Lunch in Canberra, all hands to the wheel

9.33am, Tuesday 23rd August, Yalumba clocktower, Angaston, The Barossa, South Australia

Wow the sun’s bright sitting up there in the sky this morning with a backdrop of nothing but baby blue. I’m up to my ears in schedules – off to Ireland and England in four weeks with a return trip to my adopted second home, Far North Queensland, when I get back in November.

But let’s go back a couple of weeks to one of my favourite jobs of the year – the Yalumba Rare & Fine Annual lunch with the Canberra Wine & Food Club.

They’re having major works done at the moment – doubling the cellar space downstairs and incorporating a spiral staircase from the dining room to the cellar. All good thinking and with any luck will be completed for summer this year. Now one of the things I never get tired of with my job is finding hidden gems on my work travels, and this is certainly one of the best kept secrets in the nation’s capital. Here’s a club where everything is voluntary – no paid staff at all – and they have monthly wine tastings, regular cooking schools, and a commercial kitchen set up to cater easily for a hundred people. All in an unassuming clubhouse in suburban Manuka. I love it – and not just because of the (now retired) cellarmaster Albert with the good as new VW kombi van. No – it’s that lovely cameraderie you find in a group of folks from all walks, who just happen to love wine and food – and see them as being inseparable!

So here’s how it works.

The team of members attending divides all the chores for a 60 person luncheon with seven wines and assigns groups of apron clad blokes to the kitchen, folks to set tables and organise the wine service – whilst I open all the bottles and catch up on the local political / government / seismology of the world gossip. Then the team proceeds to serve and clear the three-course meal and wines with military efficiency, and I do the wine backstories and catch the group up on the touring highlights of the previous year.

Roller Derby!

This trip it was all about Sydney – firstly the Roller Derby – I’d been out to Homebush to watch the Beauty School Knockouts v the Screaming Air Sirens the Saturday night before. Top stuff, and there was even a live rockabilly band during the intervals!

Secondly it was the day I’d spent checking out most of the locations from my favourite TV show of the moment “Rake” (set in Sydney) where I’d pretty much done the Cleaver Green (our hopeless case anti hero barrister featured in the show) tour of the dodgy and otherwise legal eagle hangout bars in the city including the Civic and Crown (The Judgement bar) hotels, starting at Cleave’s ‘apartment’ which is above the Piccolo Bar in Roslyn Street, Kings Cross. I ran into some pretty interesting characters on the tour, so it made for a good story.

The boys in the kitchen

So here are the boys sweating over the stoves in the kitchen, putting together the entree, which was a chicken and leek ‘pie’ to go with our 2009 Virgilius and 2008 FDW 7C Adelaide Hills Chardonnay.

Chicken and leek pie

The hot pot

And here’s the very appropriate winter style hot pot of beans, bacon hocks and Italian sausage – spot on with the 2006 Signature.

This was followed up with lashings of Manchego cheese and the 2006 Octavius and more stories. If we didn’t have to head off to a wine dinner in the evening, I have no doubt that we’d still be in the dining room till late. Very late. I can’t thank the folks at the Club enough. It’s always a fun day, and it’s quite special to see the old school ‘all hands to the wheel’ approach still flourishing in this quiet wine and foodie corner of the world. And with any luck it will just keep keeping on.

Thanks for having us, and we’ll see you when it’s 2012, and the work’s finished and we can whip down to the cellar via the circular staircase!

Needless to say.

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