Western Australian travel
- Monday 7 December 2009
Given the airmiles involved in getting there, Western Australia would seem, to UK residents at least, to be an odd place to head for eco-tourism. But just as its blue skies and crystalline coastline make it easy to shrug off the jet lag, so there’s more than enough
environmentally conscious activity here to offset that carbon footprint. What’s more, in terms of one’s own wellbeing, while it’s easy to pack in the winery visits, there’s plenty of healthy activities to counteract all that vinous intake.
While the north west coast is all scorched earth and rugged gorges, the south west’s Mediterranean climate makes for a greener landscape, driving a culture that is steeped in great wine and food. With little in the way of irrigation to pump up volumes, production is
reassuringly small scale and quality focused, with a strong regional bent. This is why WA accounts for a high proportion of Australia’s premium wines, not to mention the gourmet produce to enjoy with them.
Year round you’ll find food and wine events to cater for the most discerning of palates (see box, opposite). The south west is green in more ways than one. With such an embarrassment of natural riches, there’s a shift towards sustainable practices and organic and biodynamic produce, making WA a great place to indulge healthily. If you fancy
having your cake and eating it too, here’s my take on the best of the eco-west:
Day 1: Swan Valley
A stone’s throw from Perth, Swan Valley is WA’s oldest wine region and home to one of its best-kept secrets, liqueur fortified wines. Third-generation winemaker James Talijancich crafts biodynamic (the first I’ve tasted), worldclass solera and vintage wines, heady yet mellow with dried fruits and nuts. If these flavours pique your interest, try Edgecombe Brothers’ additive-free, sun-dried grapes with a cheese platter, or their famous Muscat ice-cream.
The Swan Valley is renowned for its farm produce and Edgecombe Brothers is one
of more than 90 eateries here, including WA’s first winery restaurant, Lamonts. Kate Lamont, the doyenne of WA’s cooking scene, showcases fresh, seasonal, local produce. As she puts it, ‘we’re an ingredient-driven business – we don’t cook recipes, we cook ingredients’. Her latest outpost, Lamont’s Enoteca in Cottesloe, Perth, sells more than 200 wines that, for a moderate mark up, can be ordered with the tapas-style menu.
Day 2: Margaret River
Some 300km south of Perth, Margaret River is WA’s most iconic wine region. It’s easy enough to navigate yourself but if you fancy being chauffeured in a classic Bentley, Nola Gaebler’s Lifestyle Margaret This page: yoga before a vegan breakfast will limber you up for surfing classes. River ‘behind the scenes’ organic wine and food jaunts are just the ticket.
Cullen, WA’s highest-profile certified biodynamic producer, regularly hosts biodynamic workshops which ex-financier Julian Wright of Marri Wood Park says encouraged him to ‘quit being a typical city farmer’.
Visit the cellar door to taste his biodynamic, dry, steely, mineral Chenin Blanc, among the best I’ve tasted from the New World. At Cullen, the eco-friendly philosophy follows through in the restaurant, the perfect lunch stop after a tasting at the traditional rammed-earth cellar door. The vegetables are harvested from Cullen’s biodynamic kitchen gardens, which extend into the vineyard. Peas for my risotto came from inter-row cover crops.
Settlers Ridge is within easy striking distance of Cullen. Owners Wayne and Kay Nobbs went organic from the outset, prompted by chemical-induced asthma, which ended Wayne’s airforce career. Because asthmatics are the highest risk group to sulphur allergies, as well as being certified organic, Settlers Ridge specialises in preservative-free wines.
Designed to induce a state of well-being, Feng Shui-influenced Howard Park’s cellar door is located down a sweeping driveway. North-facing and nine metres tall, it’s a light and airy space in which to taste the Marchand & Burch label, an exciting collaboration between Howard Park’s owner Jeff Burch and Burgundian biodynamic practitioner Pascal Marchand.
To end the day with a beer, head to The Settlers Tavern, though you’ll also be tempted by its wine list, voted Gourmet Traveller’s Best Pub Restaurant List in Australia 2009. It features many green producers, as does the menu of freshly prepared food, mainly locally sourced.
Stay at nearby Burnside Bungalows and Organic Farm, and you can pick your own biodynamic fruit, vegetables and salad for supper, and enjoy it with their Zinfandel. Cows, sheep, hens, geese – even guinea pigs - keep the weeds at bay and provide rich organic matter for the soil. It’s an approach that David Hohnen of McHenry Hohnen winery calls ‘grandpa farming’.
Free-range meat and charcuterie from his vineyard-roaming Wiltshire sheep, Tamworth pigs and bush pigs are available direct from the cellar door, farm shop and café. A keen hunter, Hohnen aims ‘to introduce a wild quality so people taste the difference from an industrial product’.
Day 3: more in Margaret
Samudra, voted WA’s Best Vegetarian Restaurant by the Lifestyle Food channel, aims to nurture health and vitality through yoga, surfing and vegan food. Pre-breakfast yoga limbered me up for a surf lesson in Smiths Beach’s pristine waters. Sumptuous buckwheat pancakes and cashew cream provided the energy.
Bushtucker Tours organise tranquil canoe trips down Margaret River followed by an Aboriginal bush food lunch. Wash away the taste of witchetty grubs with quondongs (desert peaches), bunya nuts and Kakadu plums (said to have the world’s highest vitamin C content), or stick with emu or kangaroo meat.
You might be glad of a pampering Merlot grape glow facial and massage in your room at Cape Lodge, Luxury Travel’s Best Boutique Hotel in Australia 2009. Watch award-winning chef Tony Howell prep dinner or attend his Fresh is Best cooking school. Locally sourced food may include Abrolhos scallops, Pemberton marron or Margaret River venison.
Day 4: on to Manjimup and Pemberton
WA excels at educational but fun food experiences. Start the morning at Margaret River’s Olio Bello organic olive oil estate, planted to 14 varieties. Taste the range, including citrus-pressed and infused extra virgin olive oils before homemade pasta and cake in the café.
Now head south to The Wine & Truffle Company in Manjimup. Dr Nick Malajczuk, ‘father of the Australian black truffle’, suggested planting the oak and chestnut trufferie in Manjimup, as it shares the same latitude and Mediterranean climate as French black truffle hotspot, Perigord. The southern hemisphere’s largest producer, the company’s truffles are feted by leading chefs. Find out what makes a top truffle and go on truffle hunt to watch the dogs at work.
In Pemberton, Sharon and Dion Rangé’s boutique accommodation Stonebarn runs gourmet truffle dinners. Eventually, they hope to use truffles from their own trufferie which, together with their towering karri and jarrah trees, makes for a secluded spot in which to have a candlelit bush bath.
Day 5: back to Perth
Returning to the capital, Must Perth (Gourmet Traveller’s Australian Wine Bar List of the Year 2009) has an uplifting and intimate Champagne lounge and an encyclopaedic list of WA wine producers. Russell Blaikie’s menu features unique regional flavours and exclusive products like Paul Omeehan’s dry-aged Butterfield beef and Phillip and Shelia Marshall’s Torbay asparagus. It represents all that is bright and beautiful about this great state, which Blaikie describes as ‘the biggest organic playground’, brilliantly capturing why WA is heaven on earth for the health-conscious gourmet traveller.