Buyers have a taste for an epicurean escape on the Mornington Peninsula

By Peter Barrett

When the traffic jams and pressures of city living finally became enough for Kew-based art dealer Jonathan Cecil and partner Monique Soames, they took out a map of Victoria and started dreaming.

Looking for somewhere out of town but still sophisticated in terms of lifestyle, they looked closely at the Macedon area. But it was Red Hill that won out. After spending a year renting in the area, the couple settled on a former restaurant and residence, with gorgeous views over the neighbouring chardonnay and pinot noir vines of Lindenderry Winery.

With plans to open a print gallery on the site and exhibit artists such as David Hockney, Lloyd Rees and John Olsen, the future looks exciting. “It’s a lovely place to be,” says Cecil. “I’m a golfer and I love vineyards and restaurants and food – the lifestyle down here is very suited to my temperament.”

He’s not alone. Quality food and wine offerings, rolling hills, proximity to beaches and easy access to Melbourne via the Peninsula Link have driven the market over the past two years, says agent Lisa Fraser-Smith, of RT Edgar in Flinders.

“You’re no longer just selling to a holiday market; you’ve now got people who are selling up in Brighton, Beaumauris, Sandringham […]. You can buy a beautiful farm for $3 million compared with a townhouse in Brighton.”

“It’s a very high-end market.” Interior designer Sally Klopper

With much of the land around Red Hill and neighbouring locales (think Flinders, Merricks, Main Ridge, Shoreham, Balnarring and Boneo) part of the Green Wedge management program, subdivision is limited by requiring a minimum area of 40 hectares. This means properties are in finite supply and more tightly held than those in Sorrento and Portsea, says Andrew Hines, director of Kay & Burton in Flinders.

“People recognise how difficult it is to get into the area and they’re sometimes fearful getting out that they might not find what they want to get back in.”

Jock Langley, director at Abercromby’s, says buyers might expect to pay between $1.8 million to $3.5 million for properties between two and eight hectares. “You can probably find them cheaper but it depends whether you want something established or whether you want land. There was one that was about 15 acres that sold a while back for $8 million, with a hat-full of vines, a beautiful house and great views. There are certainly some exceptional properties on five to 20 acres.”

Sorrento-based Sally Klopper, of interior design business Sally Caroline, says the bulk of her work in the area is updating “quaint country homes” into weekend retreats. “The people that I deal with are very well-travelled, very well-cultured and very aware of hospitality,” she says, adding that food and wine is likely a big influence on their decision to move to the area. “It’s a very high-end market.”

The key question for buyers in these parts really is “how big do you want to go?” If you’re not comfortable with agriculture, think carefully about inheriting a vineyard, for example. (Although, there are plenty of winemakers around who could be happy to lease and look after your land — you don’t want to spend all your spare time on a ride-on lawnmower.) Then again, if you can afford to buy in this area chances are you can probably afford to pay someone to mow those lawns for you.

Where to buy

  • Red Hill, once a sleepy village is surrounded by more than 200 vineyards and 55 cellar doors. With a name now synonymous with great food and wine, tourism traffic has increased and that, according to agent Lisa Fraser-Smith, of RT Edgar in Flinders, has affected the character of the place. “A lot of people are selling up there and they’re moving down to fringe suburbs like Balnarring, Merricks North, Toorong [and] parts of Main Ridge because Red Hill itself has lost that community feel a little bit.”

A perfect blend

Sam Coverdale, 39, above, has been making wines around Australia since 2006. He’s had stints in Queensland, Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne but 10 years ago he followed his now wife, Emma Phillips, to the Mornington Peninsula. That’s where he has stayed. “I’m a mad keen surfer, so that was a serious motivation: to be able to make wine, surf and be an hour from Melbourne.” He opened his business Polperro (a winery, cellar door, restaurant and accommodation provider all rolled into one) in 2014. It now features regularly in top restaurant reviews and employs more than 35 local people. “Now that I’ve got my daughter [Amelie, 5] here at Red Hill Primary School it’s been amazing – we’ve really got into the community now.” Coverdale says there’s a lot going on at the winery and the surrounding vineyards to keep life busy. “I get to go surfing a few times a week at least and my wife runs a yoga studio called Hot Hut on our home property.” As property supply tightens up around him he regrets he didn’t buy more land when he had the chance, when he says vineyards were viewed as something that could lower sale prices. “Now you can get guys like myself who come in and lease the vineyard and take all the headaches off you. They take the fruit for their own label and all the upside and downside. And you get to come down on the weekends and enjoy the peninsula for what it is.”

Cover property

440 Keys Road, Flinders
$2 million-plus
Auction at 1pm, on February 18
RT Edgar Flinders, Michael Parker 0428 540 500

Is it the Provence or Flinders? This charming, three-bedroom stone cottage, set on about 3.2 hectares, was built 20 years ago by the current owners, one of whom is French, which helps explain some of its rustic aesthetic. Inside you’ll find rendered walls, recycled timbers and two fireplaces – one downstairs in the main lounge and dining area and the other upstairs in the parents’ retreat. While a cypressCyprus hedge along the property’s square boundary ensures privacy, views upstairs extend across rolling green farmland to the forever-changing blues and greys of Bass Strait. Suiting seachangers or weekenders, a large paddock means you’ll have ample room for that pony someone special has always wanted; a separate chicken run will keep you in eggs; and a small orchard of fruit trees (accessed through a delightful private garden archway) means you’ll never want for jam and marmalade again. Just five minutes’ drive from the village of Flinders and surrounded by golf courses, it’s also in walking distance from Kerry Green beach, a gorgeous spot known for its rock pools at low tide. Other property features include an upstairs clawfoot bath, a barbecue deck equipped with its own quaint stone outhouse and a garage/workshop connected to power.

Or try these …

295 Dunns Creek Road, Red Hill
$2.95 million

Built from Tasmanian sandstone this house sits on eight hectares and looks out over its own managed vineyard. Private sale. Kay & Burton Flinders, Paul Armstrong 0418 624 962.

2252-2270 Mornington-Flinders Road, Flinders
$20 million

Daniel Besen’s Wood Marsh-designed mansion is created for city dwelling in the country. Spectacular on every level, with a price to match. Private sale. Sotheby’s, Rob Curtain 0418 310 870.

525 Tucks Road, Shoreham
$7 million-plus

Set on 1.8 hectares with a Paul Bangay-designed garden and Stuart Rattle interior, this French provincial house has killer views across Western Port Bay. Private sale. Kay & Burton, Andrew Hines 0400 630 630.

This story was first published on Friday, 27 January 2017 in the Australian Financial Review.