Tuesday, April 18, 2017

By the Little River with Marian

On a lovely Autumn day in Murrindindi amongst the hills, vines and sculpture, beside a river and with the gorgeous melodies from musicians Bev and Leigh Fraser wafting among the trees, a luncheon party of 30 gathers.

We are about to be wined and dined at the boutique winery known as Little River Wines, seated amongst the coolness of a wondrous mud brick home with subtle dappled light falling over large round tables and circles of glassed gold.

The home belongs to local identities and vignerons Phil and Christine Challen who, via their label Little River Wines, produce organic premium sparkling and table wines.

Both are passionate about local Upper Goulburn wines and produce grown in the region.

Marian Rennie, a local artist famed for her bright and bold artworks that are in collections here and worldwide, will be cooking up a storm. Instead of oils and acrylic and pots of pencils, Marian will be painting with local and regional produce; her canvases crisp white ceramic plates…

Canapes arrive outside in the gardens, waiting staff appear out of nowhere and offer guests platters of Blinis topped with Mascarpone and local smoked trout and dill pate, Long Lane capers and pickled red onion.

We enjoy the vinegary burst of salt within the caper which is a great compliment to the trout and dill pate while Phil and Christine, armed with bottles of bubbles, the Taggerty Sparkling Brut 2015 and the Wrong Side Brewery’s (Jamieson) Saison Farmhouse Ale, ensure all have a drink in hand soon after arrival.

After a leisurely walk around the garden….
we are ushered inside and seated with a warm welcome.

The tables are adorned with plates of pickled cucumber with pomegranate seeds and garden chives, hand rolled lavender and rosemary Dolmades with minted yogurt, grilled aubergine with chilli, lime and black pepper, local cured king trout and a variety of homemade and locally sourced pickles and relishes with thanks to Acheron Acres of Buxton, complimented with fresh crusty Yea bread and a selection of wines.

The Tf’s quickly pick up the wine notes underneath our plates for the start of the afternoon. Wines have been carefully selected and feature Evans and Tate Frankland River Riesling 2012, Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Little River’s Verdhelo 2014 and Whicher Ridge Viognier 2013. Hence the scene of circles of gold, white straw and yellow to gold colour in the four tasting glasses in front of each guest. 

It’s an impressive sight.

We ponder the menu that is to be rolled out today,….and nod, knowing it will be a wondrous swirl of flavours and visual delights  reflective of the regional surroundings and with added dashes of spontaneous tastes and textures and powerful and confident large strokes of vibrant colour.
Just like Marians Art @Renniesat Acheron

We notice at this stage the walls are adorned with such paintings and drawings from Marian’s collection and the inclusion of her recently produced book, Sketches … 
Stories from her sketchbooks. 

We digress….we are up again…and out….

A nice break into the Autumn sun away from the tables of culinary and wine bliss….on to a friendly game of Pétanque.

Back inside the Mains are appearing…..

On the table… two salads - one, green salad with shaved fennel, radish, pomegranate seeds, clove and pickled red onion and the second, garden tomatoes, basil and Boconcini topped with honey and balsamic dressing.

Now seated again….

Coming out in quick succession is venison carpaccio, slow baked rabbit in Little River Verdhelo and seeded mustard and slow cooked marinated local beef and lamb…..
The lamb slowly roasted with local quinces brings back memories of swinging in those scented trees as children.

Much happy banter as people again load their plates with herbed potatoes, roasted carrots, green beans and chillies….yes some like it hot!!


The TF’s with gusto, as are others, sampling the reds….Clairault Petit Verdot 2012, Little River’s 2013 Forgotten Hero (a local favourite), Redgate Cabernet Franc 2014 and Vasse Felix Filias Cabernet Merlot 2015.

Much laughter about the lapin with the French waitress, in between the many comments about the mouth-watering explosions of taste and flavours.

Oh then there were the mushrooms….As the Greeks say εκπληκτικός

Just add a splash of Ouzo and sprinkle tarragon… 

The Tfs managed to chat to Phil and Christine throughout the afternoon and marvelled how they could match another region’s wine with local produce. “ It was easy once we thought about out the similarities of the two regions…both cool climate, both fairly new kids on the block, and both famous for their beautiful and fertile surrounds, picturesque vineyards and full flavoured wines, beef, venison, fish and lamb. 
Margaret River has a maritime influence and became a wine region in the late 60’s, Upper Goulburn with its generally higher altitudes and abundant trout streams became a wine region in the mid 80’s.

But then there’s more… back to Greece

Not that the mushrooms could be competed against…or could they???


Here it is…..in all its sweet crunchy outside and gooey centre glory….aubergine pulp, goats cheese, pinenut and parsley nests in Kataifi pastry….
Kataifi is a traditional Greek dessert normally filled with nuts and covered in a honey syrup… but as usual Marian has shaken it up.

Just up before dessert and leaving us rolling around in delightful bliss…

the sweet crunch outside and then the oven melted goats cheese with the pinenuts….there were excitable gasps on our table as our knives broke through the crunchy bird nest like balls…


Off to Italy this time…
They were next… from this….

Sitting pretty and orderly in large baking dishes prior to the luncheon…

Next, they are slow baked garden figs with creamy soft melt-in-your-mouth blue cheese, home grown garden fresh basil and Pancetta. The thin sliced Italian bacon (pork belly meat) has the lovely salt cured flavour to compliment the plump, soft (baked warm and squishy) sweet taste.

Comfort food that induces childhood memories (good or bad – depending on whether you liked Figs as a kid) that are abundant in benefiting phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins.

An interlude.......

Allowing us to wander around the garden once more and relive the afternoon food and wine offerings so far…lots of lively banter and selfies…discussions on family happenings, connections, funny stories and memories of first meeting the Challens or Marian.

Another short conversation with the vignerons… this time around the dreaded sulphur in wine production as one patron enquired about their wines … as Christine pointed out its main functions are to stop bacteria and to protect wine from oxidation.” But due to the boutique production of Little River Wines and our ability to control small batches, we use miniscule quantities in our wines…”

There is a quiet excitement as dessert arrives…people are wandering back to their tables to find mini pavlovas with lemon curd and passionfruit, cardamom Pannacotta topped with rosewater syrup, star anise creme patisserie and pistachio praline and then Marian appears to make sure we are all happy….and to offer us a piece of chocolate mousse cake. Accompanying these treats is a Redgate Anastasia Chenin Mistel NV dessert wine and the Little River Sparkling Shiraz NV.

So, we finish in Africa…


Many comments after the thank you speeches and the invite to the Marysville Blues Weekend festival in October by Bev and Leigh….are speculations on when the next luncheon will be? 
Even though Christine, Phil and Marian are tired, happy and very pleased about the day there are encouraging nods and murmurs in reply.  

Not long….perhaps a hearty winter feast.

I think they will get 30 reminders from time to time…

From the Tf’s…. thank you for a great afternoon …..Marian, Phil and Christine have demonstrated again what great food and wine ambassadors/champions for our region they are….showcasing local in their food, wine and song… and in doing so gave us great insight into the similarities and contrasts of what the wine and food region of Margaret River is doing….without us leaving our beautiful, and cherished, misty mountains…

So up in Murrindindi? Check out by appointment only Little River Wines and look for any up and coming events catered for by Marian Rennie…

Little River Wines
P: 03 5774 7644
M: 0403 065 036

Marian Rennie Gallery
Acheron 3714
M; 0412 109 129

Photosby @samhickscomau

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