Rachel Hanson gets an insight into eating well… and eating quickly in WA’s Swan Valley
Not for the first time today, I feel like the naughty kid in school. I’m holding up my entire group and we’re already running late to our next destination. Weighed down by my handbag, scarf, jacket, camera and just-purchased bags of chocolate, I stumble back to the tour bus and apologise profusely… again.
As I’m not-so-quickly learning, ‘speed’ is the operative word in Taste Bud Tours’ Speed Grazing tour. With nine tastings in roughly four hours, this experience is the only one of its kind through Perth’s Swan Valley – which explains the company’s growing popularity. Solely owned and operated by Loris Grundy (possibly the hardest working woman in the region), she developed the concept as a way to showcase some of the amazing products and produce in the area.
Perth locals (or Perthlings, as I prefer) seem to favour the Swan Valley over its more famous sister to the south, the Margaret River. Not only is it closer – a 25-minute drive from the Perth CBD – and less touristy, it is one of the country’s premier wine-growing regions. The locally produced olives, fruit, vegetables, honey, chocolate, lavender, beer, ciders, coffee, jams, chutneys and cheeses make the region a favourite among foodies. And while it appears that Perthlings are doing a good job of keeping it under wraps, the size of the Sunday afternoon crowds suggest that word is starting to spread.
Just before our first stop, Loris reminds us about one of the most important aspects of the tour: to keep moving. Actually, I’m only guessing that’s what she said. I’m too busy looking out the window at the acres of yellowing vineyards, and the spirals of smoke from distant bush fires.
Not a moment is wasted as we walk through the doors of the Yahava KoffeeWorks to our private coffee tasting. Jake McAuliffe, our coffee guru, pours and describes each variety with the keen efficiency of someone who spends a lot of time around the caffeinated masses. But he does it all with charm and a generous pour (along with healthy helpings of chocolate-covered coffee beans).
We all feel more awake as we climb back onto the bus. Rather, as everyone else climbs back onto the bus. I’m still wandering around looking at all of the coffee accessories I never knew I needed.
Somehow, it seems we were behind schedule before we’d even begun (it’s not my fault, I swear), so we hit up our next three destinations in quick succession: Cape Lavender, Mago Coffee and the Margaret River Chocolate Company. After gulping down some mini lavender scones and lavender tea, followed by a quick inhale at the body products table, we’re shepherded next door to smell our way around the delectable Mago Coffee.
The aroma of so many flavoured coffee beans sends my nose into overload in the best possible way. Thankfully, the quick drive to the Margaret River Chocolate Company gives me just enough time to clear my senses.
The shop and factory is a fixture in the Swan Valley and it’s easy to see why – free chocolate samples, drool-inducing chocolate displays, an entire wall devoted to sweet (and a few savoury) products and cook books, chocolate truffles, row upon row of chocolate behind the counter, ice-cream… I didn’t stand a chance against the sugar high. The only problem was negotiating the crowds on a time limit. And with only 20 minutes to sample, peruse and purchase, I didn’t stand a chance.
By this point in the tour, I had my apology speech down pat. To their credit, no one seemed too bothered by my dawdling.
A delicious half hour to sample wine, cheese, olives, fruit pastes and jams in our own private tasting room at Jarrah Ridge Winery is a well-timed breather from the sugar and caffeine. I even have time to pick up a bag of ripe, home-grown tomatoes from the neighbour’s weathered vegetable stand next door. There isn’t anyone around though, so I drop my $2 into the rusty coin box, grab my find and sprint back to the bus.
In the last hour, we taste the wares at The House of Honey and Mondo Nougat. With the sun waning, we finish up at the Ironbark Brewery with a few much-deserved beers and ciders. Has it only been four hours? Our first stop seems ages ago. But I’m full, satisfied and secretly proud that I’m not the last one back on the bus to head home.
“Swan Valley has become something of a best-kept secret… food and wine lovers will find plenty to enjoy.”
– Jenny Valentish, Herald Sun
The AT Verdict
Rachel Hanson, who paid her own way and visited anonymously, says:
“I’m still amazed that we managed to see, taste and smell so many different foods in one afternoon. Loris isn’t exaggerating about the fast pace either, but it’s the only way to fit it all in. Bring your appetite… and maybe your runners.”
Where? The Swan Valley, 25 minutes east of Perth. Pick-up locations in the Perth CBD at the Wellington Tourist Coach Stand and in Guilford at the Swan Valley Visitor Centre.
Notes: Morning and afternoon tours run five days a week (Wednesday – Sunday) year round. Book at least a week in advance, especially for weekend tours. $85/per adult, $45/per child (under 13).
Contact: 0412 244 201; tastebudtours.com.au