Connection to country: terroir

Phoebe Grant is Beechworth’s youngest winemaker

Peter Kenyon

Hello, everyone, I’m Peter Kenyon and welcome to another podcast from unpeeled press where I’m exploring the food culture of North East Victoria. I started a new role last month as Field Officer with the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association so things have been a bit topsy-turvy and I apologise for the delay in getting this latest episode completed. I’m excited by my new role and the opportunity it gives me to meet some of the country’s finest food and drink producers at their homes and production sites.

Heads up: this episode is not about apples! It’s about wine, for which our region is famous. Beechworth in particular, where I live, is a very small wine region but renowned for producing some of Australia’s finest wines.

I’ve always been interested in wines’ deep connection to landscape – that magical French word “terroir”, related to the English word “territory” and evoking a defined sense of place. We’re at last beginning in Australia to acknowledge and talk about Indigenous connection to country. I’m delighted about this recognition. However I’d like to think that all of us, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike were heading towards an appreciation of country and a deeper connection to place. It seems to me that some of our rapacious behaviours are precisely because we haven’t felt connected.

I’ve always felt that food connects us – or should connect us – to place, to seasons, to the people who produced the food, to the environment including the soils, bees, birds and animals that play their part in creating what we eat each day.

Think about wine. Even novices like me understand that wine expresses the place it’s grown, the winemaker, the season. Most upmarket wine is bottled with a label telling you its variety, the year and the vineyard location. It’s the opposite of come-from-anywhere, year-round, generic supermarket food – and I’m somewhat perplexed about why we care so much about place and connection when it comes to wine but are far less concerned about these production aspects when it comes to food. I’m more a food thinker and eater rather than a wine aficionado but I do enjoy a glass and I do find wine production fascinating.

In this episode I’m talking to Beechworth’s youngest winemaker Phoebe Grant.

Phoebe, thank you very much for coming to talk to me for the podcast about food culture in North East Victoria. Food culture obviously includes wine culture too. I think it’s a really important part of where we live. So to get underway, tell me about you and your life here in Beechworth.

Phoebe Grant

I am 21. I have moved back home after a stint in Tasmania and I’ve rediscovered Beechworth and wine. I grew up in Beechworth. My family makes wine, so I’ve always been surrounded by it. And moving back home, I found a new sense of appreciation. And I’m now making my own wine with the guidance of my family and other people in the winemaking community. And it’s very much a part of my life, wine and food. Cannot avoid it!

Peter Kenyon

Tell me about what you found living in Tasmania, about what made you appreciate North East Victoria all the more? Because when you grow up in a place, you tend to take it for granted. Did going away to Tasmania open your eyes to what North East Victoria represents?

Phoebe Grant

I was living in Hobart and I think one of the things about Hobart is everyone talks about the local farms and the food culture. And Tasmania is very community-minded within their markets and there’s a large emphasis on sustainable producers and buying locally and seasonally. And I think that surprised a lot of people that I was living around. And that just seemed normal for me in a way. But I guess coming back to Beechworth the emphasis is there a lot more. I make much more of an effort to eat, shop, buy locally, sustainably. I think as a teenager as well, growing up in Beechworth, you hate everything. Everything’s terrible. You wish you were in a city. But now coming back, it’s wonderful. The sense of community. It’s a collaborative place more so than I thought when I was younger.

Peter Kenyon

Are you Beechworth’s youngest wine maker?

Phoebe Grant

I think so.

Peter Kenyon

And how’s it all going? What vintage are you up to?

Phoebe Grant

So second vintage ’21. I’m doing another rosé and a pinot this year, a Beechworth pinot which is really exciting. It’s all processed in tank sitting happily.

Peter Kenyon

At the moment.

Phoebe Grant

Yes.

Peter Kenyon

And that’s in your home, your family’s?

Phoebe Grant

The pinot noir is but the rosé is at Chris Catlow, who has Sentio Wineries because we don’t have cooling. We have temperature control.

Autumn in Beechworth sees the production of some excellent wines

Peter Kenyon

It’s complicated, isn’t it, wine making? In some ways it’s very complicated but actually people have been doing it forever and ever. So they’re incredible techniques that have been developed over a very long time.

Phoebe Grant

For sure. And I think that the traditional way of wine-making is very simple but now there is so much, so much nuance to every single decision. And there are so many little bits and pieces of tweaking that can occur. It’s more complex than I probably originally thought.

Peter Kenyon

In a good way?

Phoebe Grant

Yes.

Peter Kenyon

So there’s more to learn.

Phoebe Grant

Yes, a hundred per cent and I still have no idea.

Peter Kenyon

I think you’ve got some idea. It’s your second vintage!

Phoebe Grant

Some idea but I mean, I haven’t had training and most people who I’m around have gone to university or TAFE and done some sort of formal education around wine making.

Peter Kenyon

Do you think that’s important?

Phoebe Grant

Yes and no.

Peter Kenyon

Given that you grew up in a family that made wine, it’s not like you’ve just arrived at the front door of a winery and said “I’m going to make wine!”

Phoebe Grant

Yeah. My Dad did that. My Dad has had no formal training whatsoever.

Peter Kenyon

And he makes a mean glass of wine.

Phoebe Grant

He does. He does. He has a photocopied book, which has a bit of a Bible to him. I think it’s a university textbook actually which he’s been going off. But again, he’s learned through collaboration and community. Beechworth is so collaborative as a wine region, which I don’t think a lot of other wine regions are from what I’ve heard.

Peter Kenyon

No. Well, we’ve got huge diversity here in quite a small area and with individual winemakers for each of the vineyards. So I think that’s probably very unique in Australia given the size of the vineyards.

Phoebe Grant

For sure.

Peter Kenyon

What makes Beechworth wine different? We’ve already talked about the fact that there’s many small vineyards with a lot of winemakers, and I’m not sure that’s characteristic of areas like the Hunter Valley or the Barossa. And they make wonderful wines as well, but there’s something about Beechworth that’s particularly unique. I think it’s the smallest wine denomination region in Australia and it has a huge number of vineyards and from what I know – and you know more than I do about winemaking – there’s all of these different characteristics of the landscape that present wine varieties just around Beechworth. The way that slopes face and the sun.

You’ve got down towards Wangaratta and you’ve got where your family is just north of Beechworth, north of the town on the hills there and soils and everything. I suppose that’s something that has always represented connection to landscape is the food production, but wine, perhaps more than anything else. And that’s something that in Australia, we still celebrate.

We don’t celebrate it about food. We don’t say “Stanley apples”. Apples are just a commodity product, whereas we do it with wine and I’ve always been interested in why wine has that particular aspect of itself that people celebrate that they don’t celebrate about food for example.

Phoebe Grant

Well, as you say, Beechworth with its varying landscape: we’ve got vineyards at 600 metres and we’ve got vineyards at 450 metres, and they’re all under the Beechworth GI and when you look at them next to each other, like two different wines from different sites, same variety, it’s crazy. The difference is amazing. And I don’t think with many regions, you actually get to look at that in a side by side sort of way. Yeah. And the difference in terroir, I guess it makes Beechworth incredibly unique and I’m not going to compare Beechworth wine to European wine and the greats of France and Italy, but landscape-wise, they do have that variation within certain areas. And you can tell which wine is a Puligny Montrachet versus a Charlemagne. You know the terroir distinction is quite easy to spot and I don’t think that Australian wines have ever had that distinction within such a small area.

Peter Kenyon

Yes, nuanced wine making. And we go up higher than 600 metres too don’t we because it goes up to Stanley. There’s the Ninth Mile and that must be, I think, close to 800 metres?

Phoebe Grant

And Tessa and Jeremy at Schmölzer and Brown, they’d be around the same I’m sure.

Peter Kenyon:

So that diversity of landscape presents in the wines that are created here.

Phoebe Grant

A hundred per cent.

Peter Kenyon

And they’re appreciated. You go to Melbourne and ask for Beechworth wines and people have heard of them, but you can’t generally buy them because they don’t tend to go very far outside Beechworth which is great because it’s a draw-card for people coming here.

Phoebe Grant

For sure. Yeah, I think Beechworth is starting to be recognized more so than just Giaconda, Sorrenberg, Savaterre which is great.

Peter Kenyon

They’re the elders of the winemaking community in our region.

Phoebe Grant

For sure. And it’s great that they have been able to uphold such a high standard for so long. And that other smaller wineries are now able to meet that same standard and continue on the Beechworth legacy.

Peter Kenyon

Well Beechworth wines haven’t been around for that long, have they?

Phoebe Grant

No.

Peter Kenyon

Isn’t that interesting because we’ve been making wines in Rutherglen [for ages]. I should say for anyone listening, who’s not aware of our region, we’re in Indigo Shire and Beechworth is in the hilly, southeastern part of Indigo Shire, whereas Rutherglen is in the western part of the shire and is much lower altitude. I think it’s only about 200 to 300 metres, maybe less [actually 175m] and a very different climate, but they’ve been producing wines in Rutherglen, almost some of the first vineyards in Australia.

Phoebe Grant

I think a lot of people think of Australian wine and think Barossa shiraz. And you can sort of get that same, big, bold, hot end product from Rutherglen. Not to say that there aren’t great wines coming out of Rutherglen. There are some really interesting things and I mean Rowley from Scion is now doing a really interesting, modern take on durif and it’s great to see some of that new blood come through because Rutherglen has this history.  It’s been doing its thing for years.

Peter Kenyon

But it’s very different to the wines that are produced up here because of the landscape. And what wines have you chosen to produce in your vintage?

Phoebe Grant

My thing has been nebbiolo rosé. The fruit actually isn’t from Beechworth. It’s from the King Valley. I can’t afford Beechworth nebbiolo fruit at this current stage. But I grew up drinking. nebbiolo. Love nebbiolo. I love the tannin. I love the structure. I love that acid. And Pete Graham at Dominica, he makes a nebbiolo rosé as well. And that was the first rosé I ever had that was actually wine-like to me. I find a lot of them normally quite sweet and just not very interesting. But I love the textural, savoury, dry characteristics that nebbiolo brings to rosé. So that’s what I’ve been trying to emulate. Apparently I’ve done a good job. People seem to like it.

Peter Kenyon

How much did you produce and where are you selling it?

Phoebe Grant

I made around 1200 bottles and I’m sold out.

Peter Kenyon

So this bottle sitting here on the table is a rare example of what’s left from last year’s harvest.

Phoebe Grant

Yes although I’m about to bottle some chardonnay as well, which I made last year.

Peter Kenyon

Where did you get those grapes from?

Phoebe Grant

Macedon, so again not Beechworth.

Peter Kenyon

So Beechworth grapes and this is something that I didn’t realize. So every area has a certain number of grapes. People look at the vines with the grapes on them and say, we’re going to have probably this many grapes and some of them will go here and some of them will go there and Beechworth grapes command higher prices because of the wines that come from them?

Phoebe Grant

Yes. Especially Beechworth chardonnays. The fruit can get incredibly expensive. Giaconda chardonnay when you see their price point and people want to try to emulate that it’s cause for upping the price apparently.

Peter Kenyon

For the raw product that makes it.

Yes. Well you know, it’s understandable because if you can get that price at the end of the production cycle, then obviously you’re going to charge more for the inputs. They’re not, they’re not generic grapes, like the industrial ones that go off to big industrial production.

Phoebe Grant

For sure. And I also think that not many people in Beechworth grow grapes to sell as well. Most people do actually produce their own wine. And so if you’re selling your grapes, that’s a lot of labour and you’ll be handpicking and all of that sort of stuff as well. So the price is driven upwards.

Peter Kenyon

And what about how food connects to wine, particularly in our region. I suppose the whole premise of my podcast about food culture is how do we create it? How do we create more of it and enhance it, that we can recognize different regions of Australia?  We say that’s unique to North East Victoria and it gives people a sense of being connected to where they live.

Phoebe Grant

For sure. I think I’ve spent half my life at the dinner table. It has been such a common thing in my life to have people over for dinner and share food, share stories around the dinner table. It’s just second nature to me. I think being a part of the wine making community really puts an emphasis on that as well. Most weeks we will have winemakers over and have dinner and open bottles and chat and talk about food and talk about wine and most nights people bring something. “Oh, I’ve just picked all these tomatoes. You need to do something with them.” “Here’s some of my jam from all of my raspberries.” That sort of thing. It’s a revolving door of produce and wine and stories.

Peter Kenyon

And seasonality.

Phoebe Grant

One hundred per cent. One hundred per cent. Yes.

Peter Kenyon

Can we actively create that? Can we create food culture, do you think? How do we do that? And what’s the value of it?

Phoebe Grant

I think food culture is everything. Truly it’s everything. It’s a sense of place. It’s a sense of family. I think it’s a sense of safety for so many people, a food culture.  I think it’s very easy to create. If you seek things out actively, I don’t know if it’s the easiest to stumble upon, or maybe it is up here. I guess if you’ve got farmers’ markets and different farms selling it, farm gate sales and that sort of thing.

Peter Kenyon

In the Guardian there was an article last week about a Danish man who recognized academic research that reflected that the Nordic peoples were the happiest peoples. They kept coming up year after year and all the measurements of happiness. And he wondered why that was. And he thought to himself, well, we’ve got institutes that look at depression and look at all the negative things that go wrong, medically with emotional health and so forth. And he said, why is there no Institute of Happiness? Why we’re not reaching towards that and finding out what the parameters of that are and starting to change policies in order to deliver happiness, because the recognition is that purely economic indicators haven’t delivered happiness. People can be economically very well off, but they’re still depressed.

Anyway, he said that one of the most profound sources of happiness is serving a good meal and sitting around a table and sharing it. It’s pretty simple, and you’ve just talked about that. You’ve had a very happy upbringing.

Phoebe Grant

One hundred per cent yes. I think within Australia and a lot of the Western world, the culture around life is that you live to work. And I think food culture comes from a happy balance and slowing down and taking the time to think more. And I guess that comes back to slow food. And that whole idea of looking around you taking a minute and not prioritizing everything that’s moving incredibly fast around you. Finding those little pockets of time where you can go out looking for mushrooms, then go home and cook. That sort of thing. It’s a time where you can feel at peace with yourself. Food has often been a source of comfort for me, not in a comfort food-binge eating way but being able to step away from a situation and spend my time thinking while stirring a pot or chopping up onions or something. It’s a meditative thing.

Peter Kenyon

As it has been for a long, long time and you think of Italian communities perhaps and Spanish. And so on, making passata, getting together and you share that effort because you get that abundance once a year, but you’re living from that abundance so every time you open one of those jars of passata it represents that day that was connected with all the people around it. It wasn’t just from a factory.

Phoebe Grant

And that’s a wine as well. Every time I open a bottle of my wine, it’s going back to vintage and that hard slog for the couple of months. And it’s the same thing for sure.

Peter Kenyon

Yeah. What’s your winemaking future? Is this something you think you’ve fallen into and you’ve found your calling?

Phoebe Grant

I don’t know about found my calling. I’m still young. I haven’t got set plans for anything. I love what I’m doing at the moment. I love making wine. I’m also really enjoying my other job, which is working front of house at Provenance. And I love that part of hospitality: being able to interact with food and wine. And I think with Provenance as well, I have such special memories related to that restaurant and being able to go to work and give someone else the experience that I’ve had whilst eating there is really, it’s a privilege. Truly. And so I’ve been really enjoying that. And I don’t know if that’s restaurant specific and if I moved to somewhere and start working at a different restaurant, would I hate it? I don’t think so, but…

Peter Kenyon

Well I suppose it depends on the restaurant. If it was somewhere like Bray or somewhere that really encapsulates that essence of what they’re trying to do into a philosophy, it’s not just ….

Phoebe Grant

… slop it on a plate and be quick. How many covers can we do?

Peter Kenyon

Yeah. What variety of frozen, prepared French fries do we get that make it look like they’re homemade but they’re actually just out of the freezer? And that’s probably the vast majority of food production in Australia. So we’re very lucky in Beechworth to have Provenance.  Tell me about your relationship with Provenance. How long has that been? How long have you worked there and you say you’ve got a history of good memories going back.

Phoebe Grant

So I started working front of house there in September of 2019. But then we had bushfires and COVID, so I haven’t really been working-working there for as long as I’ve been there. I did work experience in the kitchen there when I was 15. And I first ate there when I was 10. We’d just moved to Beechworth. We didn’t have much money. We’d never really been out to fine dining. Well, I mean, my parents obviously had, but I hadn’t. And my first meal at Provenance was life-changing. It was honestly the first restaurant I ate at that made me think about the food in front of me. I’ve always been thinking about food. I’ve always loved food. I’ve been obsessed. But deconstructing something and being absolutely wowed by every single element on the plate. And basically since I’ve, since I was 10, we’ve gone once a year. Every year. And it’s just been amazing to watch Michael’s food evolution over the years and the way his menu has changed. And the Japanese influences become stronger and sense of seasonality and all of that sort of stuff. It’s incredible.

Peter Kenyon

What was the first meal? Do you remember it?

Phoebe Grant

I had a degustation.

Peter Kenyon

That’s very generous for parents to share that with a 10 year old, but then we’re making an assumption also that most 10 year olds are not interested in food. If you think they’re not interested in food and you think children’s foods, McDonald’s, some fizzy drink then that’s perhaps what they grow up with whereas you’ve grown up in a very different environment. And as a result, you’ve come to have an appreciation for food, even at 10.

Phoebe Grant

For sure. And I think at Providence we do have quite a few people come in with their kids and they they’re nervous for their kids. I don’t think they’ll like everything. They don’t have to eat everything. Just give it a go. Nine times out of 10, the kids are eating everything apart from something with a fair bit of chili in it. And the parents are shocked: “I didn’t know they’d actually like food.”

Peter Kenyon

What does that say about our society?

Phoebe Grant

 It’s terrifying for me. Just the idea that kids don’t like vegetables within itself. That’s a whole other issue.

Peter Kenyon

I find that pretty frightening as you say that, because we obviously need to eat more vegetables. And if vegetables are just the default frozen French fries, then…

Phoebe Grant

… we’ve got no hope.

Peter Kenyon

From a public health point of view it’s pretty shocking if that’s all you do. Whereas if you can create interesting vegetable dishes and share them with children, then surely they grow up with the expectation that that’s what normal is and that’s what we eat.

Phoebe Grant

For sure. And I remember when I was younger going to friends’ houses for sleepovers and that sort of thing, it was, you finish everything on your plate, whether you like it or not. And I never grew up with that sort of thing. It was, we’re going to give you a whole lot of different things, make sure you try them. If you don’t like them, you don’t have to eat them, but make sure you’re trying and you’ve got an open mind and nine times out of ten, why wouldn’t I love it? I think as soon as you’re forced into something, kids get this mentality. No well if you want me to do that, I’m not going to do it. And that forces kids down that path of I only chicken nuggets and chips.

Peter Kenyon

That’s family food culture. So that’s another aspect of food culture that adds up to the big picture.

Phoebe Grant

A few years ago in high school, I created a magazine about food for my end of year final for media. I interviewed this guy I don’t know if he’s still running this organization. He started this thing called Death to Nuggets and it was about abolishing kids’ menus in restaurants. It came from him taking his kids out and going, “Are you serious? Is this all there is to offer for kids?” Like for a small portion and all I can get for them is chicken tenders and chips and there’s not a vegetable in sight. And he did a couple of events. I think there was a degustation event for kids. It’s pretty interesting.

Peter Kenyon

Yeah. What an interesting thing to do and to combine that with the Stephanie Alexander school at Wooragee.

Phoebe Grant

 When I was 10 my grandma took me to see Stephanie Alexander present her The Kitchen and Garden Companion. When that first came out, she did a talk at Eltham. I was 10 and she was talking about food and gardening and culture with kids around food and gardening. I think it was at the very sort of early days of the kitchen garden program. Yeah, pretty incredible initiative for kids. I wish my school had it. We never had anything like that.

Peter Kenyon

Well, that’s it. That’s again, creating food culture and you can actively do it. This has always been my premise. You can make it happen. Look how we celebrate Anzac Day. When I was growing up, it wasn’t anything like it is now. And that’s not to say the meaning isn’t real but we’ve created that meaning. We’ve added those layers of meaning to the point that people feel it. Connected right to their heart and they’ll stand at dawn. They won’t get up at dawn any other time of the year, but they’ll get up at dawn and they’ll weep at the end of their driveway holding a candle because it means something to them. But that’s been actively created.

So the idea that food culture, food and food culture should be just left to whoever makes the most profit, the biggest selling product, whatever that is and that delivers what the food culture is, I think is abrogating responsibility, particularly on the part of the government, because we’re picking up the cost at the other end in health and in carelessness. Anyway. I look at you and I think of an emerging food elder. And we need to create that more. And I think if we can almost understand what that is, how do we do that for other people?

Phoebe Grant

I am so incredibly grateful for my privilege every single day. I’ve lived a very blessed life so far.

Peter Kenyon

But it’s not privileged in the sense of having bucket loads of money. It’s privileged in the sense of an appreciation for the small, good things of life.

Phoebe Grant

A hundred per cent. Yeah. It’s privileged to have community. Privileged to wake up every morning and think about what I’m going to eat. Yeah, the choice, the choice of locality, all of that stuff. It’s yeah, a hundred per cent privilege.

Peter Kenyon

Thank you very much, Phoebe for talking today.

Phoebe Grant

No problem. Happy to chat.

Peter Kenyon

The science of modern winemaking is fascinating. I’ll be speaking to other winemakers over time but that’s it for today. I’m Peter Kenyon, and thank you for listening. Please leave a comment or a suggestion at the unpeeled.press website or find me on Facebook or Twitter. A special thank you to Charles Sturt University for its support in getting these podcasts underway through their Community University Partnership Grants. And a special shout out to Dr Sarina Kilham from Charles Sturt and Dr Nick Rose from Sustain Australia for their help and advice. Theme Music by Avocado Junkie. See you next time.

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