Lark Hill Winery and Restaurant, 521 Bungendore Road, Bungendore, NSW
'Come before lunch and see our chickens,' said Sue Carpenter. 'Hopefully some baby chicks will hatch this week.' Sue was subsequently surprised to learn that the three hens she kindly adopted via Twitter in 2012 had belonged to dear friends of mine who were posted to Washington, DC. The White Sussex pictured above is one of them. On that note, I see that I have digressed, so now let's talk about the winery.
Established in 1978, Lark Hill was founded by Sue and David Carpenter. Their son Chris joined the winemaking team in 2002. The family grows Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as Gruner Veltliner (a high quality Austrian variety) on the property, which sits on the escarpment above the township of Bungendore. There is a second vineyard in Murrumbateman, Dark Horse Winery (in conversion to biodynamic), producing Shiraz, Viognier, Sangiovese and limited quantities of Marsanne and Rousanne.
'We are recognised for excellence and consistency, and Lark Hill wines are an expression of our vineyard,' Sue explained. 'The vineyard is cold and the soils are shallow. It's pretty tough here, we have low yields and so the wines have a lot of intensity.' Indeed, with the late frosts, much of this season's Pinot and Chardonnay has been affected.
Since 2003, Lark Hill has been farmed using Biodynamic Principles. 'Our vineyard is chemical free, certified by NASAA and internationally recognised,' Sue explained. 'We control weeds in the vineyard using layers of mulch and all of our waste matter goes into compost and then nourishes the soil. We use milk sprays to prevent things like downy mildew,' Sue added.
Sue took great delight in showing off her chickens and introduced us to a tiny baby chick, a rather bossy rooster, and 'Mabel' (my friend's White Sussex hen, who was formerly known as Nymphadora). The small flock is obviously valued and very well cared for.
With a vast outdoor deck and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the vineyard, the a la carte restaurant at Lark Hill features locally grown seasonal produce and was showcased in the Good Food Guide list of Top 10 Eco-Warriors. The menu includes recommended matches from the Lark Hill range for each of the entrees, sides, mains, desserts and cheese platters. On our visit, with Chris Carpenter as our wonderful host, we sampled the spicy Thai-style prawn salad served with Lark Hill 2013 Eliza Riesling; the field mushroom bruschetta with 2012 Pinot Noir; the wild mushroom risotto also with 2012 Pinot Noir; and for dessert, the coconut panacotta and berry compote with 2012 Auslese Riesling, and the poached rhubarb and sabayon made with Lark Hill sparkling Rosé. Our favourite of the dishes? We both enjoyed the wild mushroom risotto, particularly well matched with the light and lively Pinot, and the poached rhubarb with sabayon won my heart to the extent that I've developed my own version at home for our festive table.
According to Sue, Lark Hill enjoyed 'a wonderful Festival weekend, with the restaurant booked out on Sunday'. 'The 50 C bag salmon was our most popular dish, and the most sought after wines the Pinot Noir and the Eliza Riesling. Musician Chris Johnstone sang blues and rock from the 60s and 70's, the food ran out, the guests did not want to leave, and an 80 year old gentleman celebrating his birthday assured us he would come again, next decade, for his 90th,' Sue said.
Yarrh Wines, 440 Greenwood Road, Murrumbateman, NSW
'Yarrh is the original name for the Yass District,' Neil explained. 'It's a name we picked that connects us to the land and the place. When explorers Hume and Hovell came through the area in 1824 they had an Aboriginal tracker with them, who called the area Yarrh, referring to the Yass River. And they way we've spelled it is the way it was written in Hume's diary. Apparently, the name of the district was kept until the 1850s when they gazetted the township of Yass.'
The cellar door and winery building is attractive as well as interesting, in that it features a contemporary rammed earth and straw bale design incorporating environmentally sustainable features. For example, to ensure ideal temperature conditions, the cellar is buried into the nearby hill and the winemaking area is also solar passive.
There's about 16 acres of grapes, mainly red, with 60% of the fruit damaged by the late frosts. 'We lost some of our good fruit, but it's only the second time that we've been badly affected, so you have to roll with the punches, I guess,' Neil says pragmatically. 'We still have some Shiraz and Cabernet out there, but it depends on the season as to how they will go.'
Neil continues, 'The first vines at Yarrh were planted in 1997, the first vintage was in 2001 and the winery commenced trading in 2004 when the cellar door was opened to the public. Our most awarded wine is Riesling, second most awarded is Shiraz and then our Sangiovese. Our Rosé also just won a trophy at the National Winewise (Small Vigneron) Awards. Our Cabernet also goes really well and 2013 has been a really good year.' Neil says the couple both enjoy wine, and love to grow and make things, so Yarrh Wines is therefore 'a good natural progression from drinking to making' wine.
Fiona advised that the Wine Roses and all That Jazz Festival this year has been their most successful. 'The weather was kind. The slow smoked BBQ brisket and lamb were very well received. There were even requests for the dressing recipe we used for the two tone potato salad. We paired the 2011 Shiraz with the meal and this proved to be the most popular wine at the bar as well,' Fiona said.
The slow-cooked BBQ brisket and lamb that we sampled literally melted in the mouth and the accompaniments were a perfect match (Peter usually won't eat potato salad or coleslaw, but he genuinely enjoyed the Yarrh version and devoured everything on his plate). Neil told us that he first became interested in the hot smoking style of slow cooking on the BBQ after he visited Dallas in Texas, where he first tasted brisket slow cooked on the 'BBQ'. He now has a swish, purpose-built Texas smoker, but says you can use a Webber Kettle or a barbecue. Neil has kindly shared his basic BBQ brisket recipe for readers of Good Things:
NEIL'S TEXAS BBQ BRISKET
'Set up your Webber Kettle or similar with an slow, indirect fire. You want to try to keep the temperature down, so only set the coals up on one side. Around 120⁰C is ideal, but up to 150⁰C is OK. Use an electronic thermometer, ideally one with a BBQ temperature gauge and a meat thermometer. Have your aromatic wood ready – I prefer mesquite but there are others such as apple and hickory.
You need a good 3-4 kgs of beef brisket, untrimmed and unrolled. You’ll need to order it from your favorite butcher, as normally brisket is trimmed and rolled to make a pot roast... you don’t want that! Oil and salt the brisket and put it in a suitably sized foil tray. When the BBQ is ready put the brisket on the side away from the coals, add some aromatic wood (a few chunks will do), put in your temperature probes, close the lid and keep it closed. This is a BBQ not show and tell. You will need to feed the fire every 90 minutes or so, and you can use this opportunity to baste the brisket with the gathering fat and juices, but otherwise keep the lid closed! You really only need to add smoking wood for the first few hours - it will have absorbed all the smoky goodness it needs by then. Temperature control is the key. You want to cook it to an internal temperature of at about 90⁰C, but the best way to tell if its done is to put a fork in and twist it. If it's soft and shreds easily then its done. If it hits 90 but it’s still tough, then keep cooking. This may take anything from 6-10 hours, depending mainly on the temperature of your BBQ. Rest it for at least one hour, but you can also rest for longer by wrapping it in foil and putting in an esky or cooler – it will remain hot for many hours. This is useful buffer time if your brisket is done early. Chop, slice or shred the brisket, removing excess fat as you go. Serve with some of the juices, and potato salad, coleslaw, a peppery vinegar sauce and lots of pappy white bread.'
Shaw Vineyard Estate and Flint in the Vines, 34 Isabel Drive, Murrumbateman, NSW
Tanya Olinder offers us tastings as soon as we arrive and explains a little of the history to Shaw Vineyard Estate. 'We are a family business like most in this area, but we are fairly new, only planted 15 years ago, open to the public for eight years. My parents, Graeme and Ann Shaw, bought this block of land, about 700 acres, and 85 has been planted under vines. It took a couple of years to establish the vines and then I came on board to manage the business.' Tanya goes on to tell us that Michael Shaw, her brother, works the land, along with another Michael, her husband. The property is a working sheep farm as well as a vineyard, and runs 1000 sheep which are bred for fine merino wool and for meat. 'We did also have the restaurant, but have now leased it out. Flint in the Vines is run by Kate and Jai (Dawson),' Tanya added.
In terms of awards, Shaw Vineyard Estate is best known for Cabernet. 'In the few short years that we have been open we have taken out ten trophies, eight of which are for Cabernet, and also the International Riesling Trophy. The Shiraz is also a gold medal winner. We grow mainstream varieties, but we do a lot of different things,' says Tanya. 'As an example, Riscato. This is a name that we created ourselves and registered, and we tried to make a wine similar to moscato, but we cannot call it moscato because we do not grow the muscat grapes that you have to have in the bottle to legally call it moscato. We grow riesling and semillon, so the name came about. It's lighter than moscato, a little more refreshing. We have about 5% of shiraz to make it pink. It's the perfect summer and party wine. Great with spicy food, finger food, canapes. It's also lovely in punch with ginger beer, lime and crushed strawberries. And because we have such a large vineyard and we have the ability to make a range of wines, we have created a range called Laughter Series. 40% of all our sales go to Camp Quality, we have two reds, two dry whites and a sweet wine in the range.'
The Wine Roses & all That Jazz Festival this year was a very successful event for Shaw Vineyard Estate, according to Tanya. Although she felt that the numbers were slightly down (possibly due to the Classic Yass event being held on the same weekend) sales were better than average, meaning that more wine enthusiasts attended. It also gave the team an opportunity to engage with customers and let them know who we are and what we are all about (and they did it well!). 'By far our Cielo Sparking wine was the popular wine of the day, maybe the festive atmosphere helped there! And of course we had many great wine specials (clearing out the wine shed) which were extremely popular, noting that many had mentioned something they were stocking up for the Christmas season,' Tanya said.
'Despite a bit of wind on the Sunday the weather was great which encouraged customers to stay and sit outside listing to the live music on the terrace. We also hosted an art exhibition of local artist Amanda McLean's artwork which tied in nicely with the roses theme as she paints the most exquisite roses. Amanda was very successful, not only selling many pieces but taking a few commissions to keep her busy for a while.'
When I asked Jai's wife, Kate, to summarise the Wine, Roses and all That Jazz Festival experience at Flint in the Vines she said 'A beautiful Saturday full of spring sunshine, the smell of paella cooking and In2Deep jazz band made for a perfect day to be out and about. Punters sprawled out on the lawns and enjoyed the ball games supplied by Flint, with a wine in hand! Sunday, however, with blustering winds, challenged the flame for the paella and our wood fired pizza oven! The smell of wood-fire and pizza filled the air like a rustic country home, but that didn't stop the steady stream of visitors to the restaurant and cellar door for food, wine and the french jazz sounds from The Night Cafe.'
Images Flint in the Vines: 'the night cafe' latin gypsy jazz ensemble. Kate and Jai Dawson and their daughter, Ava Rose. Riscato, the perfect summer and party wine. Award Winning Shaw wines. Paella cooked for the festival goers. Pink climbing roses on the exterior wall.
Lerida Estate, Federal Highway, Lake George, NSW
Owners Anne Caine and Jim Lumbers explain to us that the name ‘Lerida’ was first given to the Lake George region by Major Thomas Mitchell, the Scottish-born explorer and surveyor of South East Australia. Mitchell had served in Portugal and also travelled in Spain, including the Lerida region. In 1827, Mitchell was appointed as Surveyor-General of NSW and travelled to the Lake George region, where he named a creek a few miles north-west of the lake as ‘Lerida Creek’ because it reminded him of Lerida in Spain. Subsequently, Hamilton Hume called his property on the creek ‘Lerida’ and hence Anne and Jim named the vineyard Lerida Estate.
Jim took us on a tour of the vineyard and said that he and Anne had owned Lerida Estate since 1996, and planted the first vines in 1997. Most of the vineyard is Pinot Noir, with some Shiraz higher on the hill. The vineyard was not affected by the late frosts of the season, unlike some of the other areas. Jim explained that with Pinot Noir the there are five manual operations that you don't need to do with the other varieties. He showed me a single cane from a bud, which should have two bunches, but actually had four. Therefore the extra bunches need to be thinned out and extra shoots removed by hand, otherwise the vine overcrops and the quality is not as good. 'With 22 km of vine rows, there is a lot of work involved, and it's the effort in the vineyard is what matters most with Pinot Noir,' Jim said.
'We also produce Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio, a dry white wine. And if it gets a botrytis infection we made a sticky dessert wine. We grafted pino grigio vines on the Merlot vine, as the Merlot was not selling all that well, despite winning trophies, it wasn't fashionable at the time. So we grafted, because we could never make enough Pinot Gris. Now we can't make enough Merlot!,' Jim laughed. In terms of recent awards, Jim mentioned that Lerida was awarded the second top gold medal in the Melbourne Wine Show for Chardonnay and every vintage of their Josephine Pinot Noir has won a medal. 'And the Botrytis Pinot Gris was a finalist in the NSW top 100, judged this weekend. We continue to get the accolades,' he said.
'The Wine, Roses & all That Jazz Festival is always a delightful event as the weather is starting to warm up, the leaves on the vines are starting to grow vigorously and visitors are keen to sit outside in the sun and soak up the spring atmosphere,' Anne told me. 'This year's event was a quieter than last year, but our visitors were a very happy crowd who seemed to really enjoy their visit to Café Lerida and we received great feedback from everyone about the lovely venue, the great food and the gorgeous wine. Wine sales per head were up 100% on last year, which is extraordinary!,' Anne added.
'The main course dishes we served most of were the Beef Bourguigonne Pie, the Rabbit, Pistachio and Cranberry Terrine and the very popular Lerida Tasting Plate. Favourite desserts were the French Lemon Tart, and the Cointreau, Honeycomb and Chocolate Cheesecake, each of which was served with Passionfruit Coulis and Cream [yes, they were absolutely divine!]; and my freshly baked scones served with Clotted Cream, Apricot and Almond Jam and Raspberry Jam. Favourite wines for the day appeared to be the Shiraz Viognier (served with the Pie), the Josephine Pinot Noir (served with the Terrine) and the Pinot Grigio. Our dessert wine, the Botrytis Pinot Gris, was very popular both with the desserts and by itself,' Anne said.