“He waits; that’s what he does. Tick follows tock follows tick”, that great advert for Guinness had it all, a true modern masterpiece, encapsulating the zeitgeist of the time and cleverly entwining it with the catchy hook for Guinness, that all good things come to those who wait.

We spend a long time in anticipation. The sweet thrill of getting what you’ve waited for is definitely worth the actual waiting, which sucks (like most Guinness adverts since I might add). I am currently waiting out the infuriating last two weeks of my phone contract, I’m sure phones are designed to go wrong just before your deal is up, just to make you want a new one more. Of course, now I’ve looked at mobile phone shops and dandered around perusing the damn things I’m almost done convincing myself I need an iPad too, of course I do, I’ve needed one for ages and they just hadn’t been invented yet, neither had the desire to own it but the two are intertwined. So I add more anticipation, another layer of commercially driven desire to add to the collection of just out of reach thingummies I don’t really need: shiny Lamborghini, big tellies, beautiful Gibson guitars… all unnecessary and all highly, achingly desirable. I can’t anticipate their arrival because, well, they’re not coming; but there are things that are – watermelon, blood peaches, mirabelles. Not anticipation created by advertising executives, rather more the ghost of peaches past rearing her beautiful fuzzy head.

Its official, right now is the best time to be a cook. Not half nine on a Monday morning, that’s the best time to have another cup of tea and procrastinate about writing your blog a bit more; and believe me that’s checked and double checked! June, especially with a spring like this one, is a right old stonker of a month for grub. The fruits have been steadily rolling in, vast piles of apricots, cherries, strawberries, goosegogs – the whole shebang. They’ve been steadily chopped, macerated, simmered, skimmed, strained, bottled, packed and stored for whenever this glorious summer inevitably descends into winter discontent of dark evening raininess and you need a little reminder of what sunshine was all about. As we get through to the lazy end of August we’ll pickle and chutney till the cows come home – but now it’s jam o’clock.


The great summer fishes have been truly stunning this year, it must be something in the “hottest spring for since records began” air. Wild salmon is half the price it was last year, and the line caught trout from the river Towy is beyond compare. We’ve been serving it raw with Ginger Dressing – a throwback to my days at Kensington Place. Rumor has it that Rowley got the recipe for the marvelous ginger dressing from a Japanese kitchen porter who worked there; whoever he was he deserves a handshake. Who knew a simple ratio of shallots, garlic, ginger and soy could be so heavenly?

We’ve also managed to get some of the wild salmon into salt and sugar to make gravadlax; it’ll get on the menu after a day or two in the cure, with pickled red onions, some cucumbers and dill. We’ll also make some wheaten bread from my granny’s recipe to tie the whole lot together. When we don’t serve them raw the delightful salmonidae have been steamed with delicious little surf clams from Devon; grilled and served with gooseberry sauce – more of which later – or roasted and plonked atop a salad of Jersey royals, samphire and marvelous summer sorrel.

We are Bad People, capital letters definitely necessary; raspberries abound, strawberries are shipped from all over the world to satisfy our constant demand, blueberries, bilberries,  red and white currants are all available in our local supermarkets, but I’m yet to see any of our native, delicious, spiky, hairy, ugly, sour, heavenly little green gooseberries anywhere. I get them from Covent Garden Market without any issues; I just lament their absence from shelves and baskets. They are a thing of such beauty they should be lauded and applauded the nation over. We serve a compote, sweetened with a splash of our elderflower cordial, with the lemon and elderflower cake, a sweet and sharp delectation. Unsweetened and stewed with a spot of chopped shallots and fish stock they anoint grilled fish with aplomb; mackerel, salmon, trout, even tuna would enjoy a dollop of gooseberry goodness, the astringent fruit cutting the oily fish so delicately it prompted the French to call them mackerelberries–“groseilles à maquereau”…well, nearly.

Blood Peach

Anticipation is a strange sensation: we have to anticipate the day ahead – will the tube be a mess – almost certainly; will it rain cats and dogs after an hour of glorious sun? typically yes; we get giddy in anticipation of forthcoming nuptials (only a fortnight to go!) we get greedy as we see great heaps of berries – I have a weakness, stemming I guess from pick-your-own farms, where for every three or four berries for the pot there’s normally one for me. We anticipate the arrival of shiny new toys with a heart-stopping intensity, ignoring the hefty monthly tariff that will almost certainly ensue, and we anticipate the biting cold and general drudgery of winter by stocking up with lovely preserves and jams, even if we can’t ever wait that long and have to have a little nibble before the jars are sealed for months to come. If you can’t whet your appetite a little, what’re you ever going to miss?


Will’s Strawberry Jam (adapted from various recipes I’ve used over the years, so if there’s something here you recognize, I probably nicked it!)

1K freshest, bestest strawberries you can lay your sticky mits on, if there’s a wild berry – or Frais Du Bois – in there too, so much the better

1K preserving sugar – not Jam sugar with added pectin but plain preserving sugar

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways and the seeds scraped out

The finely grated zest and juice of a lemon

Wash the whole strawberries quickly and delicately in a big sinkful of cold water. Spend a lovely while gently taking the core and stem off the berries and cut any whoppers in half or even quarters if they’re truly gargantuan (I find this a perfect time to look wistfully out of the window and have a little pre-Raphaelite daydream). Place them all in a big bowl, mix with the sugar, lemon zest, juice and vanilla; chuck the vanilla pod in with the seeds too, it can’t hurt. Now stir it all together with big confident strokes (“I said knock him out: not touch him up” to quote Lock, Stock…) if you paddle and dab at it the berries will slowly mush up and you’ll have a paste, a delectable paste, but a paste nonetheless, not the bright shining globs we’re all after. Cover the resulting goop with cling film and pop it in the fridge for a while, overnight is best but anything over six hours will do.

Once macerated, the fruit should have softened and there should be lots of shiny, sparkling red juice – sparkling like diamonds, not like Badoit. Put your largest colander over your largest pan, deposit the whole sugary strawberry sludge into it and drain off the sweet juice from the soft berries. The juice will need to be boiled until it reaches 105ºc on a jam thermometer, this will take a while, but I don’t know what your cooker is like, so keep half an eye on it, when it boils it certainly goes and will cover your lovely stovetop with strawberry caramel superglue. This is not fun to clean off any hob, or so my kitchen porters tell me. When you have reached the magical 105ºc (the setting point of pectin – you need it to make your jam semi firm and jellyish, not strawberry Ribena) pop the softened berries in to the pot and return to the heat. Hold fast and boil! The whole lot has to get to 105 now and when it does remove from the heat immediately. Let it cool down a while – half an hour or so while you prep your jars is sufficient. Have a little taste; you quite literally can’t stop yourself. Pot into your prepped jars and seal. Store for as long as you can before tearing open and devouring – great with some wheaten bread and a cup of steaming tea on a dismal Thursday afternoon in November.

Jar preparation and the techniques thereof.

There are lots of different ways to sterilize your jars for jamming, I usually use the ‘whack it through the dishwasher a couple of times’ method and haven’t really had any issues, but you can use whichever method you prefer from the eighty three thousand results you get if you Google “Jam Jar Sterilisation”.

William Leigh

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Vinoteca’s Burgundy Wine Dinner, featuring the wines of Mark Haisma

Last thursday, 24 guests (and myself) were treated to a very special evening of food and wine in the Private Dining Room of Vinoteca St John St.  The occasion was one of our regular Wine Dinners, but I must say there was nothing at all ‘regular’ about this event!  The evening was hosted by a special guest and winemaker, Mark Haisma, a delightful chap who makes exceedingly delightful wines in Burgundy.

Mark & Brett doing some serious tasting before the guests arrive

Mark began making wine in Australia, where after years of developing a taste for exceptional wine he decided to pursue a career in winemaking.  This led him to the Yarra Valley, where, with only a little experience, he convinced one of the  most esteemed Winemakers of the Yarra Valley, Dr Bailey Carrodus of Yarra Yerring Estate, to take him on.  Mark worked first in the vineyard but quickly progressed to the cellar and eventually became Winemaker and Dr Carrodus’ right hand man.  During this time Mark also began producing some great Pinot’s under his own lable, Ridgeline.  After 10 years at Yarra Yerring Mark decided to make the move to Burgundy and since 1997 he has been making an ever expanding range of very classy wines (just ask Jancis Robinson).

The evening featured a delicious 4 course meal crafted by Vinoteca Chef’s John Murray and Matt McaDonald to match a range of Mark’s wines.  The evening kicked off  a glass of lovely fizz – Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc Saint Apolline from Leclaire – a Champagne that Mark is so passionate about he now imports to the UK exclusively.

Next up it was time for some Pan-fried snails & confit new season’s garlic which matched pefectly to Marks lovely 2009 Bourgone Blanc.This was followed by Slow-cooked Charolais beef with grellot onions, smoked bacon and morels – it was as delicious as it sounds and made only better for having been matched with two more of Mark’s wines – 2009 Les Bonnes Mares Grand Cru & 2008 Morey Saint Denis Premier Cru ‘La Riotte’ – these wines we the stars of the evening!

Tucking in to the delicious beef!

It was then time for the cheese course, a lovely Kirkhams Lancashire.  We enjoyed our cheese with two more wines from Mark’s porfolio, 2007 & 2009 Gevrey Chambertin – a great comparison of two different vintages.

To finish we enjoyed a fresh and tastyApricot and Almond Tart paried with the 2007 Vat 5 Botrytis Semillon by De Bortoli (Australia) – Mark doesn’t make any sweet wines just yet.

Mark explains Burgundy

After that lot I think its safe to say we were all feeling pretty full but very contented.  It was a great chance to try a remarkable range of wines and to hear it from such an engaging and talented Winemaker.  For those of you who haven’t had the chance to try any of Mark’s wines you can sample his Gevrey Chambertin at any time in the Wine Bar at Vinoteca (or purchase it from the shop to try at home).  His range can also be purchased at a number of excellent independent wine merchants throughout the UK or you can order direct from Mark – details can be found on his website.

We will be holding another wine dinner on the evening of 20th July, this time we head to Portugual – keep an eye on our website, details will be finalised very shortly!


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The Vinoteca St John St Burger

Hamburger fever has hit London. From the Meatwagon to Bar Boulud, chefs are flogging their own versions of that all American classic – the Hamburger. Best served with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup and mustard (and a beautifully pickled dill) everyone seems to have their own version. Burgers are to North Americans, what fish and chips are to the British. Fast comfort food that can be found anywhere in the country with vast ranges in price, quality and served with chips. The main difference is that North Americans love to make them at home, which means that everyone is an authority on the perfect burger. Grilled on the BBQ or pan fried, every self respecting meat eater from sea to shining sea has their own version of the hamburger. Special sauces, BBQ techniques and secret ingredients abound. The origins of the hamburger are sketchy at best, but it’s generally conceded that the format hasn’t changed much in 200 years; bun, patty and toppings. Why mess with perfection?

The craze for posh burgers took hold of the New York foodie scene a few years ago with a burger topped in shaved truffles that cost $150. My tastes tend to run along much simpler lines. Cheese is my favourite burger topping (tied with caramelised onions) and I consider it essential to the burger experience. It can’t be any old cheese and it certainly can’t be a rubbery slice of processed cheese. A beautiful burger deserves a beautiful slice of cheese – sharp, old cheddar with just enough fat to melt all over the burger and fuse the toppings to the patty. At Vinoteca, Chef Murray uses Stilton or Montgomery’s Cheddar on his burgers.

Burgers are of course only as good as the patty itself. You have to get the consistency right, flavour, thickness and juiciness are all key to the perfect patty. Chef Murray’s burgers are made with 6oz of Scottish Long Horn Beef. The burger is just big enough to fill you up, but not so big that you need to unhinge your jaw to take that first bite. Weeks of trials where this writer and a long list of willing taste testers sampled the burger have resulted in a perfectly balanced burger. Nestled on a homemade bun and topped with baby gem lettuce, a slice of beefsteak tomato, caramelised onions and pickled jalapeno peppers. The burger is then slathered in homemade smoked ketchup and mustard. Divine. A side of triple cooked fat chips and coleslaw make it the perfect Saturday afternoon indulgence.  If you’re feeling particularly decadent, the lunch special with Caesar salad and caramelised banana milkshake is the way to go. One of my co-tastes mused that it was surely the welcome drink in heaven. With an endorsement like that how can you say no?

The only remaining question is what to pair with a hamburger if you can’t manage a milkshake? Beer is the traditional American pairing, but it always feels a bit too heavy for me and a glass of wine always seems a bit too small. The team at Vinoteca have come up with the ultimate pairing – a Bloody Mary. Long, refreshing and perfectly suited to the burger. The Vinoteca Bloody Mary, made with Sipsmith Barley Vodka & La Guita Manzanilla, makes me long for those long, lazy days of summer sitting at the end of the dock while the BBQ sizzles away – the smell of grilled burgers wafting towards me.

If you haven’t been to Vinoteca St John St on Saturday for lunch then go now! The burger is worth it and if meat isn’t your thing, never fear, Chef Murray’s menu always has a good selection of wonderfully tasty and exciting vegetarian options.


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The work/delightfulness ratio.

Normally it will take quite a lot of hard work to make something delightful, it doesn’t have to be you that puts in the hard work; but it does have to be put in, somewhere along the line. My new trainers, for example, are truly delightful. Someone very clever spent a long time figuring out how to make the marvellous grey reflective leather. Someone undoubtedly cleverer came up with the design for the classic air force one – presumably after lots of try-and-fail attempts they came up with a true belter – more hard graft. Someone who must be of almost omniscient genius came up with the little plastic bit on the end the laces, and whoever it was that came up with the swoosh logo, well I would like to stand that man a drink. So, my new trainers are, self evidently, proof of hard work equalling delightfulness. There was a lot of hard yakka that went into sending a man to the moon, and look at the lovely pictures we have of an earthrise, delightful. I assume there were lots of other benefits of lunar travel, but we’re sticking with whimsy for the moment, and trainers of course, delightful, beautiful trainers.   There are some people on the face of the planet that pick grapes, whenever the time is right, and if there is an example of more back-breaking work anywhere I don’t know what it is. All of that grunt-work begets more labour as they have to be pressed and other very clever technical things, but when they do, we get wine, lovely and delightful.

In order to keep the whimsy at bay and prove my very scientific theory I shall need to allocate work, and delightfulness levels. Work, I believe from my GCSE physics, is equal to the mass of an object multiplied by the distance it travels. Fact. Right: My trainers weigh about a pound, they have travelled with me from Putney to Marble Arch today, that’s about five miles. So with one pound multiplied by five miles we get, er, five – so my trainers have a work level of five. See? Science at work. They make me happy every time I see them, which is about twice an hour, when I’m not at work, say five hours a day, giving the new pumps a delightfulness quotient of ten. Therefore the work/delightfulness ratio is 1:2. So, for every one work done you get two delightfulness. Marvellous, I am so glad that my theory is watertight and scientifically valid, and luckily devoid of any really hard maths. I might pass it on to the Dean of Delightfulness at Oxford; see what she says about the matter.

So, in ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety seven times out of a million, the work/delightfulness ratio  is a steady 1:2 this has been scientifically proven beyond a shadow of a doubt and we must move on from it.

There are, however, three exceptions that prove the rule and they are, in ascending order: the chocolate idiot cake I just made from my mother’s recipe, (it is so called because any idiot can do it, charmed I’m sure.) This has a ratio way beyond its counterparts, after many scientific calculations I gauge it to be 1:43, there is very little work but boy oh boy is it ever delightful. It gets an even higher twist (somewhere in the early fifties, the boffins are hard at it but we can’t quite get the figures down to the last seventh decimal, it’s like Fermat’s last theorem in the prep kitchen) if you add a glass of ’08 Maury, the fortified vin doux spicing the tastebuds and cleansing the palate, all very reasonable at six and a half quid a pop. Next in the list is grilled mackerel with rhubarb, ginger and lovage, here the work is a little higher but definitely worth the extra effort with a whopping ratio of 7:984 certainly a treat for any and all that get amongst it.

2008 Maury ‘Aurelie’, Préceptoire de Centernach 50cl(Roussillon)

First prize by a long shot, with a scorching ratio of 0.000047:147 bazillion, is my finding a new route to work, that shaved nearly four minutes off my commute! I don’t think I’ve ever been as chuffed as I was arriving at work the other day, nearly four minutes earlier than if I’d continued with my normal workaday drudgery. And I didn’t have to do anything, in fact I just got lost and arrived at the station far quicker than if I’d gone the normal route, then when returning to work the following day I retraced my lostness and hey presto, work in the normal time less four minutes. I would have got more done were it not for the four minutes of mental back-patting I immediately commenced upon. The world spins correctly upon its axis, gently warmed by the devastating solar wind that would destroy the planet in seconds were it not for the aforementioned spinning and something to do with molten iron under the floor, and I can get to work four minutes earlier than expected ­- huzzah, huzzah and thrice huzzah.

Of course, you don’t actually have to do any of the work, you could pop in to Vinoteca here on Seymour Place and just let us knuckle down for you, it might skew the figures – but I think the ratio can cope.

Chocolate Idiot Cake
Makes one 23 cm cake

290 g dark chocolate, coarsely chopped, I use cocoa barry fleur de cao 78%
200 g butter, salted or unsalted, cut into pieces
5 large eggs, at room temperature
200 g sugar

Preheat the oven to 175.

1. Butter a 23 cm springform pan and dust it with cocoa powder, tapping out any excess. If you suspect your springform pan isn’t 100% water-tight, wrap the outside with tin foil, making sure it goes all the way up to the outer rim.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a microwave, stirring occasionally, until smooth.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, give it quite a good beat as it will help the resulting cake’s texture, then whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until smooth.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and cover the top of the pan snugly with a sheet of foil. Put the springform pan into a larger baking pan, such as a roasting pan, and add enough hot water to the baking pan to come about halfway up to the outside of the cake pan. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it feels just set. If you gently touch the centre, your finger should come away clean.

5. Lift the cake pan from the water bath and remove the foil. Let cake cool completely on a cooling rack.

6. Have a slice before anyone else gets home from work, you know you want to. Dollop on a little mascarpone, if you must.

William Leigh

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Resolutions Be Damned

Walking out of my house today I was struck with a curious sensation, the air around me wasn’t trying to freeze to my skin; frostbite nipped not at my fingers or indeed my toes, no involuntary crying as I faced into the biting wind – the reason for this seemingly odd series of events? It wasn’t cold, it was positively balmy. I thought about taking my coat off, then swiftly reconsidered as I realised it wasn’t that warm.

I spent the weekend before Christmas in Enniskillen in the north west of Ireland. After a breakneck drive and ludicrously early flights – due to adverse weather conditions (Gatwick not being able to deal with half an inch of the white stuff) we managed to get to the church minutes before the bride – she was outside getting photos taken as we sneaked in – it was all very Richard Curtis. Fifteen miles or so away on that evening Ireland recorded its coldest ever temperature, eighteen below, and I can vouch for the fact that that was bloody cold. There aren’t enough superlatives, or expletives, in the world to describe how cold it was, or at least how cold it seemed to me, a nesh southerner. It was, however, supremely beautiful. The wedding was marvellously chaotic and enormous fun, and then we spent seventeen hours in Belfast airport trying to get home, the antifreeze had frozen you see – is it only me that finds that somewhat ridiculous?

So, after a week off to do festivities we re-opened the doors here at Vinoteca, Seymour Place. Recently several people have been very flattering, kind, and generous about the place and the grub in various publications and periodicals and it is greatly cheering to know that people enjoy what we do here. We were certain that they would, but it’s nice to have that confirmed. I realise that this paragraph has become a little gratuitous on the self-back-pattery front so I shall leave it there, but thank you to all those who have written such charming things about us and thanks too to all those people that come to the pass to commend their grub, it is a real treat for us.

As for the food, there was a rocky start to the year, weird bank holidays made fishermen out of kilter with restaurants, or vice versa, so it was tricky to start off with but they have been at it full tilt ever since – the turbot that came in this morning was a sight beyond belief, stiff as a board, almost too fresh to fillet. It’ll be roasted and served with some cime di rappa, a curious vegetable known to some as wild broccoli, and to others as turnip tops (I think the turnips have it to be honest, but there are definite broccoli tendencies there) whether brassica or root it is sweet and slightly bitter, leafy and lovely. Speaking of lovely leaves my lovage fixation is back again. For those that don’t know it, the flavour of lovage is almost impossible to describe (and now I have given myself that caveat, I’ll give it a crack.)It is kind of like a cross between celery and parsley with a hint of coriander and suspicion of tarragon… as I say impossible to describe (there is also a dilly minty-ness to it, but sometimes you have to stand back in descriptive writing). It is, however you attempt to describe it, delicious. I went through a smoked eel and lovage phase a couple of years ago, and a mighty tasty phase it was too, but I am getting a lovage and mussel kick at the moment. Steamed with white wine, shallots, and garlic the little molluscs are coming up a treat, and selling like hotcakes!

As of next week we will be running a plat-du-jour kind of idea, a lovely dish with a glass from our bottled-on-site Alpha Loire range, for a tenner – it’s a deal; “it’s a steal; it’s the sale of the cursing century” to almost quote lock stock. These dishes will come from the great repertoires of rustic cooking that we love to explore so much, the point is not to discount something that should be more expensive, but to find and create lovely dishes that use lesser-used cuts that will themselves be more affordable. These dishes will include things like:

  • feather blade of beef, served with parmesan mash and lovely spiky green sauce;
  • slow roast breast of lamb en persillade;
  • middle white pork faggot and peas;
  • spiced octopus with chickpeas and coriander;
  • sauté of duck liver with a sweetcorn pancake and rocket,
  • whole roast mackerel with steamed rhubarb, chilli, ginger and my favourite – some lovage.

Delicious treats all.

Right, I must be off to make more pancakes. They are going to be stuffed with spinach and ricotta as a little veggie/retro treat, now the wintry cold has left us feeling, well, a bit more pancake-y.

William Leigh


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Wine Road Trip Adventure – Part 2

Day Twenty Five: Cullen, Margret River ,WA.

We had covered over 4000kms, crossed the Nullabore, seen green rolling hills turn to dry bushland turn to red baron earth. We’d stood on the great Australian Bight, crossed three states and passed more than our share of dead kangaroos. It had been ten days since we’d seen our last winery and we were started to get antsy.  So when some old friends of mine from Margret River organised our own ‘Winery Tour’ we could feel our fix coming on. Along with my two wine savvy local friends Ally and Zac, Beth’s old school mate Bec who’s family owned Willespi Wines joined us as well as two other friends, Bailey and Luke, who not only had never been to a winery but didn’t particularly like wine but joined us anyway. We ditched our small van for a 8 seater people mover and met everyone early to begin our self tailored tour of the region.

First stop was Cullen. The winery was open and the most luscious shade of green. It’s something I will always remember about Margret River, how vibrantly green it was. We parked the van and made our way into the almost cottage-like Cellar door. Inside the dimly lit, sandstone building was a tasting room and a small restaurant which looked out onto the eastern vineyards through large windows. We tasted through the range, and decided to stay for lunch. After our meal we stocked up on a few bottles, a 2008 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc and a 2007 Chardonnay and piled back into the mini bus to continue our tour.

Day Twenty Five – Later that day: Vasse Felix, Margret River, WA.

The wine and the laughter were flowing by mid afternoon, as we made our way through our winery check list. One of the regions more well known wineries, Vasse Felix was our next stop as Ally had done some grape picking work there last season and was keen to show us the winery. We arrive to see an intense hue of green glowing from the vineyards. A narrow brick path led up to the Cellar door, which was a large stone and brick bunker style room with low set wooden beams. It was warmly light with soft lighting and the staff were welcoming and friendly. We tasted though some of the wines, talking and chatting amongst ourselves of our favourites. Ally told stories of her experience at harvest as we tasted away the afternoon. My friend Luke, who knew little about wine before that day, decided to buy a bottle of  2008 Estate Cabernet Merlot which he claimed to be the best wine he had tried all day. We left Vasse Felix ending off our day of tasting.

Other Margret River Wineries we visited; Leeuwin Estate, Willespi, Woodland Estate…

We piled into the van one last time, defeated yet satisfied from the long day and headed home on the gently winding roads of Margret River. As the sun set over the western coastline, a van full of young wine enthusiasts, a group of adventurous friends, differed into sleep, leaning on each others shoulders. Beth’s head lightly rested on my shoulder as she whispered softly, ‘I’ve had the time of my life on this trip. Thanks.’

I smiled and shut my eyes, the fading days last rays flickering light across my face.

‘So did I. We’ll have to do a trip up the east coast next .’

Kate Christensen 2011

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Wine Road Trip Adventure – Part One

Four weeks, five wine regions, 4800kms, two wine loving friends, one van, one adventure.

This road trip tale begins in Melbourne, Australia with two 20 something year old best friends, a painted up wicked camper van and one uniting goal to see and drink their way through several Australia’s Wine regions, with five weeks to do so. It’s a story of  adventure, of friendship, of learning and knowledge gained, of days spent on the open road, but above all, it’s a story about WINE.

Day one: 7:13am. Brunswick Melbourne

Knock knock knock….’Kate…Kate are u up yet?’ From a deep, hazy sleep I woke to hear Beth’s muffled voice from outside my window. Through blurry eyes I see her standing in the front yard, rucksack slung half over her shoulder, sleeping bag at her feet, Australian road map tucked under her arm, wearing a smile that stretched from ear to ear and dangling a set of keys up at me through the glass. ‘It’s past 7, your meant to be up and ready to leave. Come on, lets start this adventure already.

Next thing I knew, I was up, dressed and running out the house, backpack in hand and spring in my step. I shoved my stuff into the running van, slamming the side door behind me as I clambered into the passengers seat. Beth had the tunes pumping and the map folded out on the steering wheel in front of her.

‘First stop, Yarra Valley. Have we got everything?’ Asked Beth as she forced the car into gear. We both caught each other in a smile and I nodded and as I pulled a wine knife from my pocket, holding it up. ‘Got all that we need’. Beth dropped the clutch, the Stones blared from the crackling speakers and we were off….off on our Wine Road trip of Australia.

Day One; 9:09am. De Bortoli Vineyard, Yarra Valley, VIC.

Driving up the gravel road towards the Winery, the morning autumn sun shinning into our eyes. The vines which lined the road were full with green and ashen leaves. The Yarra looks so full of colour this time of year. A pleasant fog lingered over the Valley as we parked the van in an empty parking lot. The vineyards stretched far, creating waves of colours on the rolling hills. The distance Dandenong Rangers shadowed the background. We appeared to be the only people here. We eagerly made our way up the stone path to the Cellar door and into the tasting room. It was a large open room, filled with wine bottles and a cheese section to one side. We tried both whites and reds as trickles of people started arriving. By the time we were onto the sweet wines, the room was full. Beth bought a bottle of 2007 Noble One and we decided a takeaway cheese platter was the perfect breakfast. The room was packed as we made our way out, cheese and wine in hand. Back at the van, I rustled up some plates and a cheese knife, as Beth opened her new purchase and we sat out on a bench, under a large leafy tree, overlooking the vineyard and feasted on our breakfast…

Yarra Valley

Other Yarra Valley Wineries we visited; Jamsheed Vineyards, Mac Forbes Wines, Gembrook Wines, Downie & Lambent Wines & Giant Steps.

Day Seven; Heartland Winery, Langhorne Creek, SA.

We almost didn’t make it to Heartland. We lost track of time cruising through the wineries of Langhorne creek, a small flat, gum tree scattered region inland from Adelaide and found ourselves late to the winery.

We were recommended to visit Heartland on the advice of the staff at Bleasdale and Lake Breeze Wineries and were not disappointed. I found myself humbled by the community feeling amongst the wineries in the area. They supported and encouraged business for one another, often sharing knowledge and advice, despite alternately being competition.

I was a fan of Ben Glaetzer Wines from the Barossa and was looking forwards to trying the reds from the Heartland vineyards. I stared out the window at the tall grey gums which lined the road leading to the Winery, their elegant branches, swaying gracefully in the light afternoon breeze. I gazed out past them to the flat, open vineyards, full of colour and life. Beth sped up the driveway, dust trailing behind us in the glow of the afternoon. Arriving at 4:45pm, we apologised to the staff about our timing, but luckily were able to quickly sample the reds. I bought a bottle of 2006 Shiraz and Beth got a 2007 Dolcetto Lagrein before the winery shut it’s doors for the day. I will admit, our visit to Heartland was rushed and unorganised on our part, but I’m glad we squeezed it in before we set off for Adelaide…

Other Langhorne Creek Wineries we visited; Bleasdale, Lake Breeze, Brementon & Casa Fesci.

Eden Valley

Day Ten: Pewsey Vale Vineyards, Eden Valley, SA.

‘How far up do you think we are?’ Beth asked, skimming over the road map, as we drove higher into the hills. ‘I’m not sure but we’re pretty high. Look down there’, I said pointing out of the window, ‘I think that’s the Barossa.’ I never realised the Eden was so close.

Next we were turning onto a overgrown dirt track which would lead us to Pewsey Vale Vineyards, where some of the regions finest Rieslings are made. With no Cellar door, we decided to park the van as close as we could so we could climb through a barbwire fence and throw out a picnic rug under the  vines. We lay on our back, staring up through the luminous pale leaves at the soft afternoon sun, and sipped from plastic camping mugs my 2001 Pewsey Riesling, (the only wine I brought along with me on the trip.) Regina Specktor played softly from the ipod speakers and we dreamt and sipped away the afternoon.

Other Eden Valley Wineries visited include, Pikes Eden Vineyard & Henschke Wines.

Day Thirteen; Torbreck Winery, Barossa Valley, SA.

As the van snaked along the windy country road, I flicked through the Barossa Valley section of the Australia Wine Region Guide we had, as the music skipped and jumped on the rough road. ‘It says it should be around here somewhere. Are you sure you didn’t see a sign yet?’ I asked impatiently. Beth shook her head at me and started dialling a number into her mobile.

‘Here, ring Luke maybe he can direct us over the phone.’

Luke was a wine rep for Torbreck and a personal friend of Beth’s. He had arranged a wine tour and tasting for us at the Winery, if we could find it.  He gave us directions and much to our surprise we were right around the corner from it. We parked the van and wondered around the side to the Cellar door, a small, sandstone coloured cottage. There waiting was a lady named Jane. She took us for a casual tour of the winery, walking through the vines and up towards the fermentation and ageing sheds. She shared knowledge and history of the Winery and ideas on how she thought this vintage was shaping up before taking us through to the tasting room. Spread out on old large barrels, was most of the Torbreck range. Excitement grew in my stomach as my mouth watered. Torbreck was by far one of my favourite Australian wine producers.  Jane tasted with us through  the range and gave in-depth information and stories on each wine.  I decided on a bottle of ‘The Factor’ as it was kinder on my wallet then that of my favourite the flagship ‘Run Rig’ and Beth got on a bottle of GSM. We decided to have them posted back to Melbourne, just in case temptation set in. We thanked Jane with big hugs and headed back to the van. Truly the most wonderful winery experience of the trip.

Other Barossa Valley Wineries we visited; Penfolds, Seppelts, The Standish Wine Company…

Kate Christensen 2010


Filed under Get To Know The Staff, Tasting of the Wine, Vinous Travels