There’s new energy being injected into one of the Canberra region’s oldest wineries, Lake George Winery, nestled under the hills of the Cullerin Range as you drive into Canberra from Sydney.
Sarah and Anthony McDougall have recently taken over the helm of this historic winery (no local wine-maker pun intended) about 30 minutes out of Canberra, and are brimming with enthusiasm and ideas. Anthony brings his experience as a wine maker and Sarah brings hers in marketing and tourism, and together they’re a dynamic duo. They also bring their kids and a handful of dogs, so it’s a busy sort of life out there.
Lake George Winery has quite a bit of history. It incorporates the oldest vineyard planted in the area in 1971, formerly known as the Cullerin Vineyard, as well as the former Madew vineyard, originally known as Westering Vineyard. Sarah and Anthony are keen to respect that legacy and the existing wine-making relationships, but will bring their own ideas to make it their own. They already know what they’re doing, having made wines at the nearby Summerhill Road Vineyard at Bywong for six years.
There’s a surprising variety of wines produced on the eight hectare cool climate vineyard, including Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. You can enjoy them in the restaurant, or do a taste test in the cellar underneath, ($5 per person, redeemable on wine purchase). The wines have an excellent reputation and have gained the winery a James Halliday 5-star rating. This year’s vintage wines will be launched later in September.
Often a winery is just about the wine, but Lake George Winery is making it clear that food’s an important part of the equation too, and there’s a lot of thought put into the pairing of food and wines, and of course some dedicated testing. Not a bad job, that part. The restaurant, which also hosts weddings on the weekends, is warm and inviting: timber floors, earthy tones, an imposing stone wall, a central fireplace, and big glass windows which peer out over the vines. They do hearty breakfasts and lunches, or you can take in pizzas by the fireplace.
The new chef in the kitchen is Canberra local, Matt Morrissey, with Monica helping out. After a career in the navy and the public service, Matt opted for a late career change and traded in his desk for the kitchen to pursue his passion. His love of his work is clear when you meet him, and it’s all smiles, even as he’s tossing garlic prawns in a frypan. He’s just published a food-centred kids book too as a side gig. Matt’s partner Katie Hancock is also part of the new team, working behind the scenes.
The seasonal menu is all about good produce, with an emphasis on locally sourced products, and a burgeoning garden is growing out the back. You won’t find much in the way of smears and foams here, but beautifully cooked meals with quality ingredients and great flavour combinations. Think house-smoked duck breast with roquette and fetta salad, baby beetroot and balsamic glaze perhaps, or a hearty pork cutlet with chunky apple and caramelised onion mash. Match the first with a crisp Reisling or light refreshing Pinot Gris, and bring out the richness of the pork with a light Shiraz with a hint of white pepper. So many possibilities. My favourite was the fruity Tempranillo which I’d be prepared to put with just about everything. Perhaps not with the delicious oozy egg over spinach and mushroom brekkie at 10am, but each to their own.
If you want to try out the food, you don’t have to wait for the weekends. Brunch is available all day Thursday and Friday, and till 12 noon on Saturday, when the new lunch menu takes over. Linger over the wines and food as long as you like – there’s no second sitting to put the pressure on – which means you’ll have time to try another glass of wine. Winning! Just make sure you know who’s driving home.
Sarah and Anthony’s plans for the future extend beyond just the wine and the food.
‘We’re keen to develop the winery as a complete destination. We already have a wedding venue in place, but we’re planning accommodation and other activities for the future too so guests can take in the whole experience of the vines and the mysterious lake across the road.’ said Sarah.
Keep an eye out then, as it looks like there’s more to come.
Disclosure: Last week I was invited, along with a number of local foodies as part of the Urban Providore Tasting Team, to visit the winery to meet the team and sample the brand new spring menu and matched wines. All opinions are my own.