Caroline Taylor

Chef Caroline Taylor is a Swan Valley girl through and through. In the 80s, her mother and artist Jude Taylor was instrumental in saving the wine and food bowl from becoming suburbanised; Caroline and her three brothers grew up in the region; and she enjoys promoting its bounty at food events across Australia and internationally. From the traditional to the new-school, her insider’s guide to the place she calls home vividly captures this historic pocket of Western Australia.
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The Perfect Day Trip From Perth

The Swan Valley is one of the oldest wine regions in Australia and has been making wine for over 185 years. One fact about the Swan Valley that doesn’t get talked about is that it’s just a 25-minute drive from Perth. I can’t think of too many other winemaking areas in the world that are that close to a major city. There’s also a huge cultural diversity with Croatian, Italian and English people all living here, working on their land and producing what they love to eat and drink.

Get Fed By One Of The Region’s Pioneering Families

Going to the Lamont’s cellar door and restaurant is like slipping on an old glove. It’s the epitome of the Swan Valley and you’re eating outdoors in a garden and among the vines. It feels like you’re coming home. Sisters Kate and Fiona Lamont and their mother Corin are the owners and because they’re women, they’re overly generous with their food. It’s amazing having these stalwarts of the hospitality industry still be the ones in the kitchen feeding you every day. Lamont’s is located on their family property deep in the valley that has progressed into a very warm and welcoming Australian experience. You can bring your dog which is always nice. The food is tapas-style share food that you can eat up until five o’clock. The menu has a naughty factor like duck liver parfait and crisp fried stuff like the tempura whiting, but it’s balanced with lovely Asian-style fresh salads. The wine is fantastic.

An Introduction to Aboriginal Culture

What Dale Tilbrook is doing at Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery is so original. You’re coming into her home, it’s a gallery, and she’s often there with a cup of tea. Talking to an elder that’s so open and ready to hand over knowledge is pretty special. She takes you through all the Aboriginal food, where it comes from and what it’s good for and offers you tastings. She has emu eggs for sale – you get to meet emus and feed them. The art she has is outstanding. She also bakes some delicious cakes and biscuits in her kitchen that use native ingredients: things like wattleseed biscuits and lemon myrtle shortbread. You can also taste handmade kangaroo pies.

From Croatia To Western Australia

The Cobanovs at Windy Creek are an institution in the valley and their property has slowly evolved into a really gorgeous cellar door looking up at the foothills. Windy Creek makes tasty wines made in true Croatian style. Tony‘s a second-generation winemaker and is training his sons to take over the vineyard. That’s the special thing about the Swan Valley: you’ve got the owner still working their land, doing what they love. That’s an experience not many people get to be involved with. Windy Creek does platters alongside wine tastings and they built the most amazing cellar door looking over the stunning Darling Escarpment, but it hasn’t lost that charm of drinking in the family’s backyard. James Talijancich at Talijancich Wines is constantly winning awards around the world for his fortified wines, and he’s just such a humble person. His wines are also must-tries. He grows his grapes biodynamically.

The Region’s New Winemaking Guard

There’s a new natural wine movement happening in the Swan Valley and they call themselves the “Swan Garagistas“. Their philosophy is to preserve the historical grape varieties of the region, creating low-intervention wines, beers and meads with little to no chemical usage, all while blowing your socks off with their banging flavours! Paul and Bree from Swan Valley Wines are the trailblazers in this region, with their iconic Skins orange wine and tasty AF chenin, Warrine. They work with vignerons across Western Australia to capture the best examples of a varietal and pay full homage to the land it’s grown on. They also provide space to other winemakers and their vintages, namely Local Weirdos with wines like Turbulent Juice and Skin Contact Semillon, their wines are here to disrupt the narrative and please the senses.

The Region’s New Winemaking Guard (Cont’d)

I’ve personally been really happy to see old friends return to their family wine properties, bringing new energy to the region. It’s so good seeing Tom from Chouette Wines back in the valley and creating a range of natty wines from his parents’ cellar door. I’ve also loved seeing Vino Italia transformed by the gorgeous Belinda Coniglioni. This winery has a very long history in the valley and it’s magical to see it reinvented in such a thoughtful and restorative fashion. Other wines to keep an eye out for are Yume, Ohkela and Chalari. It’s truly encouraging to see this kind of passion at play: the future is in safe hands.

A Local Brewing Success Story

Txoko Brewing has recently joined the group too, specialising in sour beers (they also have a great little restaurant up in the Baskerville suburb). The valley has been abuzz with the news that the original founder of Feral Brewing Company has bought back the property and will be opening a new brewpub called Baskerville Tavern, due to open midway of April 2022. I have it on good authority that one of the original brewers will be making small brew batches onsite (not packaged) and, knowing the owner, the vibe will be fun, friendly and energetic. I can’t wait for the first pour!

A Winery’s Renaissance

Sandalford Winery is going through a renaissance period right now with a super glamorous makeover and food to match. Alan Spagnola is the chef in charge, which means that you’re in safe hands. His food is elegant and impressive without being intimidating. The setting is great for a date, but just as inviting for families, plus it’s open at night which is a bit of a rarity in the valley. The wine list is rock solid and available for tasting before or after you eat so be sure to treat yourself. Make sure to try their Sandalera fortified wine – it’s to die for!

Aerial view of the Mandoon Estate & Homestead Brewery at sunset. Photography: Courtesy of Mandoon Estate

The Swan Valley’s New Flagship Venue

Mandoon Estate is owned by the Ercegs, a local family that has invested heavily in the Swan Valley. It’s fantastic to see a big venue be successful and invest back into the local producers and artisans with stunning Ron Gomboc sculptures on display. As much as I enjoy the rustic appeal of the Swan Valley it’s also great to have the contrast of these large flagship venues to really show off our beautiful Swan Valley. I eat at the Homestead Brewery quite a bit. I had a delicious pork loin there recently but the brewery has all the favourites like fish and chips, burgers and pasta. Considering it’s feeding a lot of people, it does a banging job and we can take [my son] James there. It’s also table service which is a real treat. The beers are pretty good too. There’s usually live music every weekend and the playground is a total winner for a Sunday afternoon with the wood-fired pizza and full bar outside. If you’re feeling special, treat yourself to a degustation by Mike Hartnell in the Wild Swan restaurant where he’s showcasing local
produce at its best. There’s also Linton & Kay Galleries to explore afterward.

Mann To Mann

Dorham Mann, the winemaker at Mann Winery is still there, picking the grapes and making wine with the help of his daughter Anthea who’s going to be taking the reins. Dorham is the son of legendary winemaker Jack Mann who used to make a sparkling wine from red grapes just for the family at Christmas. His daughter Corin Lamont began making it to sell at Lamont’s further down the track and Dorham continues the tradition. The Manns have a dedication and passion that shows in the wine. Genevieve and Robb Mann [Robb is Dorham’s nephew] are part of the next generation of Mann winemakers and run Corymbia, another new Swan Valley-based operation that produces a chenin blanc and tempranillo blend.

A Special Occasion Restaurant With A View

Riverbank Estate is another great restaurant. It’s just so lovely to go and sit there and look over the vines. The vineyards run all the way to the river from the hill. It creates the feeling that you’re in a bird’s nest overlooking the vines and the Swan River. It’s so beautiful. It’s more of a special occasion restaurant in the entrée-main-dessert style, but they do more casual street food style events on Sundays. Their wines are fun and fresh and very approachable, Eric Lembo and his family have created such a warm and welcoming venue with loads of photo worthy moments.

A Distillery Producing World-Class Spirits

Old Young’s Distillery can’t go unmentioned. James Young is making kick-ass gin and vodka and he recently won number one gin in the whole world for his iconic Gingin Gin. In late 2021 James opened his first restaurant called Old Young’s Kitchen (next door to the distillery), my partner chef Rohan Park oversees the food offering which is a great representation of indigenous Australian ingredients and modern Asian-slash-Australian cuisine. It’s matched perfectly with the botanicals of the gins and vodkas distilled onsite. It’s nice to have somewhere a little more fancy to go to in the valley and I definitely recommend getting an Uber and trying at least three of their cocktails!

Where The Locals Get Dinner On Fridays

It can be difficult to eat out at night in the Swan Valley, but for the past seven years, produce store Edgecombe Brothers has hosted a casual burger night. They’ve got a beautiful outside area looking over their massive lake with the endangered tortoise. The menu has a classic beef burger and I think there’s also a chicken burger. That’s definitely a local experience and it’s popular with people in the surrounding Ellenbrook catchment area.

New Kids On The Block

My family and I decided to sell our business Taylor’s Art and Coffee House to two of our staff members back in November 2020 and they are absolutely knocking out of the park. Taylors in the Valley is open for all-day brunch with specialty coffee, juices and a dog-friendly courtyard. I’m very happy to see owner Matt Notte take the helm in the kitchen. Food is always more exciting to me when one of the owners is responsible – it’s like the love and passion comes through more. My mum’s artwork is on display inside the gallery and the kids can play outside in the sandpit, so it’s easy to lose a few hours here in the best possible way.

Fermentary Wonderland

Funk 2.0 is another new addition to the Swan Valley landscape. The Michael Brothers have done an amazing job creating a fermentary wonderland to rejoice in. There’s loads to try with a healthy 18 taps on hand serving up a healthy rotation of ciders, craft beers and project hybrids. The brothers started their journey as Toodyay orchard farmers pressing their outstanding produce into killer cold-pressed juices. Now they have a range of award winning ciders, non-alcoholic pro-biotic sodas, a range of low intervention wines and an sophisticated restaurant overlooking the vines. The grassed area is great to play bocce on and it’s dog friendly as well, yay!

Guide produced in partnership with Gourmet Escape, an annual international food and wine festival held across Western Australia.

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