Behind the Hedge – Coombe Farm in the Yarra Valley

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For as long as I can remember, I have been a regular visitor to the Yarra Valley, and recall my father telling me as a young girl that the huge gates on the bend just past Coldstream were the entrance to the estate of Dame Nellie Melba, whom I knew to be a great opera singer.

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If you have, like me, ever wondered what lies ‘behind the hedge’ , the news is good.

Not only is it breathtakingly beautiful and perfectly restored, it is also now open for the public to enjoy, and not just as an historical homage. Coombe Farm is styling itself as an artistic hub, which will play host to thousands of visitors every year, as people stream through the gates to explore the gardens on guided tours, as well as to weddings, corporate events and opera performances as part of the Dame Nellie Melba Opera Trust. They will also, like me return for the wine, as Coombe Farm Wine Cellar door is also located here.

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Dame Nellie Melba was in her day one of the most famous women in the world, the first woman to ever grace the cover of Time Magazine, and counted amongst her friends Charlie Chaplin, (who apparently swam in her pool at Coombe Farm) movie idol Douglas Fairbanks, and members of the Royal family. She lived a lavish, flamboyant life of concerts,  travelling the globe with her monogrammed Louis Vuitton luggage and custom-made Cartier jewellery, and was celebrated all over the world for her magnificent voice. She was also lauded for her unending support for charity, as well as nurturing the talent of budding artists, including Arthur Streeton who would, with her patronage go on to be one of our most celebrated painters.  Apparently Dame Nellie also had a wicked sense of humour, and had a bit of the Aussie larrikin in her. Quite frankly she sounds like someone I would have loved to share a glass bottle of wine with.  Take a tour of the grounds and gardens and your guide will regale you with all manner of lovely anecdotes and snippets about this national treasure. They’re all in love with the history of her and are full of enthusiasm for sharing her legacy with as many people as possible.

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The beautiful Providore stocks gardening wares, handcrafted pieces from independent artists, and specially-commissioned Melba memorabilia including monogrammed teatowels, crockery etc, as well as  the stunning biography written by Melba’s beloved granddaughter, Pamela, Lady  Vestey which is on my Christmas list this year.

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The gardens were originally designed by Guilfoyle (he of the Royal Botanical Gardens of Melbourne fame) and at every turn you are rewarded with stunning views over different parts of the Yarra Valley.

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The oldest (functional) swimming pool in Australia where Charlie Chaplin swam


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The gorgeous morsels served as part of brunch, using local and homegrown ingredients, included the award-winning Coombe Farm Wines’ Dame Nellie Melba Blanc de Blanc, fresh baked scones with Peach Melba jam, truffles, lemon meringue tartlet, Coombe Farm pate with Melba toast, and pork and apple sausage rolls.

 IMG_4019 IMG_4022 IMG_4023 IMG_4024 IMG_4026The restaurant is open, and serving seasonal and largely estate grown produce, for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea 7 days a week. They will also be open for dinner on weekends during peak holiday periods as well as for special events.



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View the current menu here

Bookings for Garden Tours are essential. The cost is $25 and includes morning or afternoon tea and I am looking for volunteers to come with me so I can do it all over again (and again)

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Sincere thanks to Coombe Farm and Two Hands Agency for having me along to discover what’s #behindthehedge

Visit Coombe Farm’s beautiful website here for more information: http://coombeyarravalley.com.au/site/

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All the Bubbles! La Dolce Vita Festival November 15-16, 2014.


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If this picture is making you thirsty, there are number of fantastic ways to get your bubbles on, Italian Style, at the annual Dolce Vita Festival in the King Valley, November 14-16.

Brown Brothers is celebrating 125 years of wine making at their 28th annual Spring Wine & Food Festival Opening Dinner, where you can dine with members of the Brown family at Patricia’s Table restaurant in the Epicurean Centre at  Milawa.

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This exclusive members-only event features a delectable four course meal with matched wines created by  award winning Head Chef Douglas Elder.
Over the weekend you can also experience some fantastic wine and food matching at Patricia & Co Pop-Up Wine and Food Bar, visit Epicurean Express for mouth-watering dishes direct from the delicious kitchen, or simply grab a picnic basket and get comfortable on the lawns listening to some wonderful live acoustic music. You’ll also be one of the first to get the chance to take a peek inside the beautiful, newly restored historic barn, the place where the King Valley wine adventure started. Drop in, relax, explore!

Dal Zotto Wines in Whitfield are celebrating their 10th Anniversary of producing Australia’s first Prosecco at their Primavera del Prosecco event this year.

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New release wines include 2014 Arneis, 2014 Riesling, 2014 Vintage Pucino and N.V. Pucino Prosecco. They are also very excited to announce the return of the ever popular Barbera Frizzante and an exciting new variety to the Dal Zotto range – the 2014 Garganega.

The Prosecco Cocktail Bar will be open again from 11 am until 8pm on Saturday and 10 am – 5 pm on Sunday, and for the kids, clown fun, with  2 x jumping castles (for big and little kids), face painting and craft activities.

“Wine Flights” will be served with food matches in the Trattoria by the winemaker and Dal Zotto family and team.

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House made Pizza, kids meals, delicious spring produce, together with famous Gelato Messina treats are only a few of the food options on offer, there will be music by local artists Tom Kline, Paul William Ray & Band and you can groove away the night with DJ Emlyn Andres at the  “Prosecco Nights” event (Sat 4pm-8pm)  where they will be crowning the King and Queen of Prosecco – and you can be assured I’ll be back defending my title as Prosecco Queen!

After 5pm on Saturday, enjoy Otto Dal Zotto’s now famous Tuscan Pork Roll – succulent spit roasted pork (that’s Eric below from the Trattoria doing a test run a few weeks ago), lovingly cooked all day and served up on house made bread rolls with Italian slaw….Bellisimo!IMG_1630

 

Pizzini Wines

 

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Every year Pizzini put on their ‘Gnocchi Carnevale’ as part of La Dolce Vita Festival. Along with Katrina Pizzini’s famous homemade gnocchi, there will be pork belly, Zatar crusted BBQ salmon, roast pumpkin and caramelised onion cannelloni, as well as a huge array of amazing desserts, and kids get to try Nonna’s bolognaise. There’s also an ice cream bar, market stalls, music, giant sandpit and art space for the kids as well as kite making, and roving entertainers teaching the kids circus art like hooping, enthralling with balloon art, face painting and magical tricks. All this means you will be free to sit and enjoy the sunshine, and all the wine. There’s also the annual gnocchi rolling and wine spitting competitions,

Fred Pizzini has grown over 275 kilograms of Dutch Cream potatoes especially for the gnocchi. It would be rude not to help them eat it.

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Just 5 minutes down the road you’ll find Politini Wines and Chrismont Wines, in Cheshunt.

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(image from Visit Victoria)

 

This year Politini are serving up a sensational southern Italian feast of seafood with a Mediterranean twist by the team of ‘Rinaldo’s Casa e Cucina’, plus Nonna Josie’s home-cooked fare and delicious Italian sweets including her ever popular amici & dolce platters.

IMG_0990Chrismont are celebrating with a two-day, lively affair brimming with exciting new release wines, top entertainment and dishes inspired by a southern Italian holiday, all with the region’s majestic vistas as your backdrop.

You can also experience a touch of Venice at the Bellini Bar with cocktails of La Zona Bellini and La Zona Spritz showcasing Chrismont’s La Zona Prosecco. This dry sparkling wine made in the authentic northern Italian style is shaping up to be the drink of summer – so jump in while it’s still spring and enjoy Prosecco ‘viva la vita’ style.

You can check out the entire Dolce Vita festival program HERE

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It occurred to me whilst finding images for this post that I have taken A LOT of photos of prosecco. And the King Valley. And I’m ok with that. It’s pretty. And I love it, so remember:

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* I was not asked to write this post, I am not being paid to write this post. It’s a public service announcement about all the bubbles. That is all. Prosecco Queen out…

Horsing around in Wangaratta

Regular readers of my blog will know how much I love North East Victoria, for its beautiful lush green landscape, gourmet food trails, warm hospitality, and of course the wineries of the King Valley, the home of prosecco. So it may surprise you to learn that I haven’t visited Wangaratta in about 2o years, despite it being located only 10 minutes from Milawa, the start of the King Valley Gourmet food and wine region.

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I was invited by the Rural City of Wangaratta to visit the area for a couple of days, my trip coinciding with the High Country Harvest, which runs for 10 days from the middle of May each year, and showcases the region’s food and wine producers, in a series of fantastic long lunches, picnics, wine dinners, and a couple of extremely special events, including one that particularly sparked my interest,  ‘Packing Prosecco’.

The opportunity to finally explore some of Wangaratta itself was too good an offer to refuse so I packed up Mr 9 for some ‘school of life’ adventures and away we sped up the Hume Highway to arrive just in time for lunch at Cafe Derailleur, which amongst other things such as a completely crochet-covered mountain bike (yes, really), does excellent coffee, and according to my junior foodie, very excellent pancakes.

FORGE’S FARM – PACKING PROSECCO

Lunch done, we headed out to Oxley, just 15 minutes out of town, to meet with our hosts Graham, Anne-Maree and Tup Forge, of Forge’s Farm.  Anne-Maree grew up on their current farm, and Graham is from nearby Edi. Between them they know every inch of the King Valley and regularly run trail rides around the area, give horse riding lessons, and run annual cattle drives and team penning competitions. These lovely people are so friendly we literally felt like part of the family the moment  we arrived, which made it all the more difficult to leave.

For the High Country Harvest event, they’ve combined local produce from the Milawa Cheese Company with Dal Zotto prosecco, and teach visitors the lost art of packing a horse, before taking them on a beautiful, easy ride thorough paddocks and along the King River for a picnic either on the shady bank, or in a nearby woodshed.  It’s hard to say who enjoyed this more, me or my son Dylan, who appears to have a natural affinity for horses, and was off and trotting after only 5 minutes in the saddle. Whilst there he also got to feed baby lambs from a bottle, as well as helping Graham and Anne-Maree unsaddle the horses and put on their ‘pyjamas’ (saddle blankets) before leading them off to the stables for the night.

Dylan has already made me promise to go back to Forge’s for another visit, and with accommodation on site for only $80 a night for a very cosy little shed with comfy double bed and bunks in the middle of all the action, it won’t be too long before we are back in the saddle.

You can follow Forge’s Farm on Instagram and Facebook. Make sure you follow Tuppy Forge as well – she’s the one responsible for the gorgeous styling of the prosecco picnic, and with an eye for beautiful detail and a talent behind the camera, her feed is sure to be full of loveliness. You can thank me later.

THE OTHER GOOD BITS

Tarrawingee:

The Plough Inn Hotel in Tarrawingee is another destination that’s been on my North East bucket list for a little while now, so it was fantastic to have this on our schedule. Chef and owner Andrew Roscouet, is ex Pure South, and Sofitel Melbourne, and  The Savoy and Berkley Hotels in London before that. His fine pedigree shines through in food that is neither fussy nor pretentious whilst impressing the pants off you at the same time. With a wine list that beautifully demonstrates the great talents of several local winemakers, an inviting dining room full of exposed brick and gorgeous light even on a dreary Autumn day, and an excellent value tasting menu (5 courses for $65 or $90 with matched wines) this is somewhere I’ll be returning to again for a long and leisurely dinner, with a designated driver next time so I can drink a whole bottle of the local Eldorado Road Quasimodo Shiraz Durif Nero D’Avola which is my new favourite wine crush for the cooler months. Warning: food porn ahead.


IMG_9617Slow cooked Chicken Terrine with Buttered Onion Brioche and Cauliflower Chutney.

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Roasted Sweet Corn Croquettes with Garlic Aioli

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Vanilla Creme Brûlée with citrus mint salad

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Wangaratta:

No longer a sleepy country town, Wang is full of stylish little stores stocking homewares, kitchen stuff, local crafts, and some pretty sweet boutiques. The food scene is also much better than you might imagine, with some excellent choices for dining out, from casual to more ‘special occasion’.  On this particular visit we tried Watermarc and Precinct for drinks and a range of entrees and Cafe The PreVue for breakfast. Apart from an excellent standard of food, what really struck me was the professional service, which was anything but provincial. I’m looking forward to another visit already.

 

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Poached egg with tomato, basil, fetta and chilli, and balsamic at Cafe The Pre Vue

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Sitting on the deck in the Autumn sunshine at Cafe the Pre Vue overlooking the Ovens River and boardwalk

We stayed at  Via Bella Vista – luxury boutique accomodation, close to the river, with a large terrace to catch the morning sun, beautifully styled with thoughtful touches like a coffee machine with milk and pods, a bottle of wine in the fridge and Mor toiletries in the bathroom (and even a hairdryer). The bed had the biggest, fluffiest pillows I’ve ever laid my head on, and was like sleeping on a cloud. Heaven!20140525-133838.jpg

Milawa:

There always seems to be so much to do in Milawa itself, and I never seem to have enough time to get around to everything. For example, if you start at Brown Brothers Winery, you can grab a bike and pedal up and down the country roads, in search of cheese, mustard, olive oil, honey, and ALL THE WINE. It’s a little initiative they like to call ‘Pedal to Produce’ and the bikes come equipped with a big basket that you can fill to the brim with all the delicious things. A highlight of this little expedition was trying the new ‘Bolle’ sparkling at Sam Miranda Wines. We also picked up some gorgeous creamed honey from Walkabout Apiaries.

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We stayed as guests of the Rural City of Wangaratta.

 

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Special thanks to the glamour farmer and tourism treasure, Emma Keith for hosting us so magnificently xx