‘Surreal that we’re not at home’: Melbourne relaxes at the wineries for first weekend away

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Wineries on the Mornington Peninsula were bustling at lunchtime on Saturday when residents from greater Melbourne took their first chance in months to go beyond 25 kilometres from their homes.

“We've been slammed since about 11am,” David Lloyd said, overlooking his vineyards at Eldridge Estate which was packed with visitors.

“I had no idea what would happen today, and just, 'bang'.”

The 25-kilometre barrier, which also covered the Mornington Peninsula, was lifted on Monday along with the “ring of steel” between the city and regional Victoria.

Pheck Miller at the Red Hill Estate on Saturday afternoon.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Julie Riley was on her first trip out of Melbourne since March, soaking up the view over the vineyard at Eldridge Estate.

"It feels great. It's kind of hard to believe, it's surreal that we're not at home," Ms Riley said, squeezing in several visits to wineries on the weekend while staying at St Andrews Beach.

Adrian and Chris de Luca, Dianne Barker and Lindsay Portbury enjoy their first family catch up since the pandemic hit.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

The Peninsula Link was sometimes chockers on Saturday and parking spaces were scant at Red Hill Estate, where dining has been extended out onto the lawn to seat more people during the COVID-19 restrictions.

An extended family was finally back together for a catch-up on the patio overlooking Red Hill Estate vineyard in the afternoon, making up for missed birthdays: a 70th, 75th, 40th and sixth.

“We’re doing it all at once,” Kelly Watts said.

The adults were “social distancing” from the children, who had their own kids table.

Red Hill Estate extended seating out on the lawns.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Red Hill Estate owner Franco Fabrizio said it had been depressing to see Red Hill and its wineries so empty during the extended lockdown.

“I drove in this morning and there's just people everywhere, enjoying the property,” he said.

Kids make use of the lawn at Red Hill Estate on Saturday.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

“It’s back to normal, but better than normal actually. Everyone’s so excited.”

Pheck and Russell Miller hadn't been out for lunch since hospitality reopened for diners about two and a half weeks ago and wondered why the traffic was so bad.

“We haven't been out for lunch in a while, we rang a few places that were fully booked … It's beautiful sitting in the fresh air,” Ms Miller said.

Loucas and Markella Mitsis were on the peninsula to check the state of their property at Rosebud, to check on how high the grass has got since they last visited in June.

Next weekend, they'll come back to Rosebud to tackle mowing the grass.

Luke Gooley, operations manager at sister wineries Montalto and Tucks, said it "would be an understatement" to say they had a rush of bookings this week.

Eldridge Estate was picturesque on Saturday.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

"As soon as it was announced that the 25-kilometre limit was being removed, the phones and emails lit up immediately," Mr Gooley said.

Tony Lee, winemaker and chef at Foxeys Hangout winery, also in Red Hill, said it was great to have customers back after "a long and lonely winter".

There has been a boom of bookings for tastings and lunches over the weekend, and wineries are also preparing for a busier-than-normal summer period while Victorians holiday in the regions instead of travelling abroad.

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