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 food and wine hub from being turned into a suburb; Caroline and her three brothers grew up in the region; and she’s a part-owner of Taylors Coffee House, the family’s gallery and cafe. 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 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.

The Ultimate Cheese-Tasting Experience

The Swan Valley is the place to go for a relaxed day out where you spend the day picnicking and taking your time. For grazing boards, you can’t go past The Cheese Barrel. It’s a complete cheese experience with a full range of international, Australian and West Australian cheeses. It’s a massive supporter of the industry and West Australian cheesemakers, and all the staff know their fromage. In addition to wine and cheese matching, the store also does ploughman’s lunches and deli-style meats including my favourite, the truffle salami. It’s a really impressive set-up and includes new wine tasting tanks that have been imported from Germany. It’s also got the most amazing view looking over the gums in the creek there.

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 female owners, 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 actually their old family home 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 till 5 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 and where it comes from, what it’s good for and offers you tastings. You get to meet emus and feed them, she has emu eggs for sale and 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 really 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 really 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 there are plans to turn the cellar door into a space where you can host events, 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. He grows his grapes biodynamically and is winning awards all the time. His wines are also must-tries.

The Region’s New Winemaking Guard

There’s a new natural wine movement happening in the Swan Valley. You’ve got people like Sam Jorgensen from Old Mate Wine and Garth Cliff who left Houghton and is now making his own wines at Vino Volta. Swan Valley Wines has a cellar door with all of its wines available to try, but it’s usually just open on weekends. These sorts of wines aren’t easily available but it’s growing. This stuff takes time. The fact that the Swan Valley is embracing this new form of winemaking is very exciting.

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 the other day 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 yo urself to a degustation by Mike Hartnell in the Wild Swan Restaurant we’re he’s showcasing local produce at its best. There’s also Linton and Kay gallery to explore afterward.

A Distillery Producing World-Class Spirits

Old Young’s Distillery can’t go unmentioned. James Young is making kick-ass gin and is representing for the valley. He previously worked in marketing but took the big leap of becoming a distiller. It’s always exciting when someone breaks through like that. What’s coming out of his distillery is impressing people worldwide. He makes an amazing pavlova vodka and a Six Seasons gin that is inspired by indigenous Nyoongar culture. Tasting his spirits at the cellar door is a theatrical experience and another must-do.

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 and the chef Allan Desouza came from fine-diner 1907. There’s marron on the menu and there’ll always be fish and risotto. Self-taught winemaker Digby Leddin used to be at Lamont’s before moving here. He’s been given free reign and is one of those very approachable winemakers that makes really banging wines.

A Local Brewing Success Story

For a beer or a Sunday session in the Swan Valley, it’s all about Feral Brewing Company. Everyone gathers here on Saturdays and Sundays and you can try 16 beers on tap. The restaurant is more in the style of share platters: things like roast chicken with vegetable sides and a lot of smoked meats. The chef is quite thoughtful about the products he’s using and likes to make everything inhouse. It’s more modern pub food: still designed to share, but big portions and stuff that plays well with beer. It’s a hub of outdoor drinking and live music and there’s also food truck serving fast meals like burgers.

Where The Locals Get Dinner On Fridays

It can be difficult to eat out at night in the Swan Valley, but for the past five years, produce store Edgecombe Brothers has hosted a casual burger night. They’ve got a beautiful outside area looking over their massive lake that has the endangered tortoise in there. 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.

A Classic Restaurant Serving Familiar Flavours

For a more traditional style of dining, Sittella is stunning and its wine is just getting better and better. I do think there’s a huge market of people who are after a classic, sit-down and relaxing dining experience in a lovely setting. Mike Price has been the chef there for years and runs a very elegant menu with a focus on modern Australian cuisine. Things like salmon and kangaroo or chicken with delicate and thoughtful flavours. Yuri is the son of Owners Maiike and Simon and excels in the cellar with his main passion being sparkling wine. It’s just that sort of approachable, accessible fine dining experience that you can take anyone to.

Local, Free-Range And Plant-Based

My family has been in the Swan Valley for 40 years and are part of the artisan community. We converted the family home into a gallery and opened Taylors Coffee House 15 years ago to provide locally sourced food to locals and tourists for breakfast and lunch. The produce we use is all free-range and sourced from a local butcher. We make our own baked beans and cakes and there’s a lot of love and care put into it. The menu is very plant-based and the gluten-free and vegan options are strong. We grow a lot of vegetables on the property or source them from small local growers: maybe someone with a whole lot of apricot trees in their backyard. We’ve got a huge relationship with local growers in the Swan Valley, Gingin, Toodyay and the surrounding area. We go to a goat farmer down the road to collect goat’s milk to make goat’s curd. There’s nothing imported. And you’re among all of my mother Jude’s artwork. I think what makes it so special is that it’s our old family home; there’s a sense of history as opposed to sitting in a brand new build.

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

Guide last updated March 2020

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