Most iconic food and wine pairings are tied to the adage ‘what grows together, goes together’, but how are contemporary Australian venues reimagining the maxim?
For chefs and sommeliers, one question is always front of mind: How can we bring out the best in both food and wine? Of course, there’s more than one answer. Food and wine pairings can flow from a number of strategies, but ‘what grows together, goes together’ is driving the agenda in restaurants and cellar doors.
Hospitality speaks to three operators who are taking the ethos to new heights. At Fowles Wine in the Strathbogie Ranges region of Victoria, local is part of the day-to-day operations. Owner Matt Fowles and the team, including head chef Adele Aitken, make the wine, grow the vegetables and slaughter the animals.
The majority of the menu is created using ingredients from around the region. Over on the west coast, there’s Arimia wines; an off-grid winery and restaurant that draws the bulk of its ingredients from a 135-acre property in Margaret River.
With 7.5 hectares under vine, six dams, a winter creek and 18 beehives, owner and farmer Ann Spencer produces a bounty on-site, from trout, marron and pigs to vegetables. As a result, chef and business partner Evan Hayter’s menu is a true reflection of the locality.
For Stokehouse St Kilda, it’s about bringing a local approach to the city. Known for its close relationship with suppliers, the Melbourne restaurant called What Grows Together Goes Together, which showcased produce from the Macedon Ranges and the Victorian High Country.
Interpretations of what grows together, goes together are plentiful. It can sum up the pairing of seasonal produce, the terroir behind local delicacies or the traditions behind a particular cuisine. When it comes to food and wine pairings, it’s the last mention that tends to prevail. However, it’s widely agreed there is something behind terroir.
“There will be characteristics to produce grown in the same environment, which can support food and wine matches,” says Fowles. “In our case, with the cool climate and limited fertility of the Strathbogie Ranges, we grow wine and food with great intensity of flavour. Partly due to soil, but also from the cool climate and longer growing times — it gives the produce time to accumulate flavour.”
Stokehouse group sommelier Gavin Cremming articulates a similar sentiment. “In the wine world, we talk about terroir,” he says. “I think the same principle exists for produce grown or reared in the same area. I guess the idea is that everything grows and lives off the same nutrients in the soil and adapts to the same climate.”
The opportunity to explore the impact of different environmental factors on produce is what drove head chef Ollie Hansford to host the dining series at Stokehouse. “Victoria is massive, [with] cold climate areas and high altitude areas,” says Hansford. “I wanted to see how that affected things; to see what each region has to offer and how each region differs from each other.”
While the concept of terroir is often evident in wines, it shouldn’t be taken too literally when it comes to produce. The effects of soil and climate likely won’t result in different flavour profiles; it’s more a case of growing produce that makes sense for the region. For example, particular grape varietals grow well under certain conditions, and the same is true for produce more generally.
“They grow in certain seasons, and certain soil structures for a reason, so there’s definitely a link there,” says Hayter.
Contemporary standards dictate matches are made with reference to characteristics such as body, texture and different components of flavour including sugar, acid and tannins. Historically, pairings come by way of convenience, but the coevolution of winemaking and culinary traditions often result in a happy marriage.
Cremming says Piedmont, Italy, is an example of a region producing complementing food and wine through the rearing of pigs and certain varietals. “The high fat content of pork is a natural match for the full-bodied, high-acid varietals that are cultivated in the region,” he says. Back in Australia, pairings have developed with a little more manipulation. Wine has evolved in line with changes to the climate, while our food culture has emerged through different waves of migration.
A match that elevates is still the objective, but pairing wines with food from the surrounding region is driven more directly by philosophy — it’s as much about sustainability and storytelling as it is custom. “Sustainability is important to us as farmers; carefully grown produce always tastes better,” says Fowles.
At Arimia, what grows together, goes together isn’t about the principles of pairing, it’s a way of running the business. Decisions about what to produce on the property stem from Spencer and Hayter’s commitment to organic principles and sustainable practices. Pigs, for example, were introduced to stem the invasion of declared pest the Arum lily. “To begin with, it was a regenerative farming strategy,” says Hayter. “[Arum lily] are everywhere, they block up waterways and take over everything.”
After discovering pigs could eat the plant, they were introduced to the farm — and the menu. The team at Arimia take a different approach; although it’s a vineyard, the wine doesn’t prescribe the food it’s served alongside. “The wine doesn’t tell me what to cook,” says Hayter. “But it still has to match well.”
The matches often come naturally, and the close proximity of vines and other produce could be to thank. It might be more a matter of farming practices than environmental factors. The pigs at Arimia produce less robust pork than usual because they’re fed a vegetarian diet. As a result, the cellar door’s pork ragout pairs well with an elegant red such as the 2013 Cabernet Merlot Petit Verdot, which is exemplary of the Margaret River region.
Many who follow the what grows together, goes together ethos are at the forefront of the industry’s sustainability movement. The teams behind Stokehouse St Kilda, Fowles and Arimia admit it’s not necessarily easy being green.
“It’s going to be hard to practice [the principle] 100 per cent of the time,” says Cremming. Beyond concerns about consistent supply, most operators face economic pressures to find cheaper produce. “We’ve all seen restaurants work with bad produce, chefs that don’t care or somms that build lists on large quantities,” says Cremming. “This [dinner series] is about breaking all that down.”
Pairing local food with local wine will most likely come with higher costs. Fortunately, sustainability sells. “For people with a heightened awareness around food provenance, matching local wine to food is the ultimate from a philosophical point of view,” says Fowles.
Head chef Aitken agrees that storytelling potential is second to none. The chef’s favourite match is the baked semolina with Avenel mushrooms, Berrys Creek blue cheese and rocket pesto paired with the Stone Dwellers’ 2017 Chardonnay. “It tells our story so well,” she says.
Working at a cellar door restaurant means Aitken’s menu is in service of the wines — pairing them with produce from the local area creates a memorable experience for guests and working with local producers means quality is ensured. Sourced a kilometre from her house in Avenel, the mushrooms are still warm when they arrive at the winery, a further 20 minutes down the road.
For the kitchen team, it means knowing the mushrooms are grown as carefully as the grapes in their vineyard. “The flavour profile of those can’t compare to a mushroom you buy at a supermarket,” says Aitken.
In some ways, Stokehouse St Kilda’s dinner series is a communication strategy. “The idea is to showcase a region,” says Hansford. “We pick the producers we want to promote.” It’s not just marketing local businesses to consumers, though; it’s an opportunity for the kitchen team to reconnect with the ingredients they work with everyday.
“Producers say it’s beneficial to have [us] out here,” says Hansford. “But it’s actually more beneficial for us to see the whole process and open our eyes to what the food industry is really about and how things are produced. “I want to find out exactly how these ingredients were grown, who’s behind them, the workload, the effort and the passion that goes into producing these ingredients.”
While the exercise of pairing food and wine from the same region is beneficial for chefs, sommeliers and consumers alike, it’s not necessary to be dogmatic.
As Cremming says: “It’s not to say wine from other areas won’t match with food from other areas. It’s more to emphasise that you need not look elsewhere when there’s something really special happening close by.”
This story originally appeared in the August edition of Hospitality magazine. Subscribe here.