Alluringly billed as the Valley of Taste, the Swan Valley is a semi-rural symphony of creative producers and purveyors, on the eastern fringe of Perth. Just thirty minutes from the city, it’s a surprisingly fast transition from metro buzz to life’s simpler pleasures, grazing from the swirl of food and beverage purveyors pursuing their respective passions within the pastoral huddle of the Swan Valley.
The valley has also become a fevered hotbed for free-range produce, with the RSPCA naming it as Australia’s first and only Humane Food region, two years ago. It sounds a bit like a marketing gimmick, but you’d struggle to find a farmer using cages, crates or stalls for Porkie Pig and Henny Penny – they are deemed persona non grata in the Swan.
The area you’ll want to focus your sights on is deceptively compact, as the scenic loop that forms the Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail is only 32km from start to finish.
Even if you’re merrily valley-roaming as a day excursion from Perth, its concentrated nature allows you to sniff, swill and sample an enthralling variety of local flavours in very little time. Obviously wine tasting is a staple pastime, as the Swan is Western Australia’s oldest winemaking region, recently celebrating its 185th anniversary. Although the first vines were planted in 1830, the industry really hit its straps courtesy of Croatian and Italian migrants last century. Over 40 wine producers are open for tastings, and although it is not Australia’s most decorated wine region, there are some highly appealing offerings.
I popped into pint-sized Lancaster Wines on Valentines Day, instantly enchanted by the lustily shaped heart that had been cut out of the wall of vines, draping their outdoor tasting shed. Producing a broad church of varieties, it’s a charming setting for a tasting session, paired with gourmet bites of local cheeses. In stark contrast to Lilliputian Lancaster, Mandoon Estate is one of the big boys, with a majestically-designed complex of tasting rooms, bars and restaurants, nestled around tall and leafy gum trees, providing welcome shade across the velvety lawn that plays host to free live entertainment and thousands of day-trippers on the weekend.
It’s a magical spot to while away a lazy afternoon. The warm soil of the Swan produces great shiraz; spicy, rich and perfumed. Mandoon excels with this variety, as they do with cabernet merlot. This multiple award-winning wine producer has also turned heads in the craft beer scene, so order up a tasting paddle to enjoy with pizza or tapas at the Homestead Brewery. Boutique on-site accommodation is in the wings, as is an exciting venture to operate a river cruise shuttle between Perth and the valley, on the Swan River. www.mandoon.com.au
But in addition to all that sniffing and swilling in the vineyards, there’s a staggering profusion of boutique producers and local crafts to eye up. You’ll love Yahava Koffeeworks, which began life in the Margaret River but operates a booming store, roastery and tasting experience in the Swan Valley. Yahava’s back story is enchanting, founded by coffee fanatic, Alex Kok, who followed his dream of tripping through the world’s great coffee regions on his motorbike.
Staking out the finest coffee beans in the process, he began shipping the beans back to Western Australia 15 years ago. The in-store experience walks you through the coffee production process, roasting and grinding the beans to perfection, appreciating the variety of brewing styles and blends – and tasting the difference.You’ll soon be tripping around the world in a coffee cup with the outstanding tasting class. I’m constantly surprised how starkly distinctive one coffee blend can taste, compared to the next. Yahava’s playful approach to branding its blends with catchy names enhances the encounter. My pick is their Romeo No.5 brew, which blends beans from Rwanda, Colombia, Sumatra and Ethiopia. Just magnificent. www.yahava.com.au
Fancy a tipple or two of locally distilled rum? The Great Northern Distillery, manned by bearded hipsters in vintage waistcoasts, adds a dollop of whimsy to the mixology. Their pin-up product is Canefire Rum which underpins the tasting room experience, where they’ll whip up an inventive range of cocktails with their big export-earner, in addition to giving you a walk through their boutique distillery. In addition to their rums, the distillery produces an ever-expanding range of spirits and liqueurs, plus a lip-smacking menu of non-alcoholic cocktails. Irrepressibly good fun. www.canefire.net
Wherever your valley wanderings take you, do not skip the sweetest spot of all: Whistlers Chocolate Company. Proudly family-owned and operated for over 40 years, I was greeted by the delightful Roseanne Sargent, who lives, breaths and sleeps chocolate production with her husband, Ian. In fact, Roseanne disarmingly revealed that books on packaging design have become a secondary all-consuming obsession, as the family keeps a keen eye on packaging trends to lure the customer.
Maybe it’s a gender thing, but my stomach is always governed by the goods – not the wrapping. That being said, I’ll concede their goods are eye-pleasingly and elegantly packaged. Their Swan Valley business was absolutely pumping with chocoholics when I visited, eagerly drooling over and sampling their expansive product range. Top sellers include their sinfully delicious chocolate pretzels, chocolate coated caramel popcorn, rocky road and handmade honeycomb. www.whistlers.com.au
By Mike Yardley.