Together Wines

When commercial helicopter pilot Euan decided to combine his trade with his new found passion for growing food, he and his young family landed in Far North Queensland where he took a job crop spraying.  After one day on the new job, it was immediately apparent that this sort of practice was actually not about growing the sort of crops he would want anything to do with.

Euan and Carlin

Together – Euan and Carlin

A short stint in a vineyard outside Canberra before this had ‘wet’ his appetite for the art of winemaking, and after leaving Queensland, three years in Margaret River helped Euan complete his study of viticulture and oenology at Curtin University. Having family connections and fond memories of the NSW South Coast, Euon, his wife Carlin and their two young daughters then went in search of somewhere to plant their own roots.

Carlin and winter pinot.

Carlin and winter pinot.

Beautifully biodynamic soil...

Grass up to the base of the vines forces the vine’s roots deeper down into the ground. The grass also uses excess water in wet times and when times are dry it is slashed to keep it low.

Together Wines found its home at Verona, just south of Cobargo, and plans for the planting of 2500 vines got under way.  In keeping with Rudolph Steiner’s biodynamic principles, 800mm holes were dug and then left open for almost a year. Once the soil had been exposed to the weather and sunshine for that time, each hole was filled with humus rich soil, enhanced with biodynamic preparations, and in August 2010, the vines were installed into their earthly pots.

Strong and sturdy.

Strong and sturdy after 5 years.

Five different varieties were planted including Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Shiraz, Mataro and Sauvignon Blanc varieties.  Although advised against Pinot Noir by the ‘experts’, Euan and Carlin have found that these devigoured vines are producing the best quantity and quality fruit, and there are plans afoot to plant even more.

The farm's biodynamics flow form.

The farm’s biodynamics flow form.

Biodynamic Brew!

Biodynamic Brew!

Biodynamics is a regenerative growing technique that uses preps to enable the soil to optimise it’s own performance in managing mineral availability, disease resistance and water holding capacity.  These carefully considered and prescribed preparations are sprayed onto the soil and crops as required when problems are identified.

The prep. spraying rig.

The prep. spraying rig.

Euan and Carlin have found that they have rarely needed to irrigate their vines, even through the driest months, and close observation and careful trials have enabled them to custom their spraying from season to season.  By getting to know their vines, they are learning to support nature’s own unsurpassed ability to know how to thrive.

Jaffa in the veggie garden.

Jaffa in the veggie garden.

Bananas warm against the silo.

Bananas warm against the silo.

Of course, once chemical inputs, and high levels of soluble ‘stimulants’ are used, such as with industrial agriculture, nature loses it’s way. Not here. Thoughtful, sustainable practices are the nature of Together Wines.

Beautiful barrels....

Beautiful barrels….

Highly recommended Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Highly recommended Sauvignon Blanc 2014

And the result of these wholesome practices? Well, I have to confess that the writer just had to have a taste – even though it was not long since breakfast – a red and a white, and they were delicious.  I’m no buff, but I’d like another glass please…..

A tasting...

A tasting…

As a result of a visit to the Winery by the River Cottage Australia crew in April, Together Wines first blend was born: Paddock Blend Rose. A combination of the Sangiovese, Shiraz and Mataro this blend created a bit of a sensation among the cast and crew, so keep an eye out for it once the Property’s new Winery is completed later in 2016 – you can follow the progress of this exciting development on Facebook.

Evan and the scientific side...

Euan and the scientific side…

A vintage

All Together now – a vintage

It’s still going out on a limb to grow things a bit differently in Australia, and certainly in my experience there’s no shortage of people who’ll tell you, “It won’t work.” But the gentle, self assured confidence Euan and Carlin have in the practices at Together Wines is undoubtedly worth bottling.

The duck pond

The duck pond

For more inspiration, see Instagram. Cheers! XO

Bees and things…

Ross and Maryanne have been growing fruit and keeping bees at Quaama on the NSW Far South Coast for almost 30 years.  Ross helped to pioneer the process of organic certification of honey and up until he retired several years ago, their SCPA certified organic property has provided their income, and continues to provide the organic produce for Maryanne’s delicious preserves business.

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Ross and Maryanne of Lemonthyme Apiary

In the 1990s, they trialed exporting their honey to Japan, a market that prefers dark coloured honey, such as the Australian Stringy Bark that they produce. Ross built a specialised labelling frame to hold each jar precisely, ensuring each and every label was applied in exactly the same place, as per their Japanese client’s specifications. He also built a specialised loading dock to assist with transport for their pallets of honey.  But the export process was not without problems, one of which was that the international standard for honey is to have a 9% sucrose content, but dark Australian blossom honey’s normally have up to 14% sucrose.   When their first export shipment was tested, they were accused of adding sucrose to their product, which of course they hadn’t and this unique property of our sweet honies had to be pointed out.

Lemonthyme apiary jar labeling frame.

Lemonthyme apiary jar labeling frame.

They worked very hard to meet all export requirements for their certified organic product, but decided not to pursue this international market when his customers couldn’t understand why, when seasonal supply ran out, they couldn’t just ‘make more’!  It was decided they would keep the product local, where their ‘liquid gold’ has been much appreciated.

Ross and his hives.

Ross and his hives.

SCPA organic and bio-dynamic produce is legitimately certified via a peer inspection and assessment scheme which adheres to the current Australian National Standard, and Ross and Maryanne’s home has been part of this scheme since its inception.  They built their home as chemical free as possible, and boast a septic tank (which Ross proudly lifted the lid on to show off), the content of which has no smell, and has actually become a healthy, organic worm farm.  If you have ever had anything to do with a septic tank, you will know that this is a pleasant surprise!

Septic worm farm - healthy outputs!

Septic worm farm – healthy outputs!

Harnessing energy for the home.

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A new addition, and heavily laden Lemonade tree.

Like all Australian farmers, Ross and Maryanne are clever and resourceful in the operation of their property. They have converted a couple of old caravans into accommodation for WWOOFers, raise chickens for eggs, and goats for meat and milk.  Although considered a weed, Ross slashes the patches of tussock on the farm to use as mulch for the orchard trees and gardens. What you and I might call a ‘junk pile’ is Ross’ ‘hardware store’, where throwaways are converted into useful objects, such as a wheelbarrow, made using an old washing machine barrel.

Ross-built barrow using an old washing machine barrel.

Ross-built barrow using an old washing machine barrel.

Maryanne had a purpose-built, commercial kitchen built into the home for her preserve making, and uses the berries and fruit from the farm to make her product here.  Growing up on a farm in England, where the hired help’s name was Mr Digweed (seriously!), she is no stranger to being able to convert the land’s abundance into something delicious.

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Maryanne and some of her delicious, organic Lemonthyme preserves.


Ross and Maryanne would like to see the process of SCPA certification of food production expanded, as it is a simple, cost effective way to help promote and support the production of clean, naturally farmed food. Their long term commitment to this process means that there is no doubt that this couple are certainly a good example of ‘clean living’.

A special Aude autumn

I should never leave it so long for an update here – too much going on! March brought with it a very special visitor from France, and so many wonderful events, we’ve barely sat still.   So here is a photographic summary, starting with the harvest of our beautiful (if only ornamental) corn…

Corn Painted Mountain

Corn Painted Mountain

…the beginning of the wonderful John Blundon’s passionate restoration of our century old shed…

Stage 1 of shed renovation

Stage 1. Removal of the west wall to reinforce the stumps, jack up the bowed frame and trim and replace the enormous wall panels.

…the very well attended, inaugural monthly Cobargo/Quaama Food Swap at the beautiful home and garden of River and Tammy…

Fabulous coloured carrots

Fabulous coloured carrots

Fabulous Food Swappers!

Food Swappers!

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The super resourceful Cornelia showing off banana leaves and fresh lemon grass, (and you should try her home made Indian style ice cream…OMG!)

…a first experience with fresh roasted chestnuts…

Peeling roasted chestnuts for creating creamy chestnut soup (Tilba Jersey creamy of course!), French style - amazing!

Aude peeling roasted chestnuts for creating creamy chestnut soup (Tilba Jersey cream of course!), French style – delish!

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and experimenting with stir fried kale, Bangalay Bend garlic and roasted chestnuts – tasty and super nutritious.

…a visit to the Tilba Jersey Dairy…

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Our friend Aude enjoyed visiting an Australian dairy, having grown up on her family’s dairy in France. The difference between here and there? Apparently nothing. (Do cows ‘moo’ in French?)

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Heading back to the paddock after milking

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Waiting for spilt milk

…the sharing of abundance by Gary and Francis from The Rusty Fig Winery

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Tom and Aude crushing grapes ‘au naturel’.

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The resulting syrupy sweet juice from the chambourcin grapes – yum!

…a lesson on harnessing heavy horses for field work…

David and his Belle

David in the Yowrie Valley, with his Shire horse, Belle, in training for work.

Tom walking behind Belle in her harness - practicing for the real thing one day.

Tom walking behind the young Belle in her harness – practicing for the real thing. One day she will pull the cart and furrow.

…a crash course in evaporative distillation…

David loading the still.

David loading the still with Eucalyptus leaves.

David's still

Showing off his handiwork – although he has commercial grade, stainless equipment, David loves to use the still he built himself.

"....and the oil/water mix comes out here..."

“….and the oil/water mix comes out here…” David sells his pure Eucalyptus and Lavender oils around the district, including at Sweet Home Cobargo.

…a great big Diamond Python in our trees, and not-so-welcome slithery visitor in the chook house…

Red Belly Black visitor

Red Belly Black

…and Aude’s leaven creating beautiful loaves and Easter Buns.

Aude's first lovely loaf.

Aude’s first lovely loaf.

So now as April draws to a close and we are lighting the fire, and the growth of the grass (and weeds), starts to slow, we are reflecting on, and enormously grateful for the abundance of good food, good people and good learning.  Some people leave a lasting warmth and impression though, and although she has moved on, we all really miss Aude.

Tim and Thea’s dream

Tim and Thea moved to the Bega Valley almost 2 years ago. As Tim is originally from the NSW North Coast, and Thea from Melbourne, they spent some time researching different ares before they chose to set up their dream farm on 25 acres just North of Cobargo.

Tim in the first 'patch'

Tim in the first ‘patch’

With a landscape management and conservation background, Tim also has 10 years experience working in bush regeneration, but his and Thea’s dream is to grow food. Good food and lots of it.

Young celeries

Young celeries

Once they chose their ideal property, they set about choosing the best sites for vegetable plantings, and setting up irrigation from the property’s 3 dams.

A live-in helping hand

A live-in helping hand

Their friend Jeremy has recently joined them in their venture, and gutted and refitted a sustainable home for himself out of an old caravan parked near the house.

Insect attractants...

Insect attractants…

Tubs of worms

Tubs of worms

Passionate about permiculture principles and growing organically, the pair employ every trick they can to maximise the productivity of their farm, including worm farms and compost that they create from piles of wood chip and fish waste that they pick up from the wharves at Bermagui.

Tigerella tomatoes

Tigerella tomatoes

They raise all their own seedlings from seed they collect in Thea’s very impressive collection which lines the shelves of a dark hallway in one wing of the house.

Seedlings

Seedlings

They have chooks and goats, including a kid that Thea has been given to hand raise, destined for the table down the track.

Thea and the kids

Thea and the kids

Both Thea and Tim work a few days per week off the farm, but their next commercial plot is being prepared now to increase their growing capacity, and they aim to become certified organic growers, at which point they will have to decide on a name for the venture – which dinner conversations have narrowed down to three possibilities….still ‘hush hush’.

A very cultured Thea

A very cultured Thea

Extremely resourceful and abundantly enthusiastic, Thea makes her own sour dough bread, kombucha tea and delicious flavoured kefir – which I can vouch for on several occasions now. No doubt helped by her Greek background, her baklava is renowned in Sweet Home Cobargo, a local cafe where she helps out in the kitchen.

The orphan kid

The orphan kid

It’s early days, but they are delivering produce to several local customers, and the ideas and passions for their project are endless. Watch this dream come true.

My day as a housewife in the 50’s…

As horrible bush fires rage in Victoria and South Australia, although we can’t smell smoke, there is a haze in the air this morning, and the sunrise looks both beautiful and terrible at the same time.

Glowing sunrise

Glowing sunrise

We are blessed to be free of the threat at the moment though, and it is a joy to visit our Wyandotte hen and her 5 new chicks this morning.

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Hen and chicks. Can you spot 3 of the 5?

After collecting the eggs, I pick another bucket of pears, and head into the kitchen to make my first attempt at preserving.

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Apple, ripe and ready

My gorgeous neighbour Joy has lent me her Vacola preserver, complete with bottles, lids, seals, clips and instructions. I learn it’s not just fruit I can save now, but vegies, sauces and even meat – I can even cook a ham in it! Why did so many people put this device away in the 1970’s in favour of a ‘deep freeze’ in the laundry or garage???

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Fowler’s instruction manual, beautifully intact

In fact, I learn so much! Such as my fruit salad will be ‘unpalatable’ unless I preserve passionfruit to add to it each season, and sugar free preserving will work wonders for those who have diabetes… Hmmm. I suppose if the only other fruit you have access too is tinned in heavy syrup?

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Now I too, can be a Mrs B Thrifty!

The book is the 22nd revised edition, and replacement copies:

“…may be purchased from Fowlers Vacola Manufacturing Co. Ltd, 257 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, E.2, Victoria for the sum of 15/6 (which includes sales tax and postage). The Registered Number of your Steriliser must be supplied at the time of ordering – this is important, as no book will be supplied to anyone not having a Vacola Bottling Outfit.”

Now I feel very important as well as knowledgeable!

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The Fowlers Vacola Sterilizer


So I read the little book in detail and start washing and chopping. Hours later my first 9 bottles are done, and it is surprisingly satisfying looking at them all lined up, shiney and beautiful.
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Pears and plums

It’s been a great, productive summer’s day, but my thoughts linger on all the fire fighters, families and businesses having a horrible day in Southern states, working so hard to preserve life and property. Best wishes to all of you.

The Yellow House

My lovely friend Charmaine, has been asking me to come and meet her neighbour for about 6 months now. I finally made the time this morning, and boy am I glad I did.  Over 3 years, Mim and Neville of Yellow House Heritage Perennials in Nowra, have converted a concrete carpark into a stunning heritage garden.

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My beautiful niece Sophie, enjoying the flowers.

Walking through the side picket gate, is to partake in a feast of colour, texture and scents. Lovingly tended and nurtured, hundreds of rare and interesting herbs, flowers and vegetables are everywhere you look, and Mim who is a practicing naturopath, can tell you all about the medicinal and culinary uses of every single one.

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Part of the Yellow House perennials nursery.

Like all passionate gardeners, she can tell you stories about how the seed of this was collected, or from where that cutting was ‘pinched’. Inspired by travels to famous gardens all around the world, the Yellow House – though only on a suburban block – feels like a little world all of its own.

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Neville and Jim enjoying the shade.

I’ve been looking for a source of French Tarragon for some time, and of course it’s here. Mim and Neville (a retired Heritage architect) will shortly be launching their online mail order business so that we can all access their extensive collection of perennials, herbs and sustainable plants.

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The Yellow House garden path…

I look foward to Feast Farms cultivating lots of these yummy edibles for inclusion in our beautiful salad mix, and to sell in bunches at our growers market every Saturday morning in Jamberoo. Between the Yellow House collection, and the unique vegies Tass Schmidt is cultivating at Jamberoo Valley Farm, we are rich for choice.

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Mim’s trike


Sadly though, I can’t plant anything more at the moment until either it rains like crazy for a few weeks, or we sink a bore at Warwick Park. The dam is getting seriously low. Need a new rain dance coach…

Crave 2012 in pictures…

I know the Crave Sydney International Food Festival is all about the food, but to us it meant teamwork! The very organised and talented Jacqueline and her Foodscape Tours coordinated our big day a few weeks back, but it wouldn’t have been the fabulously fun day it was without our wonderful friends and family pulling together. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…

So many thanks to our wonderful guests for ‘giving us a go.’

Curious sticky beak spectator

Bunting (and all these photos) courtesy of the gorgeous Adelaide

Fresh pickings…

Many thanks also to Bev, Will & Antonella for allowing us to visit their lovely, hillside garden

Amazing, delicious lunch by Di of A Bite on the Side – service with a big Harriet smile!

Beautifully decorated thanks to Vanessa – The Wedding and Events Creator

A long table lunch courtesy Barry and Monique at Mountain Ridge Winery

Very many thanks to all, and we hope to use our enormous amount of learning from the day to make it even bigger and better next year! XO

Taking stock

Running our little fresh produce markets at Berry and Shoalhaven Heads each week for the last 4 months has been a great test of my skills in the kitchen. Although I can do all the basics pretty well, and my family is reasonably well nourished, I don’t consider myself a cook.

Vegetable stock in the making

It makes it so much easier to prepare wholesome, tasty offerings though when you have plenty of great, fresh produce to start with. As our market’s customers know well (PLEASE tell me you need broccoli this week??), what we don’t sell, we have to eat. And customers are unpredictable…one week we sell out of bananas, the next we are googling “101 things to make using bananas”!

French toast and pomegranate

And then there’s The Press. If it was on MasterChef, or Kim Kardashian said it was good to eat, we can’t sell enough of it. But this has all been great for widening the repertoire of ingredients I can do something with. Some of the experiments have gone down well, (like pomegranate served with Classic Yoghurt and maple syrup), and others have been a disaster (seriously…does ANYONE know how to do a turnip justice??).

Fennel and english spinach in the Seven Cedars garden

All this learning has been great for giving me ideas as to what I need to plant lots of as my market gardens get going, (kale, beets, english spinnach, fennel), and what I just mean leave for someone else…to grow and to cook!

Blood Limes

Green Box is offering Blood Limes at the moment from Tom and Helen Supple at Jamberoo. Most people wonder what on earth these interesting looking little fruit are, but the lovely Sarah was delighted to find them last week. She grabbed a handfull and announced that she was heading up to the fish market on the wharves at Kiama for Blue Swimmer Crab. Apparently all the excitement is caused by her Crab Spaghettini recipe…

Sarah & Ash with Blood Limes

We would love the full details, but tossed crab, herbs, olive oil and crumbled blood lime were among the ingredients. I’m sure crunchy Berry sourdough bread, Coolangatta Estate Semillon and maybe fresh grated Parmesan cheese would be accompaniments? Anything else you can share Sarah?

Blood Limes

Blood Limes are also grown at Coolangatta Mountain Orchard, and are a hybrid of the Australian native red finger lime and rangpur lime. As you can see they are a striking red colour, and have a zingy flavour to match. Pick up a recipe at your Feast market.

Peanut Butter sandwiches on the menu…seriously.

Peppercorn Creek Farm at Picton grows and makes pretty much everything on the menu at The Common Ground Cafe in Katoomba. A fun family dinner there last week revealed a very limited and simple menu, but none of us went hungry, and it was tasty and interesting. Carob desserts were reminiscent of my adolescent fascination with alternative foods, but the taste reminded me why this was short lived! The Mace Latte was a little like sipping hot muddy water, but perhaps it is an acquired taste?

Common Ground Cafe - Katoomba

Cousin Melly & the menu.

Rustic woodwork furniture

One of the many beautiful wall artworks


It all seemed pretty harmless – lots of beards, long skirts, rustic, peaceful and a sense of being home to a family community. Sad that a search of the net reveals the possibility that not-so-savoury people own and operate the farm, and that this is a cult that like all the others, is accused of all sorts of unpleasant stuff. Say no more. Don’t know if I’ll go back. Sad.