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Captain Blunt’s really sharp

THE festive period is often the season of visitors, a time, which prompts the questions, “what do we do with them and where can we go?”

I have an answer and even if you obey the speed limits, it’s only a 35-minute journey from Perth. Awaiting you are the ever-expanding wonders of the Swan Valley with more than 30 wineries and 60 dining and function establishments.

History tells that the Swan Valley was the centre of WA’s viticultural industry with vines planted in 1929, even before the massive South Australian wine industry began.

The Swan’s warm to hot climate was overtaken by cooler climatic regions in the south and the success of these moves is well documented.

Something of a hiatus then overtook Perth’s doorstep wine district and the city’s population saw it as moribund for a time. But things were about to happen.

At this time, a renaissance is taking place. Entrepreneur’s – large and small – are buying in the valley, badly needed new faces and fresh currency are inspiring this regeneration and a new vibrancy is happening.

It’s as if people are suddenly realising how close the beautiful valley is to our population centre.

Mulberry Farm will undergo an $8 million makeover while Sandalford has invested $6 million, but they, like the Vines complex, are the large investment icebergs, the smaller fella’s that surround them are equally interesting.

One such operation is an answer to your visiting friends problem. Swanbrook is a remarkable story of a former restaurateur who wanted a lifestyle change and he made the Swan Valley his promised land.

At about the time the life-swap whim caught John Andreou in 1998, Evans and Tate, were ready to move their operation completely down to Margaret River and the famous Gnangara property came on the market.

At the bull-at-a-gate pace he does everything, Andreou alias Captain Blunt, snapped up the Evans and Tate Swan Valley headquarters.

Suddenly, this one time butcher and restaurateur had, without blinking an eye, become a vigneron.

With Evans and Tate went all the winemaking equipment so Captain Blunt and his hard working wife, Carol had an empty winery, a vineyard of 56-year-old vines and a bungalow that had served the previous owners as an office complex.

This was set in beautiful gardens.

Captain Blunt sharpened his horns to charge the gates of authority and soon had a café going in the bungalow with liquor licensing.

Not happy with buying wine wholesale, he made an overnight decision to become a full-blown winery. $2 million later and a single vintage, Swanbrook Estate had become the third largest producing winery in the valley beaten only by Houghton and Sandalford.

One of his cleverest moves was to gain the services of winemaker Rob Marshall. This 29-year-old was the assistant winemaker at Evans and Tate and departed to join Swanbrook and the product he has produced helps make your visit pleasurable.

The bungalow is now a “café in a wine garden”.

Within there is comfortable, casual dining looking out to the lush gardens and vines and those who choose to eat and drink al fresco under umbrellas. Wine tasting also takes place here at cellar door.

One of my culinary passions takes place each Sunday lunch when large beef pieces turn on the spit.

The aromas of the roasting meat are like a temptation from the culinary devil which are finally served with a jacket baked potato and a gravy to die for with crusty bread to mop-up with ($16.50).

With this, I call for the 1999 Swanbrook shiraz, a fine medium bodied dry red that is wonderful value at some $22 a bottle. It came from one of the best vintages in the Swan for years and while it has the trademark softness of the region the 58-year-old vines have contributed lifted, spicy, Rhone-like fruit that make for easy, delightful drinking.

Over the coals of the same spit Captain Blunt wearing his cook’s hat, grills fresh baby octopus. Amusingly, he keeps the coals alive and glowing with a hair-dryer.

Every day of the week the interior kitchen is working to provide the café menu, which is an ever-changing food list.

The affordability is such that you can leave the gold credit card at home and pay cash, though credit facilities are available to you.

The Swanbrook plate is value at $18.90.

This platter is adorned with cold cuts of a variety of meats, cheeses, and olives, sun dried tomatoes and homemade Mediterranean delicacies.

It’s a perfect dish with the 1999 Swanbrook chardonnay which is a luxurious fruit driven dry white that has undergone many taste changes in its short life and is probably drinking at its best now.

Freshly made nori rolls served with the compulsory wasabi and a soy dipping sauce with salad greens ($17.) are a Japanese contribution to the menu.

On the pasta side, penne provencale at $14.50 is a wise choice; the large pasta tubes are tossed with olives, herbs and shaved parmesan.

Mexico is represented by chicken nachos with tomato and beans on corn chips and topped with sour cream, avocado and jalapeno chilli ($14.90).

The international parade of dishes continues with tastes from the middle east, they include lamb fillet salad with tabouleh, garlic croutons, and harissa for $16.90. Or a filling of the day in grilled Turkish bread with a mixed salad ($13.90).

A hearty porterhouse beef cut steak on grilled field mushrooms with polenta chips and a red wine jus will keep the hearty appetite satisfied and costs $21.90.

Kids are welcome and their personal-prive menu includes a soft drink with ice and an ice cream cone and costs $12.50. The little people have a choice of potato chips and fish or chicken nuggets.

Without wine or beer, the average spend at a Swanbook lunch experience is under $18.

Swanbrook Estate Winery-Café

Swan Street,

Henley Brook,

Lunch every day,

Functions and small weddings by appointment.

Reservations 9296 3100

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