If Christmas is always the same in your household you might be intrigued to know how they spend it Down Under – or in places even colder than the UK! Fiona Beckett asks four New World winemakers what makes a traditional Christmas for them and how they eat and drink
Matt Dumayne, Canada
New Zealand-born Matt Dumayne is the winemaker at Okanagan Crush Pad in the Okanagan Valley, so he has experienced Christmas in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Also a keen chef, he was named Top Foodie of the Year by Canada’s Western Living magazine in 2017.
Given that Thanksgiving in Canada is celebrated in mid-October, when we’re thick into harvest, the Christmas holiday is the first real downtime I get since mid-August. It’s a time to relax, get back into the kitchen and also enjoy the outdoors.
I used to celebrate Christmas in New Zealand by going to the beach and having the typical barbecue of lamb, roasted veggies and coleslaw. Now Christmas involves roasts, fireplaces and winter sports.
Turkey wasn’t a typical menu choice when I was growing up, so I’ve been experimenting with different techniques since I arrived in Canada. Typically it is stuffed and roasted true to our British and Irish roots. This year I plan to take a large turkey breast, pound it flat and layer with a Canada goose breast and savoury bread dressing (see recipe). This will get rolled and wrapped with bacon – Canadian maple-smoked bacon of course!
The roll is oven roasted and regularly basted with turkey stock. When it’s ready, I slice it thinly and serve it with a simple cranberry chutney, roast potatoes and veggies – I love Jamie Oliver’s shredded brussels sprouts with bacon. A Canadian Caesar cocktail (vodka, Clamato juice, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce – garnished with lime and a celery stick) is generally to hand!
I’m not a big fan of sugar so we tend to pass on dessert and typically we start off with cheese as an appetiser. There are lots of little local cheese-makers around.
While the turkey is in the oven, we all step outside for some fun in the snow. At that time of year it can be -10°C and there can be a foot of snow. Living on the winery’s 129ha Garnet Valley Ranch, there are miles of snowshoeing tracks, a pond for skating – and of course getting the four-seater quad stuck in a snow drift is a given.
An outdoor bonfire is always an option over the Christmas break. We’ll huddle round with hot Canadian whiskey drinks – whiskey, brown sugar or honey and hot water – with roasted sausages on sticks and toasted marshmallows for the kids.
To drink there will be some bubbles for sure. Haywire’s The Bub 2015, followed by Bollinger La Grande Année, then a glass of Meinklang Grüner Veltliner, which I discovered at The Winemakers Club in London last March. There’s usually a Pinot showdown between our Haywire Free Form Red (100% Pinot from Garnet Valley Ranch) and a Valli Gibbston Vineyard Pinot Noir, grown by Duncan Billing who’s now our director of viticulture. You can’t entirely take the day job out of Christmas!
Matt’s Savoury Bread Dressing
- 160g white onion, finely chopped
- 110g sourdough bread
- 170g celery including leaves, finely chopped
- 112g cooked spinach, chopped
- 112g melted butter
- 30g unsalted roasted cashew nuts, chopped
- 6g chopped parsley
- Six slices of bacon, diced
- 2 tsp fresh sage
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground summer savory (if available)
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Turkey stock
- A couple of days before preparing, tear the bread into rough, bite-sized chunks, and leave covered in a bowl to dry a little.
- To prepare the dressing, fry the bacon in a large frying pan until partially done.
- Add the onion and half the melted butter. When this is browning nicely, add the celery. Cook until the mixture is evenly browned.
- Place the bread chunks in a large mixing bowl, add the frying pan ingredients and toss. 5. Add the spinach and cashew nuts and toss the mixture again.
- Sprinkle the top of the bread mixture with the sage, summer savory, salt and pepper, then toss again.
- Add the remaining butter and toss.
- Moisten with turkey stock if the mixture looks a little dry (this will depend on the texture and dryness of the bread).
Alejandro Vigil, Argentina
Alejandro Vigil is the head winemaker at Bodega Catena Zapata. He also has his own winemaking project, El Enemigo, and an award-winning winery restaurant Casa Vigil.
I’ve always spent Christmas with my family; for me the most important thing is to share such a special moment with them. My wife Maria and I have two children, Juan Cruz Octavio, who is 10 years old, and Maria Giuliana Francesca who is six years old. We live in Chachingo in Maipú, where El Enemigo’s Bodega Aleanna is located, and spend Christmas at home. My parents and brothers always come over too. For us the most important thing is our family.
In Argentina, Christmas Eve is the biggest celebration and every member of the family cooks something special to share during dinner, so the main meal is the evening of the 24th. The 25th is usually a more relaxed day. As it’s summer, we spend it outdoors: we roast a pig and prepare different salads, while the kids enjoy the swimming pool with their cousins. It’s a wonderful time to have fun.
There are two other traditional recipes that we will prepare over the holiday. The first is stuffed chicken with grilled peppers, carrots, tomatoes and dried mushrooms hydrated with wine. The second is rolled flank steak, stuffed with grilled peppers, chives, parsley, bacon and Parmesan cheese, which I roast then flambé with whiskey!
We usually drink Burgundy. It epitomises everything my grandfather said a wine should be: light in appearance, but with enough structure to pair with almost every type of food: easy to drink, but complex. Jean-Marc Roulot represents the sort of white wines from Burgundy that I like: fresh with a wonderful ageability. What you see in the vineyards, you find in the wine.
We’ll also drink wines from the Jura, such as Pierre Overnoy’s. Jura wines are made by a traditional method that reflects a whole winemaking culture. Then we might have a Comando G from Rumbo al Norte, made from very old Grenache vines, and of course a Malbec. Luca Malbec from Laura Catena and Alma Negra from Ernesto Catena show two different visions of Malbec focused on the terroir and grower rather than the producer.
I never trained as a chef but we love food and run a winery restaurant called Casa Vigil. The idea behind it is for people to feel as if they are at home, enjoying recipes from our family, made with fresh, seasonal ingredients, along with a glass of wine – or many glasses! Casa Vigil is in a peaceful setting, surrounded by a beautiful landscape with 100-year-old trees. We think the perfect pairing for food and wine is family and friends.
Anthony & Olive Hamilton Russell, South Africa
Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell own one of South Africa’s iconic estates, in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Both born and brought up in South Africa (Olive can trace her ancestry back to the 1690s), they celebrate Christmas at home with family.
Having the beautiful seaside village of Hermanus on our doorstep means we have many friends from all over the world popping over to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to join us for long summer lunches at the winery or for sundowners among the vines. We also love visiting the nearby beaches for sunset swims and picnics – a big advantage of a southern hemisphere Christmas.
A week or so before Christmas we throw a large garden party at our home, Braemar. We always release the new vintage of our Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay in mid-December, and it usually makes its first appearance here.
Our four daughters are older now, and scattered around, so it’s a big treat for us to have them all here over Christmas. One of our family traditions is to bake gingerbread Christmas tree decorations. We use only these to decorate our self-cut Mediterranean pine tree, and try to only do so when everyone is here. This ritual is accompanied with plenty of chatter and Champagne.
On Christmas Eve we invite family friends to join us for a casual seafood supper – fresh wild oysters, alikreukel (giant sea snails, which our winemaker dives for), crayfish, fresh caught line-fish from Walker Bay and hand-picked salads from our organic vegetable garden. We’ll have our own wines, but generally some Chablis, Sancerre and Muscadet as well.
Christmas morning is very much a family affair and starts with Champagne, toasted slices of panettone, and presents around the tree. We often have Anthony’s 82-year-old mum here, our siblings and their children, for a lovely multi-generational lunch. It is usually warm and sunny, so we start with a cold soup. This year I’ll serve cucumber soup followed by roast stuffed turkey. Even though we are in the southern hemisphere, we still prefer turkey for lunch, with duck-fat roast potatoes and Pinotage and cranberry sauce (see recipe).
We’ll have red and white Burgundies from our cellar on the table, but we always share an older magnum or jeroboam of our Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir, which everyone signs afterwards. We had a 1983 not too long ago, which was on great form.
Pavlova is a lovely, festive pudding, especially topped with local red berries and kiwi fruit , plus mint from our herb garden. Klein Constantia’s Vin de Constance is a real treat with this, and works so beautifully with cheese as well that we can continue sipping this historic wine, while slowly picking at a board of local cheeses into the late afternoon.
Pinotage & Cranberry Sauce
- 250ml Pinotage
- 325g cranberry jelly
- 125g dried cranberries
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 3 tbsp water
- A pinch of ground nutmeg
- A pinch of ground black pepper
- 1 whole star anise
- Add all of the ingredients except the cornflour and water to a small saucepan and bring to the boil.
- Boil at high heat for 8-10 minutes until the dried cranberries are nicely rehydrated.
- Mix the cornflour and water into a watery paste and stir into the sauce.
- Cook until the sauce thickens and cranberries are nice and plump. Serve warm.
Note: This sauce can be made two days before needed and stored in a refrigerator.
Sue Bell, Australia
Sue Bell describes herself as the winemaker, director and gardener at Bellwether wines in Coonawarra. She was named the Australian Society of Viticulture & Oenology Winemaker of the Year 2014. Her winery is in the historic Glen Roy Shearing Shed, dating back to 1868.
Christmas is a time when I catch up with family. My elder brothers and I live five to six hours’ drive apart in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales and we share the hosting, so two years out of three it involves me taking a long road trip across rural Australia. That can be fun with the humour of the bush in summer – think Christmas decorations and Santa scenarios with temperatures around mid-30°C. Poor Santa in that heavy red suit!
What we eat depends on who’s hosting. Some years are very traditional: I have an English sister-in-law and my brothers love the classic Christmas turkey. But I prefer to focus on beautiful fresh seafood from the cold Southern Ocean when I’m hosting. I’ll serve southern rock lobster with Nigella Lawson’s mango and chilli salad to match.
I love to pre-cook a ham to eat with a beetroot salad, or even cook a Peking duck. Salads herbs and fruit come from my own vegetable garden. Mint and coriander get used a lot over Christmas, along with raspberries and strawberries, which usually get scoffed in the garden by my daughter!
My mum makes what she calls a frozen ice cream fruitcake for dessert. It’s like a semi-freddo filled with Grand Marnier, dried apricots, glacé cherries and toasted almonds and pistachios – and I absolutely love it.
Funnily enough, my job is always to supply the wines. Fizz is a must for us at Christmas, so I mix it up with something French, English and of course Tasmanian. Last year it was Taittinger, Wiston and, my favourite, House of Arras. My family love to drink my wines but I like to show them other wines that I have enjoyed during the year. I usually pull out some older vintages later in the day.
I’m quite used to catering for a crowd at the winery but I know some people are daunted by it. My top tips would be to organise some extra fridge space – separate drinks refrigeration is a must – and share the work.
We always play cricket in the afternoon, interspersed with naps and drinks breaks, sometimes under a sprinkler! The seriousness of the Christmas Day cricket all depends on who is batting. My brothers are quite competitive and now their sons are too. Fortunately my nephews have equally talented partners who are great role models for my daughter, so we all have a go regardless of skill!
Last year we were all glamping outside in Glen Roy’s boutique campground in our bell tents. Although it’s usually around 30°C in the day, nights can still be cool in Coonawarra and we might even have to light the inside fire, which is rare – but it can happen!
Fiona Beckett is a Decanter contributing editor and chief restaurant reviewer