the Oltrepò Pavese, Lombardy

The day was foggy in Pavia. It often is. The Po valley in Lombardia is known for its humid weather, even in the cold winter months. The fog often hovers above Pavia’s Ticino River, though sometimes the nebbia has a distinct mustard tinge and looks more like the industrial smog that wafts down from the outskirts of Milano. On days like that, it’s good to get out of town and head for the hills.

Driving around the Oltrepo wine growing district. Near Pavia, Lombardy.

After meandering through some delightful and very distracting small villages with hardly a soul in sight, we headed for the wineries, the tenute and cantine of the Oltrepò wine growing district situated in the hills next to and above the Po River. Ascending the foot hills and driving along country lanes, the road trip afforded excellent vistas, a fine contrast to Renaissance museum and church overload. No sign of the Visconti or Sforza ruling families up in these hills.

Above the Po

The Oltrepò Pavese region produces more than half of all wine made in the Lombardy region as well as two-thirds of its DOC-designated wines. As the area sits well above that infamous nebbia, it is clear and cool, enabling the production of delicate mineral tasting Riesling, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines made according to the méthode Champenois. At our first stop, the manager of Travaglino was a charming host and explained each wine style in detail. He also insisted we return for a wine tour of the cellars and property after lunch: as it was close to midday, restaurant recommendations were offered as NOTHING gets in the way of a decent Italian lunch.

Tenuta Travaglino, Lombardy

The superb Riesling sold at around €6.90 a bottle. If I lived a little closer, I might be making that journey into the hills each week. After a comforting Risotto Milanese at a country osteria, followed by a tour of Travaglino’s cellars, we headed back down to the town of Broni for another most unusual wine tasting. In some ways, it was more like an episode from Black Books. But that’s a story for another day.

Another cantina in Broni

A ‘borrowed’ map of the Oltrepo wine district, just because I love maps.

Blue Range Estate. Wine, Smiles and Spuntini

Perched high above Port Phillip Bay, Blue Range Estate is a surprising find. The journey involves travelling through the back blocks of Rosebud’s sprawling suburban hinterland, housing estates that scramble up the foothills of Arthur’s Seat in search of that all important bay view. Following the signs, a narrow gravel track winds up the side of the range, and eventually a sea of white net covered vines indicate you have arrived. The winery, with its cosy tasting room and raised platform deck with market umbrellas, is a fine place to fritter away a sunny afternoon with a wine and a snack.

An ocean of grapes, ripening under their nets

Blue Range is not like the other wineries in the nearby Red Hill wine district. It is unpretentious with very friendly service, a small wine tasting area and an outside dining area. Franc De Cicco and his wife Filomena established the winery 30 years ago. Frank must have been a very industrious man, as he also ran a cheese factory in Coburg, an inner Melbourne suburb of Melbourne. The winery is now run by the Melone family, Cosi, Jo and their four children.

Service with a smile, and lots of stories
Service with a smile and lots of stories.

My sister and I often travel up to this winery in the sky to share a light lunch and a bottle of wine, thanks to our obliging chauffeurs! The menu is made up of spuntini, small bites of light Italian style dishes designed to go with the wine. The food is simple and tasty, but I doubt that much of it is house made. It’s cheap and works well with the sensational wines. We ordered the calamari fritti, the arancini, and Tuscan sausage with artichoke, a bottle of the 2009 chardonnay and the sensational vista was free. Other menu offerings include flat breads with various toppings and antipasto platters.

spuntini and wine

The vineyard produces Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. The wine list consisted of aged wines from 2009 to 2010: no youngies on the list at all. The 2009 vintage wines were made by Frank the founder, while some of the 2010 wines were made by a visiting Italian winemaker. I suspect the current grape crops are sold to nearby wineries. It’s a great place to visit if you want to taste an 8-year-old Pinot Noir, which is an exceptionally good drop.

It’s a good idea to do a full wine tasting before you choose a bottle to go with your bites. A tasting puts you in a festive mood and the sommelier or assistant needs to be well-informed and cheery. This young member of the Melone family was the perfect host, with lots of great stories to go with it. His Italian ancestors came from Benevento, the city of witches in Campania. There are some great folkloric legends about this region, a new little Italian nugget for me to explore further.

Deck at Blue Ridge Estate
Deck at Blue Range Estate

Cellar Door open from Thursday to Sunday 12pm-4pm (weather dependent, alfresco dining)

Address: Blue Range Estate, 155 GARDENS ROAD, ROSEBUD.VICTORIA. Ph 59 866560

Outback Road Trip via Serafino Winery, McLaren Vale

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAre we there yet? Still trying to make it to the outback, it was necessary to pass through  McLaren Vale,  one of the many notable wine growing districts of South Australia and certainly worthy of another diversion. With 74 cellar doors open for tasting, is it possible to drive through this town, without sampling a wine or two?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter setting up camp, we wandered along a section of the inviting walking track, the Shiraz Trail, and whoops, found ourselves in the vast estate with winding driveway that enters Serafino winery and restaurant. It was early evening. The Serafino restaurant, like some Pavlovian experiment, seemed to be beckoning us to its door. My semi feral camping appearance, hat not fully disguising unruly hair, allowed me to emerge from this spell. We wisely turned back to our little home on wheels.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next morning, all scrubbed up and ready to face a new day, we drove up the fabulous driveway, past the lake with friendly geese, and entered the Serafino cellar for a quick wine tasting. The young attendant informed us that morning wine tastings were a good idea as the palate was still untainted! Excellent news.  At 10.30 AM, I felt justified, if not virtuous, by sampling a few of the range on offer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wines are listed in categories, from Serafino Terremoto (the big reds)  and Reserve wines, followed by lighter styled vintages. I always lean towards the Italian varietals and was pleased to see their ‘Bellissimo’ range included  Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Fiano, Pinot Grigio and the Spanish variety,Tempranillo. I am a big fan of Nebbiolo, knowing only a few companies making an Australian version, so this was a little heavenly moment. Thankyou Bacchus.  Given the offer of free postage, a few cases were ordered and sent home. I joined the Serafino wine club, and even though I missed the chance to enjoy the restaurant, I am a happy camper.


We tried two other wineries, dropping into Hugo Wines to pick up a couple of aged Shiraz, and a bottle of their award-winning olive oil, then we were safely on our way. Only the Clare wine growing district ( home of divine Riesling ) could lead us further astray before making it to the outback, but we had happily spent out wine dollar in McLaren Vale.


It is worth reading Serafino (Steve) Maglieri’s story of migration from Campobosso, Italy in the 1960s, as a young man with little English and $20.00 in his pocket. Another remarkable Italo- Australiano!