Vineyard Cookbook by Victoria Heywood

A celebration of food and wine from Australia’s grape-growing regions

By Robyn Lewis
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Vineyard Cookbook

Vineyard Cookbook [©Penguin Books]


Part cookbook part sumptuous armchair journey through some of Australia’s best-known wine regions, the Vineyard Cookbook is a culinary delight.

The subjects are close to our hearts at, being vineyard restaurants, their chefs and some of their prized recipes, which showcase their regional bounty to perfection.

Your journey starts in South Australia, considered the first home of the Australian wine industry. There’s Hahndorf Hill in the Adelaide Hills and Penfolds’ Magill Estate in Adelaide itself – residents and visitors to Adelaide don’t have to travel far to enjoy great vineyard cooking – then a short drive south to the beautiful McLaren Vale where d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant, The Currant Shed at Hoffmans, and The Kitchen Door at Penny’s Hill and Mr Riggs Cellars strut their stuff.

The two Barossan restaurants included, Krondorf Road Café and Kaesler, feature local German cuisine (with a modern take) and game respectively. Heading further north into the Clare Valley you may enjoy the Station Café at Mt Horrocks Wines, and one of my personal favourites, Skillogalee, whose name is apparently Gaelic for a thin porridge gruel, but whose food is far from it.

The Mornington Peninsula features highly in the Victorian selection, as befits a region that was once Victoria’s fruit bowl and is today arguably Australia’s leading gourmet food-producing region, certainly on a per area basis. Six great restaurants (all of them partners) include Max’s at Red Hill Estate, Montalto, Salix and Willow Creek, Vines of Red Hill, 10 Minutes by Tractor and Jill’s at Moorooduc.

More Victorian icons in the Yarra Valley include Locale at De Bortoli, Tarrawarra Café and Yering Station Winebar and Restaurant, and four in the state’s north-east including The Terrace at All Saints and Sam Miranda. Not content to always dine in the city, Melburnians are certainly spoilt for choice for weekend culinary breaks.

As befits its gourmet image – and its high quality seafood from pristine waters – Tasmania is well covered by Meadowbank, The Source at Moorilla Estate and Home Hill in the south, plus Daniel Alps at Strathlynn and Estelle at Rosevears, both in the Tamar Valley, and Josef Chromy’s new establishment just south of Launceston. 

New South Wales seems a bit under-represented to me, with the inclusion of only four restaurants in a single region, the Hunter Valley: The Rock at Pooles Rock, the well-known Roberts at Tower Estate, Esca at Bimbadgen and the more laid-back Amanda’s on the Edge. Other regions like Mudgee and Cowra don’t get a look in; neither does the ACT and surrounds, or the entire state of Queensland. However I guess the Vineyard Cookbook would have to be twice the size to be truly representative; it’s already over 300 pages of recipes, anecdotes and tales, and of course evocative photographs. Perhaps there will be a sequel.

Likewise in Western Australia only the Margaret River region is included; however the restaurants featured are amongst the best of the west, including Clairault, Leeuwin Estate (site of my most memorable vineyard lunch ever), award-winning Cullen’s, Voyager Estate and Xanadu.

Each vineyard and restaurant’s story is well told by Victoria Heywood of Penguin Books, who delves not only into their history but the philosophies of both winemakers and chefs – which usually complement and strengthen each other to produce the successful food/wine/hospitality marriages that provide the foundation for the Vineyard Cookbook.

The recipes are all selected and presented by the chefs, but other than an introduction by Tobie Puttock, generally don’t highlight the chef him or herself – mostly they are in the business for the love of food and cooking, not to become celebrities. They prefer to let their creations, their commitment to seasonal produce and desire to complement the vineyard’s wines speak for themselves.

A few standouts for me include Magill Estate’s citrus salt-cured ocean trout (matched with their Penfolds Eden Valley Reisling, surely a combination worth a plane trip to Adelaide), kangaroo fillet in red wine and port sauce – a signature of Kaesler Estate – Bernard McCarthy’s duck and lamb cassoulet and ‘flavours of the Peninsula’ vacherin at Salix, and Jill McIntyre’s bouillabaisse using local Mornington Peninsula fish – you’ll have to go to Moorooduc to fully experience it though, in situ with her husband Richard’s fabulous winery-baked sourdough breads, and washed down with their wild yeast wines.

So many recipes, all generously sharing tips and secrets, and most with suggested wine matches (refreshingly, not always from the vineyard close at hand). Sam Miranda’s barbera shiraz braised mushrooms, Daniel Alp’s char-grilled calamari with lemon oil, Tasmanian seafood open lasagne at Josef Chromy’s …. the mouth-watering list goes on and on.

Vegetarians are well catered for in the Vineyard Cookbook (Cullen’s in Margaret River highlight vegetarian dished on their menu) and there are fabulous-looking desserts too. There’s even a curry once considered anathema to wine-tasting, but which Amanda Patton says are becoming increasingly popular at vineyard lunches, served with their Windsor’s Edge verdelho. Yum. One idea I especially like is Esca’s entrée taste plate trio matched specifically to three of Bimbadgen’s white wines, which might be a prelude to a long and enjoyable lunch indeed.

Vineyard cuisine should not be city food transplanted to the country, a philosophy so well summed up by the hospitable and ultra-creative Max Paganoni of Max’s at Red Hill Estate: ‘from the start the idea was not to serve people the sort of food they can get in Melbourne, Sydney or Perth, but to offer a true Peninsula dining experience’. This theme is carried through the Vineyard Cookbook; most recipes make the utmost of locally produced ingredients (most of which would be available in any city market, however), and range form rustic through sophisticated (but not to the realms of Thomas Keller or Ferran Adria).

Degree of difficulty? Probably around 7+. They are chefs showcasing their specialities after all, and their recipes are not dumbed down. With a little time and attention to detail all look achievable, although the home cook could easily adapt and make a few shortcuts if he/she desired for less formal dining occasions, and the recipes certainly provide inspiration. However Bill Granger’s café food it is not.

The Vineyard Cookbook is beautifully illustrated with photographs by Adrian Lander, Adrian Lambert and others, which truly evoke each region’s sense of place, especially important as our grape-growing region’s identities start to emerge as much for their food as well as for their wines. It is also refreshing to see recipes with some genuine regional identity and more than a nod to local tradition and culture, and not just creations that could be from anywhere west (or east) of California.

Without this approach, the Vineyard Cookbook could easily have been just another commercially-driven publication, an anonymous, touristy offering lacking personality and doomed to date as quickly as last year’s tour guide. Instead, it’s one of the best produced, most beautiful and inspiring cookbooks we’ve seen in 2009, and would delight any budding or experienced home chef or wine travel lover. The author has been outed as Victoria Heywood - why the publishers chose not to recognise her on the cover I will never know. In these days of connecting with producers and chefs, we want to know who is serving their dishes up, too.

If you can’t get out to an Australian wine region anytime soon, or if you want to recreate a fabulous meal you’ve experienced at one of the 39 featured vineyard restaurants in your own home – or just feel like a touch of wine country ambience – this book is for you. And if you are visiting from overseas, have one posted home to you, to show your friends that the days of the Australian countryside as a culinary wasteland are long, long gone.

The Vineyard Cookbook is written by Victoria Heywood for publishers Viking Penguin (Melbourne; hb, RRP A$59.95). and Winepros Archive subscribers and Members can purchase the Vineyard Cookbook from our book partners Seekbooks at 12.5% off RRP (postage extra).

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November 25th, 2009
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