Three Generations of the Crittenden Family, with Zoe at left, Garry centre and winemaker Rollo at far right. Image courtesy Crittenden Wines.

I had the opportunity recently to chat with Zoe Crittenden, who heads up Marketing for her family owned winery Crittenden Estate on the Mornington Peninsula.  [Ed Note: this is NOT a paid post.]

Nestled against a lake, amongst sprawling vines, and lush rolling hills, Crittenden Estate includes literally-on-the-lake Lakeside Villas and the award winning Stillwater restaurant.

It’s a must-see when on the Peninsula, stay if you can.  I had written about it over here.

And not least to not miss a chance to taste from the formidable suite of Pinots, and explore – as they do – through an impressive and highly successful forays into Italian and other small batch varietals.

All this from a family that has been a defining force of the Australian wine scene for decades.

Winemaking royalty here people.

So when I had an opportunity to hear more about a major new development at Crittenden I was curious – what next?

And it sounds to me like they are quietly turning the cellar door experience on it’s head.

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There are a bunch of different reasons why someone would want to visit a cellar door, but I’d reckon it’s fair to say that the desire to experience something a little deeper and more meaningful is probably a more wide-held view than it was 30 years ago.

And the Crittenden family would know – they were amongst the first to plant vines on Mornington Peninsula.

So I saw mention that Crittenden were opening a dedicated wine education centre at the Vinyard, taking the tasting experience in a completely new direction.

I shot an email to Zoe Crittenden to find out more.

I’m very curious to hear a little more about what you are doing – your Media Release talked about ‘A New Era In Wine Tourism’, can you explain what’s so different? 

We have introduced a new concept where rather than jostling for a  spot at the bar customers are greeted and seated in our new custom built wine centre then given a “menu” of our wine flights. There are 8 flights to choose from and each flight has 5 x 30 ml wines – equating to the size of a standard glass of wine. This way, customers can taste and compare the wines, going back and forth between them. Our staff are highly trained to guide customers through the experience or they might choose to do this with our extensive technical notes that are available upon request.

Why the change? Do you see a change in the way people want to experience and come to understand wine on offer? Was there an “ahah” moment when the idea struck?

The concept has been in the pipeline for over two years borne from Garry, Rollo and myself travelling throughout various parts of the world and experiencing cellar doors where they do things differently. After many discussions it became obvious that this was the natural progression for our business and a way that we could further engage with the customer. We believe that this is integral.

Being able to offer guests an experience that is unique and having a cellar door that is more than just a point of sale is important. There is an educational component to our model as research shows that this is what customers want; an experience that is unique and informative. With 26 wines on offer, carefully consolidated into the eight wine flights (which will change periodically), we believe we’re in a very good position to do this. For example we have a Pinot Noir flight that has all of our Pinots ranging from our entry level Geppetto, which has its own interesting story, to our top end premium Zumma Pinot Noir grown from some of the Peninsula’s oldest vines here on the property.

 Will you be offering food as part of the tasting experience?

No, we won’t. Our focus is on the wine and we are fortunate to have the acclaimed Stillwater restaurant a few metres away, owned and run by Zac and Jac Poulier, offering a la carte lunch seven days a week.

 Does this open up the potential for other innovations in what you do with food / wine / experiential events?

Absolutely. We have this beautiful space and right now are feeling very excited about the various things we can do with it. We have begun a members club, which is being run by our manager Clayton Hiskins and members will be invited to attend special events such as a harvest BBQ. Our first event is part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and is called “The Spanish Experience”, open to the public but with limited numbers. It’s on March 14th. [EdNote  – this is part of the Melbourne Food And Wine Festival – you can read more here.]

In the Press Release you described family patriarch Garry “.. who like the Cheshire cat, is slowly but inexorably fading from the scene..” is this new development an indicator of the new direction being forged by you and Rollo?  Or is it more about natural progression in the Crittenden story?

It really is a blend of both. Dad is very keen to pass the reins over, well he says that but I can’t see him fading too far into the distance any time soon! I guess The Wine Centre is symbolic in that the development of it has been Rollo and my  “baby” (urgh – bad analogy as he’s my brother!). We are all very proud of it though!

The Pen is a stunning region to be based in – obviously the land shapes the wine to a huge degree ..but how much does it shape your thinking in what you’ve done here?  Is there something different about visitations to the Peninsula?

Good question! There is quite a bit of research about visitation to the Peninsula. Most are day trippers from Melbourne and the South East suburbs and when studying the research on tourism in particular, not just cellar doors, people are looking for an experience that will last 1 – 2 hours and are prepared to pay for it, but not much. We fit this bill rather nicely.  And hopefully they will take a souvenir of some wine home with them! Our wine flights are priced around the $10 mark, less than the cost of a glass of wine. We are only looking to cover our costs. The cost is refundable upon the purchase of 6 bottles of wine.

Many people come to wine and food careers during their life but you and Rollo were born to it – including the Peninsula itself … do you think that changes your outlook or approach in any way?

Another good question! We have both come to where we are in different ways. In my previous life I was a secondary school teacher and a very passionate educator. Education is still of paramount importance to me. Nine years ago, however, I had my first baby and all of a sudden it wasn’t so easy to be a teacher. So I went to work with Dad and fell in love with the marketing component of the business. I did both sales and marketing for a while but found that sales wasn’t really my thing so as we expanded I just came to focus on the marketing. I draw a lot on the psychology component of my BA degree. It’s a fascinating area and one I never tire of learning about.

Rollo on the other hand really was born into it; at 15 he was helping out at vintage and worked in the winery every opportunity he could. After completing year 12 he went and studied Wine Making at Charles Sturt University. He then went on to do vintages in Oregon, California and Italy and worked in other wineries in Australia before coming home to work with Garry and further develop Crittenden Estate.

For both of us, I don’t think there is any question we’d be anywhere but the Peninsula. I honestly couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d live. There is so much on offer. And then it’s only one hour from one of the world’s most fabulous city for so many reasons, food and wine being the foremost!

Finally, and most importantly, the Peninsula offers conditions only seen in few parts of the world that suit growing our favourite love – the fickle and delicious Pinot Noir.

More Info:

Crittenden Estate Wine Centre is open every day between the hours of 10:30am and 4:30pm. 25 Harrisons Road, Dromana, Vic 3936 (Melways Ref 160 K6)

Choose from eight carefully put together wine flights that cover the expanse and variety of 26 wines. A wine flight consists of five wines and you will be seated for what promises to be a more comfortable, intimate and informative experience. Expect to pay about $10 per Wine Flight, with second and subsequent flights available at half price.

When I get back to The Pen’ I’ll be checking it out in person.

Have you been?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Private Tasting Room at Crittenden, with the table hand crafted from a recycled French Oak Barrell

Private Tasting Room at Crittenden, the table hand crafted from a recycled wood from the Mornington Pier. Image Courtesy Crittenden Wines.