Montalto founders and owners John and Wendy Mitchell initially planned a small vineyard by the coast as a place to relive earlier years spent holidaying with friends in southern France. But John’s love of the outdoors, his interest in viticulture and corporate knowledge soon combined to grow Montalto into one of the Mornington Peninsula’s most popular destinations.
Evolving from early plans to sell focaccias and press olive oil, Montalto is now celebrated for its fine food, wine and art. Along the way, John says they have been guided by a commitment to family, community and a desire to share memorable experiences with others.
Why did you establish Montalto?
In the beginning it wasn’t really a desire to create wines that are extraordinary or to have a chef’s hat restaurant. It was more about the enjoyment of the property that we have here really, and how it was so pleasing to share that and to get the positive feelings back at a personal level when you know that you’ve done something that’s given somebody else pleasure.
For me, that is still the most potent driver for the business. The only time I would ever contemplate changing the situation would be if that somehow went dreadfully wrong and was not sustainable. But I don’t think that situation is going to occur.
What do you hope people take away from an experience at Montalto?
I get enormous pleasure when I bump into somebody in the car park and I hear them talking about their experience. So when you can see that people are feeling really pleased that they came here, they really feel that this is something out of the ordinary, they feel rewarded for the time shared. That’s what gives us the greatest pleasure and reward.
Lot’s of people who come here regularly, when they’ve got an interstate or overseas visitor they bring them here. They take a sense of ownership of the estate, they feel proud of it and they want to share it. For me, that’s actually stronger than a really good write up for a wine or a top result in a wine show.
Is there any part of the estate that is particularly special to you?
On a personal level, I most enjoy the parts closer to the wetlands. So Trout Dam at the Red Hill end of the property, which is where my daughter Heidi got married. It’s beautiful; it’s a convergence of elements. You’ve often got ducks or water hens with their little chicks, you’ve got the vineyard behind, you’ve got the beautiful grassed area that runs down in amphitheatre style, you’ve got Trout Dam and then rising up sharply on the other side you’ve got the vines again.
I enjoy walking in the wetlands, particularly when there’s nobody else around. They are the area that I get the greatest satisfaction from. Wendy would probably say that she gets that in the garden because that’s her meditation, that’s her chill-out space with her headphones on and her hands in the soil.
Wendy’s Garden is a feature of Montalto, how has it evolved?
We had a tiny little kitchen garden out here that we put in for our first chef Philippe Mouchel and Wendy started to take an interest in that. So then we got Andrew Laidlaw from the Botanic Gardens in to expand the garden down the hill a bit and then it really became her lovechild within the business. That was her space, not because she was confined to it, but because that was what she was motivated by. Then over the years she’s become more interested in the whole values system of the operation, taking an interest in employees and taking an interest in customers. She loves talking to people so in a sense she’s become a little bit Mother Earthy to the operation.