Situated in South Australia’s beautiful McLaren Vale wine region, Chapel Hill Winery offers a special treat for food and wine lovers with it’s Hands On Fridays.
I have very fond memories of the last cooking class I took at Chapel Hill Winery just a few months ago. When they invited me back again last month to see what they are doing now I was happy to revisit an experience I’d enjoyed immensely – and then utterly gobsmacked when I realised that it has been well over 18 months since my last visit there.
Sticking to the old saying of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” Chapel Hill have not changed too much at all about an offering that works very well. With a new head chef, Chris Imgraben, at the helm in their kitchen and still held in the sublimely comfortable surrounds of The Retreat, Hands On Fridays has evolved as one of Chapel Hills’ premier experiences.
Chris Imgraben joined Chapel Hill in January after recent stints on The Ghan and a successful career as one of South Australia’s best chef educators at TAFE SA. With his wealth of technical knowledge and gentle patience he is a perfect mentor for the novice home cook or aspiring culinary artisan.
The Hands On Fridays program this year focuses on how to turn ordinary ingredients into extraordinary meals using techniques and flavours. Our class was based around pasta and others will feature rice and butchery.
The Bloke and I joined a small group to enjoy some drinks and canapes before heading into the kitchen to break into pairs for the various dishes. The aim was for us to produce four separate dishes – a deep fried ravioli, gnocchi, a rich prawn and angel hair pasta dish and a pumpkin roulade – to enjoy with matching Chapel Hill wines. There is always an element of chance in an exercise such as this, as not everyone is going to be at the same cooking standard. There was a slight hiccough in the gnocchi department that evening, which necessitated some very quick, last minute, fancy footwork from Chris, but aside from that we produced a very delicious meal that wouldn’t have been out of place in a restaurant.
By the end of the evening our little band of complete strangers were all the best of friends and happy to sit back, enjoying the fruits of our labour and the fine wines which were provided for us. I’m usually fairly careful about wine intake at events that I’m invited to, as I like to at least appear professional, but The Bloke and I were able to relax a little more than usual as we were fortunate enough to have been invited to stay the night in the luxury accommodation provided at The Retreat.
The on-site accommodation includes seven luxury bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, all of which have french doors opening onto a stunning patio area which looks out onto the vineyards, or a self-contained guest house which accommodates up to six guests and features a large lounge with views across the vineyards, fully equipped kitchen and dining room and with daily breakfast provisions provided.
After our very generous breakfast, served back in the kitchen, our visit was concluded with the wonderful Icon Tasting Experience. Launched in 2015, this experience is designed to give visitors the opportunity to experience the very best of Chapel Hill’s wines. Hosted in Chapel Hill’s 150 year old chapel, the experience pairs their Icon range of wines with a carefully selected range of Italian and Spanish cured meats and cheeses. This very special tasting includes Chapel Hill’s flagship wine, The Vicar Shiraz alongside three estate-grown single block wines and concludes with a selection of fortified wines.
Any one of these three Chapel Hills experiences would have been splendid, but to have the chance to enjoy all of them was truly special and one of the most memorable evenings I’ve had. I’d highly recommend it for anyone looking to make an event of a trip to McLaren Vale or couples looking to have some quality time together and it’s a perfect way for tourists to get to know one of our premier wine regions.
The Hands On Fridays classes run from 6.30-8.30pm and are followed by a sit-down, candle-lit dinner with matching wines. Cost is $110 per person, including dinner and wines.
Optional accommodation is available from $200 per night for two people, which includes a chef-cooked breakfast.
The Icon Tasting Experience is offered seven days a week between 11am and 4pm, for $10 per head, which is redeemable on purchase of any icon wine.
Chapel Hill Winery, Cnr Chapel Hill & Chaffey’s Rd, McLaren Vale Ph 8323 8429
Lambs’ Ears and The Bloke were guests of Chapel Hill Wines for all three experiences.