Monday, 25 June 2012

King Valley Part Due - Wineries

The King Valley wine region is likened to Northern Italy, both in the landscape of rolling hills and more recently in the choice of grape varietals grown. There is a strong Italian presence in the region, and the festival “Weekend Fit for a King” is a winter celebration strongly reflecting the area’s Italian links.
The King Valley region is often portrayed as the King Valley “Prosecco Road”. This clever diversification is highly marketable, and leads to a point of difference from the numerous other wine regions in Victoria.
Brown Brothers
239 Milawa Bobinawarrah Road, Milawa
The Grandfather of the region is steeped in the heritage of both the King Valley region and of the Brown Family history. Brown Brothers specialises in exploring a wide range of grape varieties, their extensive and diverse range of wines presents offerings for both the traditional and non-traditional wine lover. In 1989 Brown Brothers established the ‘Kindergarten’, an experimental “mini-winery” for testing new varietals - an innovation well ahead of its time. Many other wine makers in the region have subsequently adopted a similarly experimental approach.
The original shed still remains

Brown Brothers are a founding member of ‘Australia’s First Families of Wine’, a group of twelve of Australia’s oldest wine families, charged with the purpose of raising the profile of Australian wine to the world and highlighting the quality and diversity of Australian wine. Together the families represent seventeen wine-growing regions across Australia, forty-eight generations of winemakers and in excess of 1000 years of wine growing experience. Basically, they know a thing or two about good quality wine. This group is doing tremendous things for the promotion of Australian wine and the preservation of the history of Australian wines.
We were fortunate enough to enjoy the ‘Feast fit for a King’ lunch held in the Epicurean Centre at Brown Brothers. Ross and his wife, Judy, are such charming company and it was absolute pleasure to dine with them at this decadent feast.
‘A Feast Fit for King’
·         Whole fried school prawns
·         White anchovies
·         Marinated olives
·         Pickled Mushrooms
(Brown Brothers Prosecco NV)

·         Pickled ox tongue and salsa verde
·         Cotechino sausage and braised lentils
·         Rabbit and snail pies
·         Guinea fowl and duck liver terraine
·         Boiled eggs with pine nut sauce
·         Farro and cavalo nero salad
(Pinot Grigio 2011 and Limited Release Vermentino 2011)

·         Smoked pork neck and candied cumquats
·         Roasted legs of Nug Nug goat
·         Whole roasted ducks with walnut stuffing
·         Braised chickpeas
·         Assorted root vegetables
(Montepulciano 2010 and Barbara 1999)

·         Assorted Milawa cheeses
(Dolcetto & Syrah 2010 and Moscato 2011)

Smoked pork neck and the whole roasted duck

Nug Nug Goat
After the delicious bountiful feast, Ross took us on a tour of one of the Brown Family enviable cellars, which is an incredible archive of the Brown Brothers wines and was a fantastic end to the day of regal lunching!

The role of the Brown Family in the growth and establishment of the Australian wine industry should not be underestimated. Their Milawa cellar door is a must visit, as is dining at their aptly named Epicurean Centre. Our favourites of the range were the Patricia Shiraz, the Barbara 1999 and Montepulciano 2010.

If you’ve never experienced Prosecco or a Tempranillo, both Brown Brothers releases are widely stocked throughout Australia and retail at about $15.00 - $18.00 and are well worth sampling. Brown Brothers wines are also stocked and distributed in the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand and Europe. The Brown Brothers range certainly offers some very affordable options which present an opportunity to sample varietals you might not normally purchase.
With the next generation of the Brown family now working in the business, I am sure many more great achievements are in store.

Dal Zotto Wines
4861 Wangaratta-Whitfield Road, Whitfield
Otto Dal Zotto migrated from Australia in 1967 and found himself in King Valley in 1987.  In what is a reoccurring story in region, the collapse of the tobacco industry led Otto to try his luck at making wines. Now his son Michael is the winemaker, and Dal Zotto maintains a strong family feel. In fact Nonna Elena’s vegetable garden still supplies produce to Dal Zotto’s trattoria. Otto’s other son Christian is the winery’s marketing manager and has certainly done a great job with the brand. Funky styling and packaging of the products has certainly attracted a younger and growing crowd.
I really enjoyed the range of wines at Dal Zotto, the reds were on the whole more enjoyable than many King Valley reds we tried. My picks were the L’Immigrante Prosecco and the Barbera. The Elena is very good too.
We also had the most amazing slow cooked Pork Belly roll with slaw. So so so good. If that dish is an indication of the food at the trattoria, we’ll definitely be back.

Pork Belly Roll

251 Upper King River Road, Cheshunt
Chrismont has the most spectacular view, perched on the upper end of the Valley. This former tobacco plantation made the transition to vineyards in the late 1970’s, and now produces a wide range of wines. Chrismont has two labels, ‘Chrismont’ and ‘La Zona’. Chrismont consists of more classically Northern European varietals such as Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz etc. La Zona is an exclusively Mediterranean range which includes Prosecco, Arneis, Sangiovese, Barbera and Tempranillo. My understanding is James Halliday named Chrismont one of his top ten ‘Dark Horses” of 2010.
My favourite was the Chrismont Simpatico Chardonnay Pinot Noir, a really delicious deep flavoured sparkling which surely gives some of the best Australian sparkling wines a run for their money.  At the other end of their range, their “Casa” (meaning house) sparkling was surprisingly good in light of the price point.
I am definitely planning another visit and hoping to convince the Husband to stay in their guest house.
Chrismont's spectacular view

Pizzini Wines
175 King Valley Road Whitfield
I was not convinced on their wines. Nothing bad at all, but more importantly nothing I really loved. Similar to the wineries in the regions, their ranges include Arneis, Verduzzo, Nebbiolo, and Sangiovese. Their Prosecco was good – nicely fresh and clean. I’d be keen to visit their cooking school, which looks to be doing some fabulous things and includes classes on Antipasti and Tapas, Pasta, Ravioli and Gnocchi.

Sam Miranda Wines
1019 Snow Road, Oxley
A very impressive cellar door (designed by Sydney Architect Alex Popov) is a definite standout site of the King Valley. A really cosy but funky space that suits the younger crowd to a tee. Again, a good range of sparkling things – Prosecco, Sparkling Durif and my favourite, the Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir. The champagne like yeast taste was really impressive, and arises due to a fermentation period in the bottle in a traditional Method Champenoise style. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.
The Husband disappearing into the cellar door (glass in hand!)

The impressive cellar door upon our departure

Friday, 15 June 2012

"I’m not a glutton – I am an explorer of food” – King Valley Part Uno

Erma Bombeck was on the right track when she coined the phrase ”I’m not a glutton – I am an explorer of food”. Over the June long weekend the Husband and I journeyed to the King Valley and the Milawa regions to explore the copious offerings of food and wine.

What an opulent, uncommercialised food bowl it is. The Milawa area was subject to pastoral leases as early as 1838. The area then grew throughout the 1850’s as weary travelers journeyed through on their way to the new found gold deposits.  Now the rolling hills and large gums shade crops, dairy cows, beef cattle and lambs. Bees, mustard seeds, saffron all flourish in the fertile soil. During our visit the crisp nights iced up the paddocks, giving way to clear sunny days.

Currently, 80% of every dollar spent on general groceries and 60% of every dollar spent on fruit and vegetables is spent at Coles or Woolworths, yet we’re reading stories like this one , regarding the use of gasses to ripen produce and other such nasties.  Every Australian should be visiting farmers markets or one step further - visiting the producers on their home turf. I was surprised that some Melbournians I’ve spoken to were previously not aware of the King Valley region!

My favourite producers
·    Myrtleford Butter Factory – 15 Myrtle Street, Great Alpine Road, Myrtleford

Set in picturesque Myrtleford, this little dairy is producing some fabulous cultured butters, pure buttermilk and buttermilk ricotta. The Mother and Daughter team, Naomi and Bronwyn Ingleton are producing the only pure buttermilk in Australia. They source their cream from local high country cows, and then blend it in a European style manner. Mount Zero pink lake salts are added to the salted butter range. Also onsite is a lovely little café with a very delicious looking breakfast and lunch menu. Buy their butters throughout the Eastern seaboard, or online here. You can also join their Butter Club for opportunities to buy seasonal specials such as Truffle butter and Saffron butter. Butter up now!

Watch them making their butter :

·    Milawa Cheese Company – 17 Milawa-Bobinawarrah Rd, Milawa
Originally set up to emulate Gorgonzola Dolce, a mild creamy blue cheese, David and Anne Brown have been producing their handmade cheeses since 1988. Their range of goats and cows milk cheese includes fresh cheeses (curd, chevres), white mould cheeses (Ceridwen, Brie, Camembert), hard cheeses (Capricornia, Tomme), washed rind cheese and blues. Their award winning cheeses are stocked far and wide across Australia (Simon Johnson, Bottega Rotolo (SA), ‘Say Cheese’ (SA)) and there is also a second Milawa Cheese shop in Carlton North.

My dairy purchases... Lucky we have guests this coming weekend!

Unfortunately we didn’t get to their property due to time constraints, but found their products at the Milawa Cheese Company. The ice creams are produced at their historic 1840’s dairy, using the milk of their Holstein cows herd. Their range includes flavours such as Liquorice, Ironbark Honey, Ginger, Golden Syrup and Muscat. You can find their ice creams in most Australian states (bar SA & NT – sorry!).

I have already informed the Husband another trip to the King Valley that captures a visit to their property is a non-negotiable.

Gundowring Lemon Curd...
It only survived one evening in the Epicurean Household!

·    Walkabout Apairies - 1531 Snow Road, Milawa

Jenny and Rod Whitehead have been beekeepers for the past 36 years. Jenny’s passion for, and knowledge of, the bees is clearly evident. We visited their property for a tasting of their delicious honey range which includes Red Gum, Mudgegonga Stringybark, Mountain Harvest and a very delicious Creamed Honey. There is a noticeable difference in depth and intensity of their types of honey which is really interesting. Due to the wintery Victorian weather, the bees had all been transported to their warmer winter houses on the NSW south coast!  As you are buying direct from the producer, the range is really well priced for such a high quality product.

More purchases!
Learn more about Walkabout Honey from this You Tube clip.

·    Murray Breweries
– 29 Last Street, Beechworth

Murray Brewery first opened in 1865, at the height of the gold rush, producing beer. In the 1920’s temperance groups shut down the alcohol production (except for Stout oddly enough) and Murray Breweries focused on producing cordials with the aid of the nearby natural spring water. Today they still produce flavoured cordials such as Mint Julep, St Clements, Peppermint and Chilli Punch. Perfect for adding to cocktails, a Gatsby style-prohibition themed party anyone?

Already partially consumed!

·    The Olive Shop – Snow Road, Milawa

This store stocks one of the most extensive range olive oil and olive related products I’ve ever come across. Kalamata, Manzanillo’s, green olives and black olives are all present and come in multiple flavoured varieties (eg. Chilli, herbs, garlic etc). There are at least nine different local brands of olive oil, plus a range of imported oils. We visited at a good time as we were able to try the most recent season’s new pressings which were really fresh and the quality of the oil was clearly evident. The shop also stocks a range of olive related accessories, such as implements to cure your own olives.

·    Milawa Mustard Store – 1597 Glenrowan-Myrtleford Road, Milawa VIC 3678
Jim and Kirsty Mellor make 18 different varieties of mustards, and grow their own mustard seeds in paddocks off of nearby Snow Road. Legend has it that Ned Kelly once hid in the cellars of the shop premises, which was a pub in its early days. Now, bushrangers long gone, their delightful little store is home to their mustard range plus 20 other varieties of sauces, chutneys and jams.  My favorites: ginger and orange mustard, balsamic mustard and lemon and dill mustard.

Would I venture to the region again? A resounding yes, even if just for the quality of their dairy products. I’d like to see a Maggie Beer type figurehead of the area emerge, such as Maggie has done in the Barossa Valley, in order to bring well-deserved recognition to the area. This might be the key to increasing the average Victorian’s knowledge of the area.
We also wined and dined at a number of the wineries, particularly Brown Brothers. Stay tuned for the update.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

To Market, to Market

I’ve always loved markets. As a child, my Grandfather used to take me to a fish market. We’d wind through the backstreets of Port Adelaide crowded with abandoned factories and warehouses, an industrial wasteland reminiscent of Fitzgerald’s valley of ashes. Eventually we’d arrive at the wharf, a dock crowded with boats bearing the morning’s catch and wild-looking fisherman wearing tall gumboots and overalls. In the shadow of the power station people would flock to buy the crabs still crawling over one another, bright eyed whole fish, handfuls of prawns and squid still drenched in ink. In the dusty adjacent carpark huge wooden packing crates held melons, pumpkins, tomatoes, oranges and whichever fruit or vegetable was in bountiful supply at the time. As a result of Grandpa’s purchases, I’d always return home to my parents laden watermelon, strawberries and whatever else we’d found.
Now the South Melbourne Market is my local weekend ritual, and for the highest quality produce I visit my favourite store, Georgie’s Harvest Potatoes and Herbs (Stall 50, 322-326 Coventry Street, South Melbourne, 9696 2288, Wed, Sat & Sun 8 am – 4 pm, Friday 8 am – 5 pm).
At the time of writing, Georgie is stocking 23 different varieties of potatoes including Dutch Creams, Kipler, King Edward and Blue Zarr. But for something a little different, purchase her fresh horseradish, turmeric root or fresh wasabi. The fresh wasabi is sourced from Shima Wasabi in Tasmania and is also used at Vue de Monde, Coda and The Press Club. The flavour, scent and texture is dramatically different to the nasty green fluro paste accompanying your takeaway sushi, that you’ll never want to eat the paste again.

Georgie's lovely store

If you’re lucky enough to meet Georgie herself, you’ll come away with cooking secrets to add a little something to your dish. For example, Georgie taught me to always use at least three different varieties of pumpkin in your pumpkin soup to achieve the best flavour and texture.

My three varieties
At this point add some orange zest, it adds a little something!


The finished product

I also visit Tom Niall’s The Organic Meat Specialist (T.O.M.S). Tom sells the best certified organic meat, game and small goods.  Every product I’ve tried has been of the utmost quality and freshness, and we’ve loved his rabbit, wagyu rump steak, beef cheek and his sausage rolls. Tom’s also an oracle regarding cooking times, particular cuts and is a well of general “meaty” knowledge,  He’ll also cut your meat in any way requested, as well as sourcing and preparing any meat you request. Bespoke meat anyone?


Feeling fishy? Vist Aptus seafoods, since 1969 they've been selling the freshest prawns, mussels, scallops, Moreton Bay Bugs and many different varieties of fish. I love their "oyster man", he shucks oysters on the spot, and they're yours for only $1 per oyster - choose from lemon, pepper, lime or tabasco accompaniments.

Other markets I love
·         Willunga Farmers Market – South Australia
·         Borough Markets - London
·         La Boqueria Market - Barcelona
·         Gasworks Farmers Market Victoria