Down to earth festival celebrates 21 years

AS the saying goes — if you've got it, flaunt it — and that's exactly what the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges are doing at this year's Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

Roads in the hills are lined with lush vineyards, world-class restaurants and quality providores and the annual two-week festival is their time to shine, particularly on 'regional closing weekend' from March 15.

It's the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival's 21st year and the focus is returning to the source — earth. It will celebrate getting your hands dirty, growing and making it yourself and savouring local produce.

An event at Oakridge Wines in Coldstream encompasses that philosophy with a "true earth-to-plate" journey, on which participants can dirty their hands with the farmers and then enjoy a feast they helped create.

One of the more novel events of the entire festival is a lunch with one of the nation's most-loved native animals.

'Dine with a Platypus', at Healesville Sanctuary on Saturday, March 16, features a three-course lunch in an earthy, creek-side environment with a unobstructed view of the sanctuary's platypus'.

For something a little closer to the suburbs, Mount Dandenong icon Skyhigh will host the regional world's longest lunch on Friday, March 15.

It's set against the backdrop of the Melbourne skyline and executive chef Simon Bennett will prepare a menu matched with wines sourced from nearby wineries.

And the newest tourist destination in the Yarra Valley will share the fun this year with an event for the young foodies in your family. 

'Become a Junior Chocolatier' is on at the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery in Yarra Glen and is a 'parent-free zone' where European chocolatiers will teach children how to create their own chocolate animal.

But if you've got a bit of spare cash or feel like dipping your toe in the winery industry, Mandala Wines in Dixons Creek has a very special event.

People with wine making ambitions and who are willing to part with $1500 have the opportunity to pick, crush and blend their own Mandala wine and then enjoy a long lunch of local produce. 

Twice during the year, the novice winemakers will return to Mandala to taste from the barrel and decide on the final blend. 

For a full list of events, visit melbournefoodandwine.com .au

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