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

 

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Volvo Prosecco-Road Trip

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A group of food and wine loving friends, and 2 brand new Volvos to test drive on a recent Autumn weekend saw us head to the King Valley in North East Victoria.

Just 3 hours from Melbourne, this is the birthplace of Prosecco, or Italian sparkling wine in Australia, and is aptly known as the ‘Prosecco Road’.  It is also home to a number of other excellent red and white Italian varietals. Our destination was Pizzini Wines, a family owned and run winery in Whitfield, in the heart of the King Valley.

The Cars
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Silverstone Volvo in Doncaster very kindly loaned us a brand spanking new XC60 R Design as well as the newly released V40, the latest in a line-up of sleek and sexy designs from the Swedish car maker who has undergone a revolution in recent years, amping up its image from safe but boxy and much maligned to what are now some of the best looking cars around.

At the recommendation of  Allison Walker  from  Mansfield Farmers Market , we went via Mansfield and tested out the cars on some wonderful curvy roads, driving through stunning countryside, past rolling green hills dotted with cattle, with a quick coffee stop at the delightful  Tea Rooms of Yarck .

The V40 is essentially a 5 door hatchback, but feels much larger and more spacious than your average hatch. It is a classy, sporty number (ours had a stunning cream leather interior) and is fabulous for city driving, especially with its additional features like park assist, a blind spot warning system, pedestrian airbag, and pedestrian detection with an auto-brake function. You’d be hard pressed to find a safer car. It’is also incredibly fuel efficient, and comes with start-stop technology (it turns itself off whilst you’re waiting at the traffic lights). I have a huge car crush on this little lady and did NOT want to give her back at the end of our weekend. She is also surprisingly affordable, priced at around $40K, give or take.

The XC60 R Design, a family-oriented crossover SUV, goes head to head with the likes of the Audi A5 size-wise and easily holds it own with looks, performance, and features, as well as offering value for money. We drove the petrol version, which has a turbocharged engine with plenty of oomph and goes from 0 – 100 kph in just 5.8 seconds. And from one bass-loving hip-hop fan I can confirm the stereo is in fact THE SHIZZLE.

The Wines – Pizzini20130512-220453.jpg

The Pizzini family have been in the King Valley for over 50 years, starting out in tobacco farming and then transforming the land into vineyards, initially growing Riesling grapes for Brown Brothers in Milawa in the late 70’s, then adding Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Shiraz vines, the fruit of which was then sold to winemaking companies all over Australia.

In the mid 80’s, Fred Pizzini started experimenting with the Northern Italian grape varieties, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, and eventually expanded into other Italian varietals, including Il Barone, Arneis, Pinot Grigio, Verduzzo, Brachetto, Prosecco and Picolit.

You will usually find Fred at the Cellar Door, sharing his passion for his wine, family and the region, together with winemaker son Joel, whose love of grapes has seen him complete vintages in Margaret River, Mornington Peninsula as well as in Italy at Marenco in Piemonte and Isole e Olena in Tuscany (one of the world’s top ten wineries and producers of one of the three top Sangioveses in Italy).

Check out wine writer, personal wine valet, and fellow road-tripper Catherine Whelan, aka Lady Of Oenotria for her take on our Pizzini Cellar Door experience.

The Cooking School – A Tavola

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Katrina Pizzini is passionate about the Italian recipes passed down from her mother-in-law, and her cooking classes are the perfect way to experience some of the flavours of the region, whilst learning some traditional skills like making gnocchi, pastry and pasta.

Katrina is the most gorgeous lady, patient and kind (and extremely diplomatic when you stuff something up!). Her cooking tips include some gems for even the most seasoned home cook, she makes everything look easy, and she’s so super lovely I asked her to adopt me (sorry mum if you’re reading this).

The commercial kitchen is equipped with everything you need to feel like a total professional, and to keep the magic alive you can also take home her beautiful cookbook, ‘A Tavola’. During our cooking class we made bolognaise, potato gnocchi, and apple strudel, (with fruit from Nonna Pizzini’s apple trees), and then sat outside in the Autumn sunshine and enjoyed the fruits of our labour with some Prosecco. Salute!

Lunch and Prosecco – Dal Zotto Wines20130512-221525.jpg

The Dal Zotto family, like the Pizzinis, have a long history in the King Valley (the two families are in fact related).  Otto Dal Zotto and his sons introduced Prosecco to the King Valley in 2000, and indeed to Australia. Otto claims he has wine in his veins rather than blood, and he is infectious in his enthusiasm for Prosecco and how it brings people together.   He is quite simply my hero.

By 2011 there were another  5 wineries in the region all producing Prosecco, including Brown Brothers, Pizzini, Sam Miranda, Chrismont, and Ciccone. They formed together a gourmet food and wine trail now known as The Prosecco Road.  For me Prosecco is a wine that suits every occasion, is great with meals or on its own, is celebratory, fun, easy to drink and perfect shared with friends. It captures the spirit of Italian hospitality in a bottle, and I am working hard to consume as much Prosecco as possible in my lifetime. So far I’m pretty pleased with my efforts. Anyone who knows me will know that it is nearly always ‘Prosecco Time’.

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Apart from a great cellar door experience, the Dal Zotto trattoria is a must visit if you’re in the King Valley. The menu features Italian-inspired seasonal and regional produce, from simple yet stunning antipasto platters to delicious handmade pasta. The family matriarch ‘Nonna Elena’ is a keen gardener, and still works to produce fresh ingredients for the kitchen.

Dinner – the Mountain View Hotel

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The Mountain View Hotel is a boutique gastro pub owned by the Pizzini family, in the heart of Whitfield, and its modern European-inpired menu is the work of chef Scott Burness, who has worked in kitchens all over the world including New Zealand, Scotland, the United States and Australia.

The service  here is city standard with country charm, and the food is nothing short of delightful.

The highlights of our meal (apart from spending it in the company of Katrina, Nat and Carla Pizzini) included the Bundarra Berkshire pork belly special, the dry aged Black Angus porterhouse, with onion marmalade, baby carrots, truffle potato foam and jus, and a stand-out dessert of pistachio and olive oil cake, roasted peach and vanilla bean ice cream.

The Mountain View on its own is well worth the trip to the King Valley, and is also home to the ‘Lana’ label of food-focussed wines, made by Joel Pizzini.

 

Accomodation – Jessie’s Creek Cottage

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This gorgeous new addition to Whitfield offers beautiful modern accomodation, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, luxury furnishings, a stunning fully-equipped kitchen, huge back yard and most importantly, is in staggering distance to the Mountain View Hotel. Cheers!

Thank you to the divine Pizzini family for hosting us so beautifully, and we can’t wait to see you again very soon!

You can also check out my Pinterest album for our all our Instagram pictures of the weekend here .