From farm to table in under 100 metres. That’s how Margan Wines runs their hatted restaurant. Here’s more about this beautiful Hunter Valley winery – its wines, its chefs, its food and its philosophy.
I wonder which came first. Have Australia’s wine regions always been beautiful or do the vineyards create their own beauty? Perhaps both.
Perhaps it’s the two contrasting beauties of those precise blocks of iconic parallel lines mixed with a lacework filigree of rivers and streams rolled out across verdant hills.
Either way, the Hunter Valley and its assortment of extraordinary wineries that gather around the sharp brinks of the Broken Back Mountain Range create an idyllic scene.
Margan Wines – the farm within a farm within a world-class winery
Lisa and Andrew Margan started their eponymous wine estate in 1996. But Margan Wines is only the bit of the iceberg we can see. A college romance, a life in France and many vintages with other famed Hunter Valley wineries have brought Lisa and Andrew to this point.
That and a passion for agriculture, hospitality and the environment.
And these three pillars that the Margans have built their world on show so clearly from the moment you turn into the tree-lined drive of their estate.
From farm to kitchen
As your eye leads along the rows and rows of twiggy grapevines with their sentinel rose bushes standing guard, you notice a plot set aside.
Instead of the ordered regiments of Semillon, Chardonnay, Barbera and Merlot is a battalion of disparate troops – a misfit army going about its day.
Within the compound, chickens march around their parade ground scattered with low citrus trees while lines of snow peas and silverbeet hold formation nearby.
Barracked in a long arched greenhouse, seedlings and micro-herbs stand by ready for deployment to the restaurant kitchens.
This crack team is Margan’s garden – a farm in miniature really.
You can take a tour of this fascinating element of the winery to see many of the ingredients that will go into the exquisite dishes of the restaurant. They’re dishes that have earned Margan a hat from the Good Food Guide and many other accolades besides.
The farm is also an important part of Lisa and Andrew’s ongoing campaign to be truly carbon neutral. Low food miles goes a long way to that aim.
From scale to tail
We visited Margan Wines as part of the Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival – a month-long event that runs every winter throughout June.
So after our tour of the kitchen garden, we headed inside the elegant yet friendly walls of the winery, and through huge studded doors.
This is the private tasting and function room, lined with wine barrels and special vintages. But we weren’t there for a tasting or a wedding.
Before us was a long table set with a stove and cooking paraphernalia, and the friendly yet somehow imposing face of Joey Ingram, Margan’s head chef.
Chef Joey was here to show us the art of breaking down a whole salmon and using every part of it. Demonstrating years of skills learned from such institutions as Tetsuya’s. Joey made the whole process look very easy.
He also showed us how to create a home-smoker to impart flavour into the fish and explained how everything – even the tiny muscles and scraps left between the ribs of the salmon skeleton – can be extracted and used to amazing effect.
But best of all was the knowledge that the loin of salmon he smoked in front of us would make up a part of our degustation lunch to come.
Lunch at Margan Wines
Feeling suitably educated (and somewhat awed), we made our way to the cellar door’s pretty veranda and our table for lunch.
The lawn spread out in front of us and the hectare or so of the kitchen garden beyond decorated with statues, hedges and olive trees, we could have easily been in Provence or Tuscany.
However, looming in the background, the craggy face of Yellow Rock watched our meal. Part of the Yellomundee Regional Park, this lookout and its connection to the Broken Back Range is an important part of the the Hunter Valley landscape.
But at this very moment not as important as our delicious food.
This five-course degustation began with a bowl of stracciatella cheese, grilled pumpkin, kale and black olive oil. This was pared with the crisp elegant Margan Ceres Hill Chardonnay.
Next was hand-rolled gnocchi, pancetta, Swiss chard and beurre noisette with the winery’s classic Fordwich Hill Semillon.
We were excited by the next dish, which we’d seen Chef Joey begin: coins of smoked salon loin with yacon, celery and parsley. It was so tasty and oddly pleasing to feel like we were somehow part of the dish’s creation. This came with a glass of Ceres Hill Albarino – a variety from the Iberian peninsula that’s gaining a lot of popularity in the Hunter.
Our last savoury dish was a wonderfully tender duck breast with witlof, beetroot and parsnip, served with a Ceres Hill Barbera.
Finally and really showing the kitchen’s artistry, a dessert of ashed brie mousse, pear sorbet and poached quince each shaped into perfect quenelles. The young Botrytis Semillon was perfectly matched with this dish.
As we relished the last few drops in our wine glasses, there was a sense of deep satisfaction as we looked out over the little garden, knowing that most of what we’d just eaten had come from this spot.
Even the fish comes from the nearby coasts of Newcastle and Port Stephens, and only from suppliers that fish ethically for non-scarce species.
One of the (many) satisfying moments of visiting a winery’s cellar door is being able to look out at the vines and know that’s where your glass of wine comes from.
Just think of how much more satisfying it is to be able to see where your food came from too.
Margan – winery, restaurant and kitchen garden
1238 Milbrodale Road,
The degustation and tour of the kitchen garden can be booked directly with Margan Wines all year round.
However, the whole experience, including the Scale to Tail cooking masterclass with Chef Joey Ingham, is only available during the Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival.