Somewhere in the green, grape-laced landscape that is the Mornington Peninsula region of Victoria stands a hotel that poses in stark contrast to its soft and supple surroundings. Welcome to Jackalope.
Jackalope Hotel is a surprisingly dark, masculine and mysterious sort of accommodation for a wine region. It is bold, heavy and contemporary to the point of being in your face, and as a result it is definitely not to everyone’s taste. But to me, Jackalope Hotel is a palette cleanser for the predictable, country-kitsch courses that are most vineyard hotels – and one that deserves to be truly savoured.
Located in Merricks North, next to the popular wine-tasting area of Red Hill, Jackalope is a 10-20 minute drive from a whole range of award-wining and excellent cellar doors and hatted restaurants like Port Phillip Estate, Ten Minutes by Tractor, and Montalto, but if you don’t stray far from this boutique hotel during your soujourn, I won’t judge you because there is more than enough to keep you occupied on the hotel grounds alone, beginning with exploring the hotel’s unique design.
Subverting regional Australia’s hotel design norms is a big part of what Jackalope is all about. You only have to take one look at its black, boxy façade, or look up inside to its neon-trimmed ceiling to understand just how deep the design layers of this hotel go. Jackalope is an accommodation extension of the Willow Creek Winery, which is still very much a part of the Jackalope experience. With design and architect team, Carr Design Group, steering the ship on this gargantuan project, the sheer scale and expense of the project is not lost on guests like me, who have gone and booked an interstate trip purely to feast their eyes on this rare and unusual gem.
And overall, I was not disappointed. Every element of the hotel’s interior and exterior design has been flawlessly and expertly executed. The theme of the hotel is ‘alchemy’, and this idea of the alchemic, wine-making process permeates the whole journey inside, from the glass apothecary-style tubes on display in the bar, to the 10,000 amber-hued light globes covering the ceiling of the restaurant. I can guarantee you’ve never seen a ceiling quite like it outside of an art gallery, and Jackalope is a gallery of sorts, with art, quirky furniture, and accents adorning every space…where it matters, the designers might argue, which takes us to the rooms.
We stayed in a Terrace Room, and unlike many a hotel that uses the word ‘view’ loosely, Jackalope does not disappoint here. The vista of the jaw-dropping lap pool and vineyards beyond was absolutely outstanding and I could have looked at it all day. The rooms are super modern and minimal and the colour palette is about as monochrome as you can get – Jackalope is all about black and grey and the rooms reinforce the masculine design footprint in the rest of the hotel. It’s very clear what the interior design brief was – let the vineyard be the focus – but I did feel this came with the cost of forgoing a certain warmth as well as functionality in the room itself.
But then… the pool. It probably doesn’t get all too many swimmers in it outside of the few months of summer, as the Mornington Peninsula region is known for its cool climate (and hence its world-class Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays), but who cares when you can just lie on the loungers or sit on your balcony and stare at its magnificent beauty. Its sleek, 90-degree lines tie in perfectly with the symmetry of the vineyards behind it, and well, there is just something inexplicably relaxing about vineyards, isn’t there? Here you can enjoy a chill session pool-side with Jackalope’s poolside service at your disposal, and between the cooler months of April and October you can head straight for the heated Jacuzzi down one end of the pool.
Another thing I loved on the amenities-front was the free minibar. Despite how much of a bonus this is when staying in a hotel, and how much guests always remember this perk, it is not something you find many hotels doing. The free mini bar at Jackalope consists of a small bag of chips, a few ‘funsize’ chocolates, a small jar of wasabi peas and lollies, and a variety of soft drinks and even cider in the fridge. Wine is extra, because, after all he is the classy sibling of cider and he comes at a cost, plus the hotel can’t very well give away the Willow Creek wine people are paying for a few steps over at the cellar door (or can they?). Jackalope’s isn’t a mini bar to rival the likes of other hotels’ I’ve stayed in, but it’s certainly not bad.
There are also two restaurants at Jackalope – the fine dining restaurant (with those spectacular lightbulbs) found on the ground floor of the restaurant, Doot Doot Doot, and a more casual cellar door eatery just outside the hotel overlooking the vineyard, called Rare Hare. We opted for the four-course degustation at Doot Doot Doot (there’s also an eight-course option) on our first night there and one course in it it was clear why this restaurant earned an AGFG Chef Hat within its first year of opening.
Head Chef Martin Webster served up some surprising and delicious courses that were well-sized and not too fussy, using fresh local ingredients to create some really interesting flavor combinations – smoked vanilla ice cream with salmon roe, anyone?! Sommelier Ollie Tucker was also excellent, unsurprising given his pedigree (his last role was at Bennelong), opening a stunning bottle of French Chenin Blanc for us that wasn’t even on the wine list.
Jackalope is the rocket that has launched a new luxury era on the Mornington Peninsula. Since its opening, so too has winery restaurant Pt Leo Estate, and Lindenderry at Red Hill has undergone a beautiful refurbishment courtesy of design duo Hecker Guthrie, bringing it effortlessly into the five star set. And for those less interested in vineyards and more comfortable in a sandy setting, there’s always the upmarket seaside neighbourhoods of Sorrento and Portsea to explore. The cherry on top? The drive from Melbourne to Mornington Peninsula is a cinch. Just jump on the highway from the airport and you’ll be tasting wine before midday.
This article was adapted from an article originally published on Never Leaving by the same author.