South is the cooler woodier part of Western Australia. Usually I bludge a spot at the beach town of Dunsborough but this time I’m staying at the small village/town of Cowaramup. It’s about 300km south of Perth and slightly inland. It seems further than the than the three hours it takes. I blame the removal of such former interesting features as the drive past the tanneries and the need for a desperate 5 car overtake into the flashing lights of an oncoming truck. Now the trip is all housing estates and dual carriageways. Cowaramup is also about 10 minutes north of Margaret River. Which is pronounced -” We’re going to [slight pause][rise in volume]Ma[extended]garet River”. Margaret River is a nice little unassuming town, but for some people you’d think they were going to a gated enclave for the special. The town really could just be a stake in the ground with a strip of tape tied to it. What it signifies, is wine country.
Sitting here at the (wince) Udderly Divine in Cowaramup and watching the traffic go by, it’s obvious that the town, for most people, functions as a traffic calming device. This is a shame. Despite being small and surrounded by cows, it’s completely self sufficient for good food. The cafe I’m at has great coffee and the apple and walnut muffin were superb. It has a fudge factory. A Country Store (yes I picked up on the redundancy) with fresh local produce. A gourmet delicatessen with cheeses, breads, spreads, oil and so on- it’s range compact and superb.As well as a couple of wine tasting places. I’d add that it only lacks for seafood, but apparently the Meat Specialist here has fish Fridays. It’s a great town and the only thing stopping me from pushing it harder is the fact that I don’t have a large block of land to sub-divide here.
Cowaramup is also a good point to explore from and that’s what we did yesterday.
Olio Bello: Olio Bello is apparently owned by a wealthy American who liked it here and set up an olive farm. Olive farms have the whiff of tax scheme about them, but this one seems very earnest. The olives are grown organically, as are a number of others such as stone fruits, avocados, and macadamias. The oils are available for tasting, as are a few tapanades. Their Romanza Olive Oil is very nice and on the sweet side but I ended up buying their Nuovo Olio as something different. Most oils are allowed to settle and then are tapped off. This one is more or less pressed straight into the bottle. It’s rough,and tastes like you’re chewing leaves but very likable. We also bought some of their black tapenade which was strong flavoured and tasty for it.
Margaret River Venison: Along with grilled rooster testicles, one of my more memorable food challenges was raw Venison in the south of Japan. This wasn’t thinly sliced carpaccio but raw cubes that look like they’d been hacked off the hindquarters of a still bleeding doe. It was surprisingly nice and was closer to the tuna that I hadn’t expected it would have been like, than the raw beef it wasn’t. Maragaret River Venison probably doesn’t do venison sashimi and I wasn’t going to ask them for it but they do get a wide range of food products from their deer. All the usual cuts as well as sausages and smallgoods (are sausages smallgoods?) I walked out with their Venison Prosciutto – richly coloured and gorgeous, and some sage apple and venison sausages.
Tassell Park Wines I had gone off the Margaret Wine tasting experience shifting my loyalties further East, towards Mt. Barker. I found the tastings around here less than fun, just part of one long chain of cars pulling in, trying the range of wines, and maybe picking up a token bottle or two. The tasting hosts had that kind of glazed over tour guide feel “… and this is where Davy Crockett is said to have…”. I also had trouble finding anything I thought was particularly worth shelling out the bucks they were asking for. This put me in the dilemma of guilt for not having bought anything or annoyed buying something I didn’t really want.
This left me reluctant to pop into the wineries. I got lost somewhere East of Margaret River and then made a large loop back to Cowaramup. Just before getting back, I noticed Tassel Park Wines, had a good feeling and reversed the car 50 metres back down the road. We wandered in and the room smelled of mulled wine and the owner came out from the back in his wine stained pants and asked if we’d like to try some of his wines. He opened 6 bottles of wine for us for tasting and an hour later we left. It was really pleasant. He talked about his plans for a Port and a new variety of grape he’d planted. There was also a nice concern as to what we thought of it, like he’d just pulled it out of the oven. It was an education and we reciprocated a little by telling him what we knew about the Japanese wine market. The wines were good too – Toni liked the twin decked Cabernet Merlot. I find bargains unavoidable and bought a case of the 2001 Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a great white, being both crisp and smooth but, after bottling, the batch suffered from small calcium crystallisation – tiny “diamonds” in the bottom of the bottle. They don’t affect the wine but cause trouble when selling it from bottle shops “-ere there’s bits in it”. I got what I thought was the best of their four whites for less than half of what they might have cost otherwise. I might offload half to some friends but will probably end up drinking it all. Myself. Alone.
We said goodbye to the husband and wife team, promising to come back for the Port, and went back to Cowaramup. We bought some baguettes from the deli and had them with the olive oil, the prosciutto, and the tapenade. We had met our makers.