The vines

The vines

By
Lyndey Milan
Contains
24 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742707846
Photographer
Stuart Scott

Australia is one of the great New World wine success stories. Around 149,000 hectares of grape vines with 2400 wineries in 65 wine regions produce 1.1 billion litres annually. Of this, 681 million litres are exported and 453 million are sold domestically, with over 30 million glasses of Australian wine consumed worldwide every day.

One of the regions most steeped in heritage and tradition is the Barossa Valley in South Australia and a trike tour is a great way to see it. Its Mediterranean climate provides the perfect conditions for growing not only grapes but all manner of produce. Food hero and long-time friend, Maggie Beer, has set the country on fire with her warm personality and passion for all things Barossa. I caught up with her and her artisanal food producer daughter, Saskia, over a glass of sparkling ruby cabernet (sparkling verjuice). They both feel strongly about the Barossa and the people who live and produce there and relish the great German traditions of the area, including curing and smoking meats, preserving fruits and making pickles.

The region has been producing wines for over 170 years with some of the soils reputed to be 300 million years old. Even the vines are some of the oldest in the world because they were never destroyed by phylloxera, which killed vines in France and other regions in Europe, North America and New Zealand.

World-famous wine label Jacob’s Creek, widely recognised as spearheading this country’s export growth, is also from the Barossa Valley. First released in 1976, Jacob’s Creek has been the most popular brand in Australia and also our leading export brand for more than a decade. The Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre offers not only a restaurant and wine tasting, but master classes on matching wine with cheese or chocolate. There’s even a display vineyard where, in season, you can taste and actually get the flavour of the wine in the grapes.

Closer to Adelaide, the cool climate of the Adelaide Hills is well suited to wine styles like sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and also tempranillo. Mount Lofty House was built in the Victorian era between 1852 and 1858 but was almost completely destroyed by the Ash Wednesday bushfires in the early 1980s – bushfires being a constant threat in many parts of Australia. Fortunately it has been rebuilt to retain the original charm, beautifully offset by 4.8 hectares of gardens and vineyards – and it’s a great location to stay and cook.

In the smallest mainland state of Australia, Victoria, the Yarra Valley is only just over an hour’s drive from Melbourne. Also with a cool climate ideal for growing premium wines, it’s a stunning region for pinot noir, and is seen by aficionados like my friends Steve Webber and Leanne De Bortoli as the Holy Grail for winemakers.

Yet there’s much more than grapevines in the Yarra. On the outskirts is a salmon farm with over 50,000 fish in 16 ponds. The Rubicon River is fed by both springs and melting snow so the water runs at 6°C, which salmon love. It’s one of the only freshwater aquaculture farms in the world, and the only one in Australia, to use a natural method of harvesting the roe. Every May 20,000 salmon are hand-milked. I’ve tried it a couple of times with Nick Gorman from Yarra Valley Caviar and was determined to go back for the TV show. The mature fish are anaesthetised with clove oil in baths, then the roe is gently massaged by hand from their stomachs before the fish are revived in a highly oxygenated bath. The salmon eggs are then cleaned, hand-picked, immersed in a salt–sugar solution and pasteurised.

Yering, in the heart of the Yarra Valley is a place of lush pastures, where the quality of the milk allows cheesemakers like Jack Holman at Yarra Valley Dairy to produce the finest cheese. A dairy for 100 years, it has been a cheesery with café attached for around 20, with Persian Fetta their flagship product.

The TarraWarra Museum of Art in Healesville, opened a decade ago, is one of the world’s leading exhibitors of significant Australian and international works of art. Art curator Victoria Lynn (whose father lectured me in fine arts at university) showed me around the stunning building.

In the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, from humble beginnings four generations of McGuigan winemakers have helped to put Australian wine on the world map. And these days, raconteur and all-round good guy, Neil McGuigan, is at the helm – three-time winner of international winemaker of the year. Here it is the high humidity and proximity to the coast which makes the Hunter unique, especially for semillon, shiraz and chardonnay.

Orange in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales has always been at the forefront of regional food, and celebrates with an annual festival. There is a F.O.O.D (Food of Orange District) train that leaves from Central Station in Sydney for the annual F.O.O.D Week in April. This is a fun way to get there while sampling the produce from producers on board, who explain it is the cool climate from high altitude that makes it easy to grow great produce. And not only plants. At egganic, an organic egg farm, 2500 Isa Brown chickens roam free, guarded by the Italian breed of Maremma sheepdogs, which keep predators at bay so the hens can lay 160 dozen eggs daily. Bees flourish too with 40,000–50,000 per hive at the Beekeeper’s Inn, once a Cobb and Co Inn in the 1880s, which has a café, tasting room, museum and even a brewery.

Borrodell on the Mount, one of the highest vineyards in Australia, holds a Black Tie Truffle Hunt and Gumboot Dinner every winter. We foraged for truffles from inoculated trees first planted some 20 years ago. The truffle industry in Australia is growing rapidly right across the country. So, too, is the olive oil industry, and olive groves often follow where vines have gone before. Yet each region is intrinsically different, moulded not only by the climate and growing conditions, but by what people do, too – and the odd accident. The Hansen family got a few deer to control blackberries on their farm just out of Orange 35 years ago, and now the blackberries are still thriving but there are some 2000 head of deer, with son Tim starting the Mandagery Creek Venison brand about 12 years ago, a free-range, premium product for the table.

The first payable gold was found nearby in the Ophir goldfields. The goldrush town of Millthorpe, established in the early 1900s and classified by the National Trust, is a piece of living history. Full of cobbled streets with bluestone borders and old buildings, it also houses a top restaurant called Tonic.

Just southwest of Orange, Canowindra is the hot air balloon capital of Australia and holds one of the biggest balloon events in the country. The annual Balloon Glow and Night Markets are quite a spectacle and a great way to trial more local produce – but in the early morning the bird’s eye view of the region from a balloon is unforgettable.

Across the other side of the country, the Margaret River Wine region is about a three and a half hour drive south from Perth. Once a chilled-out surfie town renowned for some of the best big-wave surfing in the world, it has grown a new reputation for premium wines, since such pioneers as Kevin and Diana Cullen first planted grapes in 1966. Their daughter Vanya, a dear friend, is now in the hot seat and has moved the property to becoming biodynamic, winning innumerable accolades. Even when I have visited previously in the middle of winter, her vines have a life and vibrancy to them. This time I delighted in her biodynamic garden, using its bounty to cook with.

The area is also host to the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, an annual festival featuring over 25 international and Australian food and wine celebrities. Here I rubbed shoulders with the likes of Heston Blumenthal, chatted with Guillaume Brahimi on Smiths Beach as he cooked a barbecue lunch, met up with Julien Royer – chef at JAAN in Singapore – before he went on stage, learned about foraging from local Wardandi educator Josh Whiteland and roamed the gourmet village tasting truffles and other local delicacies, interviewing producers and catching up with old friends. Two of these, Tetsuya Wakuda from Tetsuya’s in Sydney and Waku Ghin in Singapore, and Shane Osborn, Perth-born head chef at St Betty in Hong Kong, collaborated with winery Voyager Estate’s executive chef, Nigel Harvey, on an inspiring dinner menu using unique Western Australian produce with matching wines. This was rounded off by a chat from one of the world’s most influential restaurant reviewers AA Gill. What a festival!

But there’s plenty to see at other times of the year and the monthly farmers’ market is not to be missed. In addition to the usual fresh produce, organic eggs, fruit and vegetables there was the most outstanding display of WA wildflowers, as well as a most engaging Italian pastry chef. Here too I met up with David Hohnen, whom I knew years ago at Cape Mentelle winery, now a free-range sheep and pig farmer at The Farm House with his Big Red pigs. I was also pleased to make new friends, like Josh Bahen, a winemaker for 10 years, but now a chocolatier par excellence, honourably sourcing cocoa beans direct from farmers in poor communities, teaching them along the way and then working them in small batches in rare vintage machines.

I opened this episode at Prevelly Beach where the Margaret River meets the Indian Ocean, introducing Tetsuya and Josh Bahen and finished it canoeing with Sean Blocksidge from the Margaret River Discovery Company into the sunset along the river itself.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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