Australian Traveller intern Ryan Auberson-Walsh “lives a day like a Roman emperor” while he searches for a glass of Hunter perfection.
Nestled at the foothills of the Pokolbin State Forest in the lower Hunter, Lindeman’s Ben Ean vineyard has been hard at work preparing for an entourage of experienced food and wine writers, sans my twenty-year-old self, to bust through its cellar doors.
Fresh-faced from a December launch of its new ‘Sunshine’ campaign, the company has gotten in touch with its Hunter roots and released three new cross-regional blends at $23 a pop.
Leading up to the all-important taste test though was something that was enthusiastically planned out – chief winemaker Wayne Falkenberg and viticulturist Richard Neagle lead a steady march around the estate with views overlooking tangled grapevines, plump cattle and flowing creeks.
Planted at the peak of a gentle hill was an enormous entity – an ageing tree – complete with a swing dangling from its sturdy branches, a humble throwback to a bygone era of energetic, outdoorsy children.
As the sunshine glistened through the leaves of the old tree, and the wind began picking up, we made our way back down the slope – the women in heels among us careful not to trip and barrel us down domino style.
Herded back onto our bus like the neighbouring livestock, we were shuttled to Dr Henry Lindeman’s original Cawarra homestead, still full from a morning tea of coffee, macaroons and chocolate cake.
Upon arrival it was easy to see why the doctor chose this specific site. No longer a vineyard, the home is run as a cattle farm and still remains property of the Lindeman bloodline, with Tim and Helen Capp taking reins as our hosts for the remainder of the afternoon.
From their 1855-built timber deck your line of sight can’t help but focus on the past – black and white pictures on their walls illustrate what was, and a gaze through a camera lens blurs the two, all happy snaps capturing the invisible family ghosts planting seedlings in the valleys that enshroud the rustic sandstone residence.
Still found on site is the time-weathered cellar, blanketed in thick shrubbery. It remains in near-perfect condition, perhaps a symbol of Lindeman’s strength over the past century.
As we wandered through the gardens, we were accompanied by the company’s well-known former winemaker, Karl Stockhausen. At a ripe old age of 84, he spoke up with a thick north-German accent about his relationship with the previous generations at Cawarra and their own comradery with the locals on the nearby properties.
Karl chuckled when mentioning there used to be an elderly man who lived next door who would put his bath towel on the clothesline each morning. He said it was so that his neighbours would know he made it through the night. This story enhanced the magical feel of the place, only to be topped by a generous four-course meal spread out over the estate’s manicured lawns and timber-furnished deck.
Prepared by chef Dominique Rizzo, our belly rumbles were cured after devouring ginger and pork dumplings, a ruby grapefruit and prawn salad, slow-braised lamb shoulder with parmesan polenta, and a bitter chocolate tart with vanilla bean ice cream, to name a few.
But these delicacies were only a minor part of the package. The real treat came served in several slender wine glasses, each a different bottle paired with our late lunch. On the menu were the Regional Series, as well as a small variety of other vineyard favourites. With grapes picked annually during the 2011-13 harvesting seasons, Lindeman’s serves up a Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, respectively.
Each of the fresh batches come from fruits grown around the country, and Lindeman’s original intentions of cross-regional blending date back to the 1860s. Knowing full well that fusing different combinations creates a new balance of flavour characterised from each particular region, the doctor’s legacy has lived on, and Wayne Falkenberg is excited that this technique will help place Lindeman’s back in the good graces of connoisseurs the world over.
As it approached time to return to the Sydney basin, one final glance over the sun-kissed valley was one well-earned reward. Having spent all hours of the day drinking, feasting and being shuttled around, it’s nice to know that having lived like a Roman emperor can be ticked off the bucket list.
This experience though, is one worth re-living, and so long as there’s $23 in my pocket I can feel safe knowing I can afford to do it again – all at the pop of a cork.
Taste it for yourself
Lindeman’s Regional Series are available at independent retailers Australia-wide, or visit the winery for a tasting anytime between 10am and 5pm, seven days a week; Lindeman’s Winery, McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin NSW.
Ryan was a invited guest of Lindeman’s Winery