feast for the senses
A SENSORY GARDEN IN WA’S GEOGRAPHE WINE REGION IS AN EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE THAT TAKES THE GUESS WORK OUT OF FOOD AND WINE PAIRING.
Winemaker Cathy Howard has vivid memories of gardening with her grandfather at Blackmans Bay in Tasmania, where she grew up, and the gratification of growing flowers and vegetables together. “Grandpa was my early influence,” she says. “He taught me the wonder of planting seedlings; how to care for them and the joy of picking the flowers. It never ceases to amaze me that you can grow something from a tiny seed.” Now, almost four decades on, Cathy and her husband Neil share their combined gardening and winemaking knowledge with a unique wine sensory garden about 20 kilometres south of Busselton in WA. Visitors can wander through the formal potager-style garden at their Whicher Ridge winery and learn about flavours as well as food and wine pairing. “People really enjoy touching, smelling and crushing the herbs and edible flowering plants, and you can see little light bulbs come on as they connect what they are seeing and smelling with what they are experiencing in the wine,” says Cathy. Cathy and Neil, who is a vigneron, had worked in various wine regions around Australia, and it was only a matter of time before they decided to branch out and establish their own winery. In 2003, they spent six months looking for suitable land with good water supply and soil for the vineyard and garden as well as a paddock for Cathy’s horses. They discovered a 50-hectare dairy at Chapman Hill in the Geographe wine region with natural drainage and gravelly, sandy loam soil with a north aspect that was ideal for a vineyard. In 2004, they planted 2.5 hectares of sauvignon blanc and the five-hectare vineyard now includes viognier, cabernet, petit verdot, malbec and mouvedre. Around the time they opened their cellar door in 2013, Cathy researched various garden styles to complement and create a point of difference. “We wanted to offer an experience that relates to food and wine as our styles are made in a way to go easily with food, being very textural and mouth-filling with lovely length and balance,” says Cathy. She found inspiration in Kendall-jackson Wine Estate Gardens in the USA’S Napa Valley, which has seven distinct garden spaces set on one hectare, dedicated to food and wine education. Emboldened by the idea, Cathy designed a compact garden of 45 metres by 25 metres, in a figure eight shape beside the cellar door at Whicher Ridge. “The vineyard is symmetrical with rows and nature is usually not like that so I wanted something curved,” she explains. “My passion, >
aside from making some pretty good wines, is gardening. I have never done any formal training in gardening, but have adopted many common sense farming practices and ideas that I have learnt when studying oenology.” In 2013, Cathy and Neil planted coratina and kalamata olive borders to the north and east, and lilly pilly hedges on the southern boundary to protect the garden from the persistent southerly wind in summer. The following year, after Neil laid out gravel pathways and garden edging using ironstone from the farm, they planted the sensory garden with six main sections, which each relate to a particular wine variety. Each variety has two beds, one being the ‘descriptor’ bed that has fruit trees, flowers and herbs with flavours, colours and aromas that depict the wine. Adjoining this, in the centre, is an ‘affinity’ bed with grouped plantings of fruit, vegetables and herbs as food pairing inspiration to match the wine. The shiraz affinity bed features cranberry, juniper berry and rosemary, while the riesling affinity bed has persimmon, asparagus, rhubarb and raspberry. “It gives cues to match a particular wine to what you can eat with it and it doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal, it can be something simple, such as a herb to add to a salad dressing,” says Cathy. Amidst the edible plants are carefully chosen flowers and foliage plants in hues to reflect the wine. For white wine there is white, yellow and orange, while for red wine varieties you’ll find pink, blue, red and purple. Visitors are encouraged to pluck herb leaves and crush them as they explore the garden. Cathy and Neil use biological gardening practices and compost is made of grape skins and stalks. With an average rainfall of 900 millimetres each year, the garden is quickly filling out and sculptures dotted about the garden add another layer of interest. The sandstone kookaburra at the birdbath, as well as the large metal heron, was made by Tasmanian sculptor Folko Kooper while other metal pieces are made by local artist Greg Strachan. At the end of the day, Neil and Cathy enjoy the garden to themselves. “We sit out here with a glass of sparkling shiraz,” she says. “It’s a wonderful space to look out on, walk through and enjoy. It’s also connected quite firmly back to what we do with our vineyard and farm.” Neil and Cathy’s sensory garden is part of the Margaret River Organic Garden Trail, visit organicgardentrail.com. au. For more information about Whicher Ridge, telephone (08) 9753 1394 or visit whicherridge.com.au
CHAPMAN HILL WA GARDEN A chive flower, Allium schoenoprasum. FACING PAGE The riesling affinity bed on the left includes asparagus, lemon thyme, sorrel and Raspberry ‘Autumn Bliss’, while the adjacent descriptor bed features Lavandula allardii and lime balm.