Ballarat’s cooler winter temperatures and dry summers often get a bad rap, but add to this the many diverse microclimates and soil types of Western Victoria and you’ll unearth a rich tapestry of wine styles.
In fact, the team at Mitchell Harris will tell you that our continentally-influenced climate and cool night temperatures extend picking season and help with natural acidity preservation and enhanced flavour development in their ripening grapes.
“The diversity of limestone, granite and volcanic soil in regions such as Pyrenees, Ballarat and Grampians also adds to the range of our wine styles created. A variety of altitudes in the rolling hills and valleys and basalt plains, plus a spirit of ingenuity means that many different varieties can, and are, being planted,” they also tell us.
Opening in 2013 as a humble wine bar, cellar door and the primary retail outlet for the Mitchell Harris wine label, this popular Doveton Street venue has come a long way in less than a decade.
Today, it’s the place to gather with friends and enjoy a good drop or two with a selection of plates from their constantly evolving menu.
We wanted to find out more about the Mitchell Harris story, so we asked the team to answer a few questions. Here’s what they had to say…
Tell us about your Cellar Door and Wine Bar? We hear it has a pretty interesting history.
Our Cellar Door and Wine Bar indeed has a long and interesting history. It was originally a carriage builder and repair shop in the 1870s and has since been used as a produce store, canvas works and tent repair shop for American soldiers stationed near Ballarat during WWII.
Prior to the Mitchell Harris team purchasing the building, Max Roberts ran an electric motor repair and rewiring business. In the current fit-out, we’ve tried to keep that industrial air to the place and have kept some signs and signage from the motor repair shop for both posterity and an aesthetic appeal.
John, what originally sparked your love of wine?
It’s a combination of many things. I really loved growing up in a farming area on the outskirts of Ballarat and on the edge of the neighbouring Pyrenees wine region.
Having completed a science degree and with a love of all things eating and drinking, winemaking seemed like an irresistible career option. One day into my first harvest, it was love at first sight. Winemaking combines the diligence of the scientist and the creativity of an artist. The great fine wines of the world, and some of the exciting wines from new producers in our neighbouring wine regions are truly inspiring.
And your favourite part of the winemaking process?
The autumn harvest is the busiest and the most exciting time of the year of a winemaker. All the hard work has been done in the vineyard in the preceding months.
I spend my days travelling between our vineyards sampling and tasting the ripening berries, analysing the juice and working out when is going to be the best time to pick based on the style of wine we want to make.
The hours are long, and it can be an anxious time watching the weather and coordinating picking and logistics. However, the thrill of transforming grapes from the vineyard into a wine that will one day be shared and hopefully loved is what really drives me.
Those interesting in learning more about winemaking can sign up for your Curious Winemaker program, tell us what this is all about?
The Curious Winemaker program is an extension of our commitment to educate and share our love of wine in an intimate hands-on setting with a small group of enthusiastic participants. Currently in its seventh year, Curious Winemaker participants, with the guidance of Mitchell Harris winemaker John Harris, are actively involved in the key stages and processes of winemaking – from the vineyard and harvest, crushing, pressing, ageing and maturing, through to bottling and packaging.
The end result, is a year-long winemaking adventure and a box of wine with your name on the label as the winemaker.
What’s the secret to a good glass of wine?
Some of the greatest wine experiences you will ever have are more to do with where you are (physically and emotionally) and who you are with, rather than how expensive or how awarded the wine in the glass may be.
We don’t tend to have many strict rules when it comes to wine at Mitchell Harris.
If you reckon it tastes good, regardless of what it costs, or how many gold medals are (or aren’t) on the label, then drink it. We make and sell wine for it to be shared and enjoyed!
We want to demystify wine and present wine as a fun, and enjoyable drink for all that should enhance mealtimes and social occasions. However, if you are interested and want to look a little closer, with a little guidance and experience you can discern differences between regions, varieties, styles and infinite other variables. Our wine list celebrates our great Western Victorian wines as well as the great varieties, vineyards, winemakers and winemaking styles from Australia and the rest of the winemaking world as well.
What do you recommend from the Mitchell Harris menu?
The team at Mitchell Harris is here to welcome guests into the bar and to guide you through our seasonal menu and to find a wine, beer, or cocktail to suit from our award-winning list. You can drop in for a quick glass of wine, or stay and work your way through the menu and wine list.
For an exceptional visitor experience, we’ve curated some specially designed packages that can be pre-booked through our website.
We have a Wine and Cheese pairing where our guests are given a flight of wines from the Mitchell Harris range that we’re particularly proud of, next to some locally-sourced cheese that our kitchen team have selected. Our staff can tell you about the finer points of the palette and provenance of each wine and answer any questions you have about our product.
For a more involved experience, we also host Private Wine Experiences. One of our staff will be on-hand to show you through a more expansive range of our wines; tell you everything you need to know about our business and vision; give you a guided tour of the building and tell you what makes our region’s wine and culture unique.
Talking about Ballarat more broadly, what is it that you love most about the region?
The commercial profile of the town is becoming very exciting. For instance, Ballarat has a remarkably vibrant and self-starting food scene – a fact that the rest of the state is starting to recognise.
Wise investment and growth in public amenities and education in any town naturally attracts professional talent. Ballarat has finally seen the rewards of this in the burst of enterprise in our hospitality industry.
For a while Ballarat has attracted people looking for a sensible location to buy their first home and start a family. What’s happening now is that the sophistication of the service industry, growing in tandem with the knowledge-economy and public sector, will add professional development to Ballarat’s suite of incentives.
What is Ballarat’s best kept secret?
Its established, and emerging wine producers, of course! Not just Mitchell Harris, but also a motivated and intelligent group of producers that are just as excited about the potential for this region’s wine making and viticulture as we are: Bended Knee, Latta, Eastern Peake, and Attwoods wines among them.
What are the top three recommendations of things to do in Ballarat?
1. For any culinary experience without rival in the region, it’s impossible to look past Underbar. From the outside, it’s an un-assuming address concealing the mastery of Chef Derek’s craft.
He forages local ingredients from the neighbourhood and immediate surrounds of Ballarat to prepare a constantly changing 12-course degustation for his guests.
Look out for some choice vintage Sabre ‘on point’ on Derek’s wine list.
2. Catch the famous sunset over Lake Wendouree with some great food and drink. Grab a bottle and some cheese from our shop, or Campana’s Deli around the corner, and find a lush patch of grass to settle in and take in the serenity. If cheese isn’t your thing, Sushi Nova off Dana Street do amazing platters of sushi – put that next a tall skinny bottle of white wine and you’re a little closer to heaven…
3. The morning coffee ritual has become quite an institution in Ballarat and the quality of the traders out there has made choosing a venue increasingly difficult.
Lazy weekend brunches, business breakfasts and fly-by caffeine fixes are all catered for with immense class and pride by venues such as Johnny Alloo, Drive, Hydrant Food Hall, Higher Society, Ballarat legend L’Espresso and the new kid on the block Cobb’s Coffee.