>Labour Day Monday saw a convoy driving down to the Yarra Valley for a lazy afternoon. Seven adults, two kids and a baby headed east through cloudy skies, past the end of the freeway and into wine country. As Lilydale ended and the vines began, it appeared most of the grapes have already been picked which is just as well given all the storms and rain we’ve had.
The surrounding hills had little sign of the devastating fires the area experienced last year: the forests have all but filled out with green now, and the destroyed vines have grown back. The memories will take longer to fade.
Past Domaine Chandon, Beaver’s Brook (venue for last year’s legendary Winter Solstice lunch), Rochford (home the previous evening to a Tom Jones concert if he didn’t get rained out) and into Healesville which was buzzing as usual.
Innocent Bystander winery is a great casual place for food, wine, aged cheese, artisan bread, excellent coffee, homemade desserts…. you name it. They take the quality and provenance of the food they serve very seriously, which makes it a lovely place to eat.
Their two wine labels, Innocent Bystander and Giant Steps, are pretty respectable but my clear favourite is Harry’s Monster, a heady mix of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc. As I hadn’t eaten yet in the day, I essentially had a glass of The Monster for breakfast. Marvellous.
We crammed into a huge booth right beside the winery section of the building: a barricade of barrels were behind a glass wall. The sign told us that vintage had begun: pinot gris, pinot noir and chardonnay on its way.
We ordered fresh pizza, made according to their house rules:
– Genuine, wood fire oven
– Crispy-thin, handmade sourdough base
– Imported San Marzano tomatoes and local oven dried Roma and Cherry tomatoes
– Murray River salt
– Shaw River buffalo mozzarella
– Fresh, local basil and extra virgin olive oil
The spicy pork pizza was served without tomatoes but with an extremely generous serving of garlic. The prosciutto pizza was a little over-garnished with flat-leaf parsley but that’s about all the complaining I could hear.
The girls sipped on an ice-cold pinot rose whilst Lenford had a White Rabbit beer from the micro-brewery next door and Ossie had a cold glass of local Punt Road cider. Orlando went all International on us and had a glass of French bubbly.
A trip to the loo brought me past their impossible-to-resist cheese larder, where Irish Coolea cheese rubbed shoulders with a Victorian “Holy Goat” and a couple of lovely-looking French sheep’s cheeses amongst others. I am not sure how I managed to get out of there without spending up to $100 on a few hundred grams of cheese…. but somehow I did.
Later, back at Lenford’s, our host didn’t quail at an extra ten mouths to feed for supper (yes, we ate a second time that day). He fired up the barbie and enlisted his new army to prepare a feast. Freshly made bruschetta laced with garlic (made by my own fair hand), lumps of pork and beef marinated to perfection, traditional Aussie snags, chicken of course, a bok choi and dry noodle salad, egg fried rice and far too many bottles of wine. We actually drank the man dry.
A veritable feast shared with friends in Lenford’s country house surrounded by trees, people hanging out on the balcony, the daybed and the hot tub, good music and great conversation, home cooked food made with love. What a way to end the perfect friends’ weekend.
(the man himself)