Stone set for Es­cape visit

Augusta Margaret River Times - - Times New - Taelor Pelusey and Rob Broad­field Cur­tis Stone will join more than 50 of the world’s lead­ing food and wine per­son­al­i­ties at this year’s Gourmet Es­cape.

Or­gan­is­ers of the Mar­garet River Gourmet Es­cape this week un­veiled the event’s lineup to mixed re­views along with an ex­panded pro­gram to cel­e­brate the wine re­gion’s 50th anniversary amid on­go­ing uncer­tainty about the event’s fu­ture.

In­dus­try heavy­weights will join a se­ries of wine-fo­cused events to mark 50 years since the first vines were planted at Vasse Felix, with names like Jan­cis Robin­son, James Hal­l­i­day, Huon Hooke and Nick Stock due to ap­pear.

Other per­son­al­i­ties in­clude celebrity chef and Coles am­bas­sador Cur­tis Stone as head­liner, and in­ter­na­tional names like Rick Stein, Pierre Koff­man and An­dre Chi­ang.

But the head­liner was not re­ceived well by all, with Mar­garet River-based for­mer Tast­ing Aus­tralia boss Ian Par­menter crit­i­cis­ing the call to give top billing to “the face of Coles” Cur­tis Stone while ques­tion­ing the event’s fu­ture.

“Hav­ing an Amer­i­can com­pany or­gan­is­ing this has turned it into a joke . . . and I’m con­vinced this will be the last one,” he said.

“The Govern­ment can’t pro­vide fig­ures to jus­tify spend­ing $2.5m on this event each year.”

And while an extra day has been added to ac­com­mo­date the beefed-up pro­gram — now run­ning from Novem­ber 16-19 — no funds have yet been se­cured be­yond this year.

Vasse MLA and shadow tourism min­is­ter Libby Met­tam said the event could be stolen from WA if the Govern­ment did not act soon. “I un­der­stand that the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula re­gion in Vic­to­ria has made rep­re­sen­ta­tions to the event man­agers, IMG, to take Gourmet Es­cape over,” Ms Met­tam said.

“(La­bor) lost Rally Aus­tralia on their watch. We don’t want to lose an­other event of such sig­nif­i­cance.”

How­ever, Tourism Min­is­ter Paul Pa­palia said it would be highly un­usual for the Govern­ment to make a fund­ing an­nounce­ment now.

“In pre­vi­ous years, the an­nounce­ment of on­go­ing three-year con­tracts for Gourmet Es­cape have been made in Novem­ber, af­ter the event,” he said. Mr Pa­palia would not be drawn on the Govern­ment’s cur­rent dis­cus­sions with IMG, but the com­pany’s event di­rec­tor Katrina King last month told the Times ne­go­ti­a­tions were set on se­cur­ing an­other three-year con­tract.

Sources said lo­cals in­volved rarely made profit on the event, but wel­comed its po­ten­tial to lift the re­gion’s tourism pro­file.

Leeuwin Es­tate owner De­nis Hor­gan said it would be shame to lose the event for lack of fund­ing.

“When you con­sider the GST, wine equal­i­sa­tion tax — part of which is re­funded to the State — and pay­roll taxes gen­er­ated by this event, Govern­ment spend­ing on the event is prob­a­bly rev­enue-neu­tral,” he said.

Tick­ets go on sale to­day.

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