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A weekend escape to the gorgeous Grampians beckons. The
Follow your tastebuds to the heart of the Grampians National Park amidst towering mountain peaks and velvety valleys. This gathering of more than 100 of Western Victoria's finest food and wine artisans is regional Victoria's most highly-anticipated food and wine event.
While leisurely sipping and grazing your way through a tasteful selection of fine wine, food and produce, you can also indulge in a full, enticing program of events, both at the festival and in the lead-up.
See respected chefs demonstrate their culinary wizardry, including twice daily demonstrations by Frank Camorra, non-pretentious Spanish foodmeister of MoVida fame, and Adrian Richardson, owner and head chef at the successful, bustling La Luna in North Carlton, where he's been dishing up clean, fresh and innovative fair since 1999.
Dance or sing along to some great live music, with
performances by ARIA award winning musician Monique Brumby, Bree-arne Chamley of Geelong, and Hamilton bands The Still Trees and Buddha in a Chocolate Box. They'll definitely add some chilled ambiance and a fun party atmosphere to the festivities.
There'll also be plenty of kid-friendly entertainment, including Bubble Muffin Kids Cooking Club, Cupcake Sunday, and the Grampians Rock Climbing Wall. (I wonder if adults can have a go!)
While I'm looking forward to making a dedicated stop at every exhibitor's stall (why wouldn't you?), here are a few of my favourite artisan producers and unique wineries - and ones you should definitely look out for:
mushrooms dressed with some of the best. These award-winning dressings, hand-crafted from locally-sourced ingredients, are divine as dressings, marinades or dips. The range includes: poppy seed and mustard, balsamic chilli and honey; red wine and herb vinaigrette; and Moroccan Spice. Buy online and at various outlets including Leo's.
Lush Desserts: Sweetening things up a notch are Masterchef Peter Little's lovingly-crafted dessert crèmes. The Lemon, Belgian Chocolate and Vanilla Bean
crèmes are delightful on their own, decadent as an accompaniment, and deliciously good when used in recipes. If you've not yet tried them, you simply must. The subtle twist of flavours and rich, creamy tangy finish on the palate is, well, lush and lovely.
Wrap your lips around these. Dickins Delights include hand-crafted, melt-in-the-mouth butter toffee made from the finest ingredients: farm-fresh Australian almonds, macadamia nuts, and premium milk or dark chocolate. They're divine and beautifully presented though, to be honest, I wouldn't be giving them away.They're available through many outlets and online.
Barangaroo Boutique Wines: This magnificent vineyard just outside Horsham, with cellar door in a Tuscan landscaped garden for tastings beneath the vine trellis, has magnificent views of Mt Arapiles and the Grampians. It's one of maybe two Victorian wineries growing Vermentino, the new, refreshing white wine of the Mediterranean. Chris from Barangaroo describes it as "straw in colour with aromas of freshly cut flowers; the wine tastes of tropical fruits and citrus and has a clean finish with 'drink me now' attributes." Can't wait to try it.
Laharum Grove: Well known for its organic, award-winning olive oil and capers and its tasty marmellata, or tomato jam, Laharum Grove was established in 1943 beneath the dramatic escarpment of Mt Difficult in the Grampians National Park. A new restaurant using seasonal, local produce is underway, and they're hosting the decidedly delicious Grampians Grape Escape Launch in the Grove on Anzac Day.
Toscana Olive Plantation: Also established in 1943 and in the foothills of the Grampians National Park, the plantation produces an award-
winning range of certified organic extra virgin olive oils, artisan vinegars and table olives. 100% Australian family-owned and operated by the Matthews family, the 1200-acre plantation with some 28,000 trees is the largest family-owned, single-estate certified organic olive grove in Australia. Now, that's a more-ish mouthful.
Taltarni Vineyards & Winery: Established in 1969, Taltarni is a family-owned boutique winery and one of the founding wineries of the Pyrenees wine region. Its diverse range of French-inspired still wines and traditionally-crafted spaklings are crafted at a picturesque property with around 240 acres of vineyards. It has been described by wine writer Robert Jospeh as "one of the most beautiful vineyards on the planet". Take a virtual visit inside and out.
Timboon Distillery: Superb, single-malt whiskey and spirits, a rich history, a range of the best local produce, and a licensed restaurant dishing up gourmet food made with the finest ingredients – either al fresco on the desk in summer or by the roaring fire in winter. Need I say more? Just that you can immerse yourself in an incredible array of culinary delights and experiences at the one location at the Timboon Railway Shed Distillery run by dedicated farmers and foodies, Tim and Caroline.
Timboon Fine Ice Cream: Adding a further, and indeed fine, feather to their bow, Tim and Caroline also own Timboon Ice Cream, which produces all-natural, premium boutique ice cream made from locally-sourced milk and cream. The ice cream – featuring 25 or so different flavours that vary according to seasonal availability of ingredients, including Lemon Pudding, Irish Cream, Orange and Cardamom and Plum Pudding – is as pure, natural and fresh as can be. Lap it up. Buy at various stockists, events and, of course, at Grampians Grape Escape.
Mount Cole Wineworks: Set in a pretty valley at Mount Cole in the Grampians Wine Region, this vineyard specialises in Shiraz, with soil and climate suiting this variety. Other varieties include Shiraz Viognier, Sparkling Shiraz, Nebbiolo, and a range of whites including Chardonnay, Riesling and Rosé. If travelling to the Grampians via the Western Highway, call into the cellar door at Off the Beaten Track Wine & Art Gallery at Buangor for a taste, and maybe a bottle or three to take home.
Apostle Whey Cheese: The Benson family, who have been farming their property near the Twelve Apostles and the Great Ocean Road for 31 years, know their cheese. Having indulged in their cheeses previously at the Melbourne Specialist Cheese Show, I can personally vouch for the award-winning, delectable hand-made
cheeses – and the contented (and oh-so-cute) herd of Jersey and Friesian cows who generously provide the pure milk that the highly-personable Bensons expertly transform into manna from the Gods.
L'artisan Cheese Timboon: In crafting his unique French-style cheeses near Port Campbell, Matthieu Megard, third generation cheesemaker and owner of L'artisan Cheese and the Mouse Trap Café, respectfully honours the traditional techniques
and recipes he brought from his home country. And it shows in everything he does, from his distinctive, highly sought-after artisan cheeses, which are a sight to behold, to his café in beautiful garden surrounds, which offers, amongst other delights, all-day, free cheese tastings. Get some!
the most significant wine-oriented enterprises in the Pyrenees, highly regarded in every respect… It has excellent resort-style accommodation and a great restaurant. Wine quality is excellent and among the region's best..." The winery, less than an hour from Halls Gap, is a must-visit, tranquil paradise.
You might have gathered by now that the calibre of exhibitors' produce reflects some of Australia's, and in some cases, the world's, best. Are you tempted? How couldn't you be. We want to help you get there and immerse yourself in it.
Win Tickets To Grampians Grape Escape
To celebrate the 21st annual Grampians Grape Escape, we're giving away two double Wine Lovers' Packages (valued at $80 each), which allow entry to both days of the festival plus wine tasting.
To enter, go to Grampians Grape Escape and follow the WeekendNotes competition link. Your Promo Code is WNGGE2012. Competition closes at midnight on Friday, April 27.
Of course, the Grampians is one of Australia's premier regions for anything from strolling and sightseeing to hiking and steep rockclimbing, with the picturesque MacKenzie Falls, Wartook Valley and the mighty Mount Sturgeon (head out from Dunkeld) must-sees for any keen explorer.
While in Halls Gap you really must visit Brambuk, acclaimed National Park and Culture Centre offering the best information about and interpretation of the Grampians National Park, including its rich Aboriginal culture and history.
This will be my first visit to Grampians Grape Escape and I'm busting with anticipation. This is one of those must-do events that's been on my agenda for a long time - and should be on the
agenda of anyone who appreciates fine food and wine. Not only that, the products on offer are lovingly and passionately produced and shared in a convivial and breathtakingly beautiful environment.