To the left, deep in his leather bucket seat, is the general manager of Infiniti Cars Australia, Campbell York, a young man who likes his food and wine almost as much as his cars. He doesn’t look happy. To the front, a big, black sedan is bearing down on us. Does its driver see us? He does not. Does he continue to reverse? He does. Is the guy blind or what? We’re in the car park at Port Phillip Estate winery on the Mornington Peninsula and any opportunity for a fancy evasive manoeuvre seems slim. That leaves plan B: a blast of the new Infiniti Q50’s horn. A car horn can tell you so much about a car, don’t you think? Some sound like a Mister Whippy van: bright and musical attracting the attention of children and dogs but not much else. This is forceful, penetrating. Message received! Crisis averted. Lunch awaits.
Port Phillip Estate has been many things to its owners over the years: new kid on the block in 1996, emerging Australian pinot noir and chardonnay star in the 2000s. Today, following a change in owner and a multi-million dollar transformation it is one of the luxury food and wine destinations on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. Reportedly the largest rammed earth building in the Southern Hemisphere, Port Phillip Estate doesn’t sit so much as floats on a ridge at Red Hill, a very large and beautiful drifting iceberg, where so much remains hidden from view underground. The 120-metre eastern wall separates diners away from the road and the everyday humdrum, including the busy car park.
Inside, perspective is focused towards the sea and the vines. This land is some of the most expensive vineyard dirt in Australia but the point tends to lose any relevance once Bass Strait comes into view. Electrical manufacturer, Giorgio Gjergja bought Port Phillip Estate in 2000 and a second Peninsula vineyard, Kooyong in 2004. That was his first inspiration. His second was to employ young winemaker, Sandro Mosele.
Since both men enjoy Italian heritage, the emphasis is on producing wines that sing with food. Mosele loves structure. He could have been an architect. He instinctively understands form and construction. His Kooyong Meres single vineyard 2011 pinot noir settles the jangled nerves after our near miss in the car park. The modern Australian food style of chef Stuart Deller soothes.
Infiniti wants to position the new Q50 sedan (prices start at $50,900) at the entry point into the luxury car market. The company will release two new models every year until the end of the decade, culminating, if the go-ahead is given, in a high performance, concept car, the Q50 Eau Rouge. Hand built with 568 bhp and a 3.8-litre V6 engine, the Eau Rouge (change from A$250,000 is not expected) has recorded some of the fastest times for a non-F1 car through the famous Eau Rouge corner on the F1 track in Belgium.
Owned by Nissan but conducted as a separate business, Infiniti has AU1$ billion a year to play with for research and development. It has even called upon the Infiniti Red Bull Racing Team for design input. Four-time Formula 1 Drivers’ World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, is Infiniti director of performance, which might explain why some models can now achieve speeds of 250 kilometres per hour. That’s great for the Autobahn but back in the car park at Port Phillip Estate, I am more interested in the Q50 back-up collision intervention system which scans the area behind the car and can, if necessary, automatically engage the brakes to avoid a nasty collision. Radar can also detect a vehicle in your blind spot, which, as I’ve seen, can be very handy, even on the country roads.