Australia’s second oldest wine region, Swan Valley, has 46 wineries, 43 with cellar doors, ranging from the ultra-modern to the rustic tin shed, but this valley is also home to artisans of all kinds, including makers of other beverages.
Story and images by Graeme Kemlo
Typical of the new breed is James Young, of Old Young’s Distillery, which won champion vodka in the 2016 and 2017 Australian Distilled Spirits Awards. James had been an elite sports psychologist, but turned his hand to distilling and using local native ingredients to infuse his spirits with interesting flavours.
The rich pickings in food extend from Whistler’s Chocolate Company, The Cheese Barrel at Olive Farm Wines (WA’s oldest winery), to bush tucker experiences, or the community-driven fresh food market at Swan Valley Sisters.
Sandalford is an ideal place to start your 32km loop gourmet exploration of the Swan Valley wine and food bowl. A popular tourist destination, especially for its behind the scenes tours, it’s home to regular music events among the vines, and barrel halls stacked with the flagship fortified Sandalera, based on Pedro Ximinez sherry grapes picked at high sugar and cellared for up to 25 years. Here you can enjoy fine dining in summer under the trellis entwined with 130-year-old Swan Valley vines.
Next door is Mandoon Estate, owned by the Erceg family. A decade ago, the Ercegs bought a 32-acre lot, which included an historic riverfront homestead, outbuildings and Verdelho vines planted in 1895.
They spent about $40 million developing it into a winery, degustation restaurant, cellar door, German microbrewery, gastropub, and beer garden; and also included a luxe basecamp of 32 rooms overlooking the historic vines and Swan River, called The Colony.
Mandoon Executive Chef, British-born Michael Hartnell, (who has worked at Daphne’s in London and Le Caprice at New York’s Pierre Hotel) offers both degustation and a la carte dining at Wild Swan, with dishes of local marron, octopus and WA kingfish and mains of local Manjimup truffle, beef, venison and seafood.
Another iconic local winery, the 182-year-old Houghton was led for many years by Jack Mann, who mentored many of today’s local winemakers. Renowned for its White Burgundy, now Houghton White Classic, it produces white and red wines sourced from Margaret River, Frankland River and Swan Valley. Try the Icon Wine Flight, a cellar door exclusive tasting paired with food prepared by Executive Chef, former Iron Chef, Herb Faust.
It was Jack Mann’s daughter-in-law, Sally Mann, who discovered what is now registered as ‘Cygne blanc’, which wine writers have described as reminiscent of Rhone valley hermitage and warm climate Sauvignon blanc, when it was growing as a stray vine in her Swan Valley garden in 1989.
At Talijancich winery, one of Jack Mann’s proteges, James Talijancich, runs the family’s relatively small holding established in 1932 by his grandfather who taught him to care for the land, “to get depth into your wine you need to have depth in your soil”.
James is a gentle giant, highly regarded in the Swan Valley, which has gone through change as the Margaret River region took off, to some extent eclipsing the Swan. But James regards the success of Margaret River with its big chardonnays and other premium table wines as a great opportunity for Swan Valley to showcase its strength in fortifieds.
In his barrel room with heady syrupy aromas, James gently prises the cork out of an old barrel and disgorges a small glass of heaven. This is the wine he had decided not to make, but to leave the shrunken berries to wither on the vine. But he was persuaded to use a food processor to extract whatever he could from the fruit to be added to one of the barrels of Tawny (Shiraz base) that his father Peter had laid down decades earlier.
The result was “our most complex wine and first Tawny” – Talijancich Rare Tawny Aged 30 Years. It won a brace of local awards, crowned by taking Gold at London’s International Wine and Spirit Competition in 2015.
Just down the road, literally (Perth is only 25 minutes from the Swan Valley), the city boasts a range of exciting restaurants and bars for the epicurean.
Melbourne restaurateur Guy Grossi opened a Roman restaurant at the new Westin Hotel; Como-The Treasury’s Wildflower rooftop restaurant helmed by Jed Gerrard is popular and also hosts Long Chim Thai eatery started by David Thompson.
The 1897 Melbourne Hotel Perth has been reimagined as an old-meets-new, east-meets-west boutique hotel with popular rooftop bar and has four different food options: Cantonese, Western, Kaisuke Ramen bar (that always has a line outside), and Hattendo, the first Japanese sweet bun franchise in Australia.
Japanese fusion restaurant Nobu, owned by Nobuyuki Masuhisa and actor Robert De Niro, is at Crown Towers Perth. Executive chef Leif Huru from Norway worked for Nobu Miami and The Bahamas before coming to Perth six years ago. He says Australians love the quality of produce available in Perth, such as salmon sashimi with Manjimup truffles, wagyu beef tacos and black cod miso. But to eat here you’ll need to book well in advance.
Perth’s newest five-star hotel, QT, sets out to create fun experiences says creative director, restaurateur Robert Marchetti, who has a ‘director of chaos’ in place of a concierge. His Santini Bar & Grill Italian restaurant offers an extensive menu suitable for sharing, including local seafood and the chef’s cut rib-eye, perfectly pink and tasty from the lava rock grill.
Even QT’s pork sausages draw acclaim, and enquiring about their origin might just lead to a visit to Mondo meats and butcher-in-chief, Vince Garreffa, whose pork sausages are indeed local: he is part owner of White Rocks Veal, the “best in Australia”.
Garreffa proudly shows off his directly imported Japanese Wagyu beef, complete with the cow’s birth/death certificate including nose print – “We charge $1000 a kilo … it’s $2000 a kilo at Harrods,” he adds with a smile.
Flights to Perth depart from every major city in Australia. Flight time is four hours from Melbourne and roughly five hours from Sydney or Brisbane. The Swan Valley region is 25 minute drive from the centre of Perth.
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