(Australian Associated Press)
It might seem crazy to grow wine grapes in a region that regularly hits over 40 C in summer, but the artisans of Moama have proven that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Literally.
Using the heat and dry of this region, Moama’s winemakers have perfected the art of fortified wines. The sticky, sweet and aromatic flavours of the wetlands turn up in delectable plum, cinnamon and chocolate notes.
Naturally, the best way to start your wine tour of Moama is to dip your toes into some Nordic mythology. You’ll need a guide – or guides – who can transport you from the Viking era to King Arthur’s table, and Frits Massee and his lovely wife Suzanne and daughters Freya and Kate are just the people for the job.
The Massee family has purchased one of the old regional schools (think the kind of place where kids rode ponies, shoeless, to attend their lessons alongside their 12 brothers and sisters) and turned it into a time and space-warp. The entire family is mad about history and the art and science of making both mead and wine, making a visit to the Old School something pretty magical.
It all started off when Frits chanced upon a collection of historic mead recipes. The family then got in touch with local beekeepers who maintain hives along the Murray River. That makes these meads unique – they’re not only made with honey you won’t find anywhere else, like river redgum and grey box – but they’re fermented with special recipes.
The cellar door even heats and spices them for a cheery winter experience. Using resources from Kate, a palaeontology and archaeology student, the family also crafts and sells authentic mead goblets and flagons.
Next stop on the Echuca Moama Food & Wine Trail is St Anne’s Winery, a commercial-size operation that has developed a reputation for its fortified wines. Chief winemaker Richard McLean has collected more than 1000 “hogshead” barrels that have aged all sorts of concoctions – and some of them are more than 100 years old. His “Rebellion” port is a great example – port that has been aged in an old rum barrel. You’ll feel like a pirate in Marseilles the minute you sip this. Similarly, the Jack’s Barrel fortified is port aged in a bourbon hogshead.
St Anne’s is also brilliant for sweet tooths. Richard and his wife Lisa, who has set up the Echuca Chocolate Company, have teamed up to create a range of liqueurs so delectable that you may never eat solid chocolates again. Their coffee, white chocolate and choc orange liqueurs are particularly worth sampling.
Morrisons Winery and Restaurant is one of the best places in Moama for getting a solid wine education from charming venue manager Cameron Sutton. As he explains, through trial and error, the winemakers of the region have learnt to work with the blistering summer heat, not against it.
At Morrisons, they pick young grapes to create a grassy New Zealand-style sauvignon blanc and other whites. But again, it’s Morrisons’ fortified wines that really stand out, with the winery well-known for its Muscat.
Moama, and its neighbouring town Echuca, can produce grapes with lots of sugar and little water, so Morrisons intentionally cuts off water to its grapes at the end of their ripening to ensure a syrupy result. The result is something perfect for desserts by an open fire.
Morrisons also offers quite possibly the best food in the entire region, with a fine dining experience among the eucalypt. Think Wagyu beef with soft polenta, beef ragout, black garlic and fried kale – or confit duck Maryland with charred kipfler, haloumi, Pacdon bacon, candied walnut, beetroot and mandarin salad. Desserts are also a standout – no-one should leave the venue without sampling the Lindt chocolate pudding with Nutella custard, raspberry gelato and toasted marshmallow.
IF YOU GO
The easiest way to get to Echuca/Moama is to fly into Melbourne and hire a car for a two hour and 45 minute trip.
Moama on Murray Resort is set in the middle of 34km of bushland and 2.5km of river frontage, making it perfect for a nature escape. Accommodation includes villas, cottages, camper boats, houseboats and even luxury yurts. Prices start at $143 per night. For more, visit www.moamaonmurray.com.au.
Camping, cycling, walking, fishing, bushwalking and birdwatching are the hallmarks of a trip to Moama and the key to enjoying its grand old river. For a full list of activities, check out www.echucamoama.com.
DRINK AND EAT:
The Echuca Moama Food and Wine Trail is changing the face of tourism in this region. Highlights include the Chanter Estate and Military Museum, Three Black Sheep. Junction Moama, Ceres Echuca and Morrisons Winery and Restaurant. For more, visit www.echucamoama.com/wine-dine/food-wine-trail
The writer travelled as a guest of Destination NSW.