Well, I have never picked grapes in my life, so when Katrina Hill, a good client and a friend of many years asked me if I could come and help as her grapes needed picking a week earlier than planned, I tough it would make a great day out in the country side. A good two-hour drive south of Sydney in Canyonleigh, at 700m of altitude, Far Ago Hill is a boutique vineyard making an excellent Pinot Gris and soon to be released, what should be a great Shiraz. The vines have been progressively planted since 2004, so int is quite established and the Pinot Gris has an excellent reputation amongst the high end of Chefs in the Southern Highlands (Biota Dining) and beyond, as it is now poured at the new Peter Gilmore restaurant Bennelong. It is also served on Qantas First Class. Not a small achievement for what started as a hobby!
Once you leave the small road which leads you to the entrance of the property, you need to drive up hill on a very rough dirt road for two kilometres until...
After a welcome (and welcomed...) cup of coffee, I was offered to taste the juice of the first grapes picked to assess the ripeness. I am not an expert, but they were very tasteful and sweet, and after the approval by better informed people than myself, the grape picking had commenced a good two hours earlier by a hastily assembled crew, as the grapes were ripe earlier than forecasted and the vineyard was pounded by heavy hail the night before, hopefully to little damage thanks in part to the netting...
Après le réconfort, l'effort! Down to the vineyard and start picking grapes after a quick training with the secateur. Fortunately, even though the clouds eventually melted away, it was a cool 20deg in the morning
It took two days to a crew of ten people to harvest the 16 rows of Pinot Gris producing 8 tons of beautiful fruit. The grapes were then transported in two trips to the winer, a two hour drive from Canyonleigh...
After six hours of picking grapes under an increasingly sunny sky takes its toll, but the sense of accomplishment, the camaraderie with people i didn't know earlier in the day and a shared lunch of sausages, boiled potatoes salad and some Pinot Gris 2015 are the biggest rewards of the vendanges!
Not to mention the fact that when we finally drink the 2016 vintage, I will have that particular connection between the land, its bounty and the labor of love which went into producing the finest bottle of wine! Merci Katrina
James Viles the youngest Australian Chef to receive two hats for his locavore restaurant Biota Dining in Bowral, in the Southern Highlands of NSW, was the guest of honoour at the SMH Growers Market in Pyrmont for this month. He was there (very...) early to start the fire and slow roast a whole 10kgs pig in time for the first demo at 8.30am. I was not there and almost missed the 10.00am session as I was recovering from two nights of debauchery, including first screening of son Grégoire first film as a director (Summer Nights) and another one as DoP (1919) , part of the Break program of Metroscreen, and family reunion with the Scottish side of the clan...
I made it just in time to catch some leftover bits of this deliciously slow cooked cochon
James Viles explains to us and host PoRkStar Marketing Manager Mitch Edwards how the pig was cooked
James went on to prepare blood sausages - boudin noir - to an attentive but somehow bewildered crowd who were told that they could make this at home... A lot of collateral damage, including the host Mardi Gras outfit, happened, as fresh blood ended up splattered every where on stage and beyond. All this happened as a very cool and collected James was crumbing bread into a bowl, adding various spices and plenty salt, while telling us the story of his (young...) life and the genesis of Biota Dining. I have already reported on this, so I will refer you to my restaurants review page.
Over time, James and myself have built a friendship based on a common passion for local produce and food. He has pushed the "locavore" concept to the hilt, as he grows his own herbs and vegetables on the 4-acre property and sources most other ingredients within a 25kms radius around Bowral. Exception are the selfish he brings from the South Coast and some wines, although most of them are from the region (Centennial Wines and Far Ago Hill, just to name the two I know personally). We have been foraging together and I have been gently threatened with an invitation to go hunting hare together... He is a passionate individual and very hard working Chef, who also treats his personnel very nicely, taking them in turn to such event, like Joel today, his Executive Chef. The boudin noir was absolutely stunning, one of the best I ever tasted, including the divine apple and boudin noir feuilleté at La Tassée in Lyon, a must go to place, and the black pudding experienced in Scotland, another outcome of the Auld Alliance...
Somebody asked about the recipe for boudin blanc instead, and nobody on stage had a real clue, so I was asked to step in...You will find a good recipe by clicking the image above. Let's just say that the blood is replaced by white meat (pork, veal or chicken), the finest result coming from using veal ( not yearling...) and add cream to gel the ingredients together. When well made, this is a delicacy usually enjoyed as a second course (after oysters) for Christmas. It was invented in Champagne. Find the complete story by clicking the image below. A fish version and a specialty of Lyon is called quenelle and is even finer in texture and taste, best if one can find brochet a carnivorous river fish.
I did find the time after tasting the roasted pig to have a quick run through the market andd say hello to my good friends Steph Gourmet Foods, roi du saucisson, the Ocellos and their beautiful cheeses, Grower2u and their fabulous vegetables next to the Leppington Valley Farm who still had beautiful figs, Pepe Saya butter, Gina from Sweetness The Patisserie, Gilles Bonin Monsieur Garlic and in the process met Jenny and Cathy from new stallholders Garlicious Grown, sharing with Gilles and Victoria. I am sure we will see more of these nice ladies and great products.
Next week, we will revisit the EQ (fox Studios) and Riverside Organic Markets, and we are also interviewing James Viles at Biota Dining over tapas tomorrow and Clément Chauvin at Les Bistronomes in Canberra on Tuesday afternoon, and staying for dinner and a review...Busy week!
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.
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