Pemberton, Australia – A plush bathrobe is not my usual outfit for a walk in the woods on a chilly winter night. But there is a reason for this. Climb a leaf-strewn stairway through misty trees to discover a hidden forest tub, shed your robes and sink into the steam.
Canopies of mari and native peppermint trees cover the darkening sky, and lichens hang like cobwebs from tree trunks. Close your eyes and you’ll hear honeyeaters chirping, kookaburras chirping, and black parrots screeching.
It smells of damp forest floors and reminds me of the earthy truffles I’ve been devouring for days. By the way, I’m sinking in a bit and staying in this delicious natural soak.
Immersion is a recurring theme this week. In Pemberton, a four-hour drive south of Perth, he has a five-day retreat. The retreat is one of several services offered by the new company, Earn Your Vino. Married duo Cassandra Charlick and Stepan Libricky explore the hyperlocal side of Australia’s South West food and wine scene with seasonal experiences.
Charlick explains that slow travel and active relaxation are at the heart of the company’s ethos.
“In a nutshell, it’s about encouraging people to dig deeper and make real connections with places,” she says.
The retreat is called Beneath The Surface and focuses on premium products grown around Pemberton. In this past week he has devoured more black truffles than he has ever seen in his life. These are complemented by freshwater crayfish called marron, rainbow trout, lamb, beef, potatoes, apples and cool-climate wines, especially pinot noir.
Earn Your Vino operates retreats primarily in the adjacent Margaret River region, but the experience offers unparalleled access to Pemberton, where tourism is still developing.
“It’s a difficult area to drive through and judge for yourself,” says Charrick.
Our group consisted of 7 guests, 2 hosts and resident chef, Ms Mel Kokoti. A former chef at Xanadu Wines, she transforms local ingredients into sublime creations in each of her 2-course lunches and her 3-course dinners.
Our exclusive one-week residence is the luxurious Stoneburn Lodge in the heart of a black truffle farm. The elegant mansion is built of local stone and timber, and my spacious bedroom features soaring ceilings, a timber four-poster bed, and a balcony overlooking Stoneburn Lake, complete with wild ducks. .
Dion Range, owner of Stoneburn Truffiere and Lodge, joined us for a truffle hunt on our first morning in a light rain. Mr Range explains that 18 years ago he planted 2,000 trees, these being various types of European he oak.
Before planting, trees are inoculated into the roots – they are soaked in a special fungal solution. These fungi spread tendrils of mycelium throughout the soil, helping the host tree roots release micronutrients. The Black Perigord Truffle, the fruiting body of a fungus, is the most prized cultivated truffle in the world.
Finding the buried treasure is the job of Hazel the chocolate Labrador. Hazel smells ripe truffles and gently taps them on the ground when she finds them. Mr. Range gives her her treats and praise and it’s clear she’s in love with her boss.
Access to Mr Range and Hazel is a luxury only available to Earn Your Vino guests. It was a charming chat and I learned that he also has a nursery where he grows oak trees that he inoculates and sells. He developed his own seaweed-based liquid fertilizer and microbial booster to promote healthy soil.
The soil looks very healthy, as evidenced by the large bowl of truffles delivered to Ms. Cocoti in her kitchen. She uses them liberally, frequently brandishing a rustic brown orb and shaving liberally on everything from scrambled eggs, pickled ocean trout, Italian bean soup and slow-cooked beef cheeks. .
The aromas unleashed are mesmerizing, a mix of gourmet mushrooms, earthy soil and forest understory, and I’m amazed that truffles can be used in honeycomb cheesecake.
When I’m not eating, I’m exploring in my minibus. One morning, the third generation farmer visits Pemberley, a vineyard and farm owned by Dave Radomiljac.
Sit in the tasting room as Mr. Radmiljak and his daughter-in-law Lisa discuss their 200-hectare vineyard and sample Pemberley Prosecco, rosé, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
In the center of the table are some steamed chestnuts that were caught on the property that morning. Sample fresh buttered sourdough delicacies with Pemberley’s farm-fresh ruby roux potatoes tossed with local olive oil and truffle sea salt.
Back at Stoneburn, two new Radmiljak friends come over for dinner. Our aperitif consisted of a local vodka made from Pemberley potatoes and our meal featured marron with truffle tortellini.
Like all our delicious dinner guests, they show up with wine, two of our favorite Pemberley Pinot vintages from 2010 and 2012. As you eat, chat about the best cellars.
Before dessert, Mr. Rivricky presents a special Chardonnay Botrytis made by winemaker LS Merchants with Pemberley grapes. Mr. Radmiljak says he threw the grapes away as rotten and gave them away. He shamefully admits that he underestimated his harvest. We love wine, but we value stories and laughter.
The week also serves as a Pinot Noir masterclass with professional wine critic Mr. Sherrick, taking us on the varietal. One evening we compared wines from other truffle producing regions in Italy and Germany.
For another tasting, Leeuwin Estate sommelier Cam Haskell joins us for a comparative tasting of Italian Piedmont and Pemberton Pinots.
Earn Your Vino’s ‘earn’ component actively explores Pemberton’s nature. On a foggy morning, Adventure meet his guide Diane James for an enhanced hike around the impressive Viderup Falls. A pedestrian bridge crosses the river to see the ‘Walk Through Curry’ trees. This is a huge trunk that went through a tunnel.
At the end of the trail, we were amazed to meet Mr. Libriquey, who magically created the ultimate forest picnic. He enthusiastically handed me a recovery glass of Picardie Merlimon and seated me at Mr. Cocoti’s plate of lamb stew.
Another excursion sent us to Mikey Cernotta’s farm, home of Pemberton Honey. Here you will hear fascinating stories about the life of a beekeeper. An extractor is used to separate the pure honey from the honeycombs, after which the beeswax is used to make your own (slightly unstable) souvenir candles.
On the final afternoon, former MasterChef Australia contestant Samira Damirova gathered around Stonebarn’s kitchen bench. It’s not just a cooking demonstration, but before you know it, your knuckles are soaking in the buttery batter. I laugh with Damirova, trying to imitate her Turkish bread with lamb.
The result is messed up. But like many things we did this week, meeting the locals and immersing themselves in their experiences was truly memorable.
From Singapore to Perth with Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com), Qantas (Qantas Airways) or Scoot (flyscoot.com). Rent a car and drive four hours to Pemberton.
Acquire Vino (earn yourvino.com) offers a variety of seasonal indulgent food and wine retreats in Margaret River and Pemberton.
Beneath the Surface: Truffles, Pinots & Produces Pemberton is open during truffle season with three departures in July and August 2023. The cost is AUD 4,925 (SGD 4,500) per person for double occupancy. Rates include accommodation, gourmet meals, beverages and transportation from arrival. Prices for other retreats vary. Visit Earnyourvino.com
My retreat accommodation is Stonebarn Truffiere and Lodge (stonebarn.com.au), not open to individual travelers.
- The writer was hosted by Earn Your Vino and Tourism Western Australia.
- Formerly based in Singapore, Carolyn Beasley is an Australian freelance travel and environment writer specializing in sustainable travel and nature stories.
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