Gourmet riding in Rutherglen
Victoria’s High Country has offerings to please every palate, discovers Jon Miller.
If you’re one of those people who packs your bike away over winter, perhaps you should think again. Maybe the warming qualities of one of Rutherglen’s legendary tawnys or muscats will tempt you to get out and ride this winter. If this doesn’t do it, perhaps the thought of a meaty shiraz or durif will. While the area is famous for its big reds and fortified wines, many of the wineries also offer whites and other lighter styles as well.
Up-to-date maps of various suggested ride routes are available from the Tourism North East website www.victoriashighcountry.com.au. Hard copies of these maps may also be available from the Rutherglen tourist office, along with a leaflet detailing some rides around Wahgunyah and Corowa. You can also pick up a map of the wineries from the tourist office and come up with your own itinerary. I combined a suggested gourmet outlets ride with the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail and a couple of other extras to make a ride of 36km for the day.
The rail trail starts at the old station site just north of the roundabout in Main Street near the tourist office. There’s car parking, toilets and a picnic area. I was soon riding past vineyards on both sides. The vines on the right soon give way to olive trees and I came to my first stop of the day – Wicked Virgin winery and olive grove, a few hundred metres off the trail along a dirt road. They have a wide range of olives, oils and tapenades, as well as wines to try. They are open every day except Tuesdays.
Besides the obvious attractions of Rutherglen’s famous wines, the town and its surrounds are flat, flat, flat, making it ideal for riders of all abilities.
Besides the obvious attractions of Rutherglen’s famous wines, the town and its surrounds are flat, flat, flat, making it ideal for riders of all abilities. Apart from the Murray Valley Highway, the roads carry very little traffic. The highway traffic is also reasonably light, and if you find yourself on it for a short distance, there is a nice wide shoulder to ride on.
I continued along the rail trail right into the centre of Wahgunyah. A lot could be done to beautify the section through the outskirts of town; I felt as though I was riding through an industrial wasteland.
I didn’t stay long in Wahgunyah but crossed over the Murray River to visit the Corowa Whisky and Chocolate factory in the old flour mill. Whisky distilling is a long process and as they have only been open for three years there was none available for tasting. However, there was lots of chocolate to try – the choc-coated Inca berries were the best – and a nice cafe on-site as well.
Leaving the chocolate factory, I rode back over the Murray into Victoria and joined the route of the Gourmet Loop to All Saints winery. All Saints is also home to a country provedore with local produce and the Indigo Cheese Co, which stocks a range of cheeses from around Australia and the world.
The Gourmet Loop then goes past Vintara winery before reaching Cofield Wines and the adjacent Pickled Sisters cafe. The cafe is renowned for its own range of condiments and pickles as well as using mostly local products on the menu. Cofield Wines is very welcoming to bike riders, running cycling packages in conjunction with the Victoria Hotel.
The next winery on the ride is Pfeiffers, situated on Sunday Creek, an anabranch of the Murray. They are famous for their long lunches held yearly on the Sunday Creek Bridge. Or you can order a picnic hamper and enjoy a quieter meal.
The Gourmet Loop then heads back into Rutherglen via the Corowa Road but I had a bit of time, so rode around Lake Moodemere. This is one of the trails on the Cycling and Walking Trail Guide I picked up in Rutherglen. It was the best part of the day, with the dirt track winding through huge stands of river red gum that are teeming with bird life. I spent some time watching a kite or harrier fishing in the lake.
Back into Rutherglen and a pie from Parker Wines was a good way to finish the Gourmet Loop.
Scenery: Vineyards with small patches of river red gum forest
Surface: Quiet sealed roads. The wineries often have loose gravel driveways.
- Three speed hub-geared bikes with helmets are available for hire from the tourist office; perfectly adequate for the flat terrain around Rutherglen. You will need to book ahead in peak times, such as festivals and long weekends as they go quickly.
- The local cycling group meets for a ride on Saturday mornings, varying distances and speeds depending on who shows up. Ask at Parker Pies in Main Street for details.
- Check opening hours of destinations before you visit because they are often small business and need to have at least one day off a week.
- Many wineries will deliver purchases back to Rutherglen free of charge. This is largely dependent on them having somebody going that way, so ask before you buy.
- Beware of bindi-eyes, also known as cats heads or three-corner jacks. These are hard, sharp thorns that are capable of piercing the toughest tyres. Avoid the road verges as they tend to be swept there by passing traffic.
- Take care when tasting wine and riding. Riding under the influence of alcohol significantly impairs your ability and is therefore dangerous to yourself and irresponsible to other road users.
V/Line runs trains to Wangaratta with room to carry up to 30 bikes. From Wangaratta, there is a connecting coach service to Rutherglen and Wahgunyah. V/Line policy doesn’t allow bikes on buses. The driver may let you on if there are only one or two of you but you have little chance in a bigger group.
The best way, of course, is to ride. One day, the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail will extend all the way from Wangaratta to Rutherglen. In the meantime, you can follow the signed on-road cycle route which branches off the rail trail just past Bowser about 10km from Wangaratta. It’s about 67km in total and apart from a couple of kilometres of very rough gravel near Chiltern, is sealed road the whole way. It’s not the most direct route to Rutherglen but it’s very quiet and pretty without being spectacular. The small hills between Bowser and Springhurst provide some panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. Chiltern is a historic gold town with a streetscape that could be used as a film set. The box-ironbark forest of Chiltern National Park is riddled with tracks for mountain bike riders.
If you’d like a shorter ride out to Rutherglen, stay on the train to Chiltern and ride the 20km on the road from there.
Where to stay
There’s no shortage of places to stay in Rutherglen, from caravan parks to hotels, motels and B&Bs. By far the most bike-friendly has to be the Victoria Hotel in the centre of town. Until about 2007, it was just another tumbledown country pub but then Sean Morris and Sarah Pilgrim took it over and are slowly restoring it to its former glory. It’s the only place I’ve ever stayed where I’ve been invited to wheel my bike through the front bar and dining room to access the storage shed out the back.
Jon Miller stayed in Rutherglen courtesy of the Victoria Hotel.
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