During my recent visit to the Riverland area I paid a long over-due visit to the well known winery and wetland centre, Banrock Station. Thurk Station was the name of the original sheep station which was established in the area in the middle of the 1800’s, but the destructive sheep were removed from the property in 1992. Some vines had been planted in the late 1960’s when the wool market was depressed, but revegetation to start to repair the damage the sheep had done to the land was commenced and the first commercial vines were planted on the property by BRL Hardy in 1994. Banrock Station Wines are now well recognised both here in Australia and internationally, becoming particularly successful in the UK and the USA. I was aware of their profile as a South Australian global wine success story and also aware that they have something of a reputation as conservationists who had safeguarded and developed wetlands in the Riverland flood-plains but, in my ignorance, was completely unaware of the scope of their work or the commitment and dedication this entailed.
My very first impressions of Banrock were formed in the Ladies room, where I dashed upon arrival. The above sign was posted in several places on the walls where it was bound to catch everyone’s eye – nice touch, I thought. But just the tip of the iceberg, I later discovered. Banrock Station is a property of approximately 6,000 acres – only 18% of which are under vines – the rest of it is wetland and scrub which is home to dozens of different species of native birds and a vast array of native plants, reptiles, amphibians, marsupials and water flora and fauna.
There are two full-time rangers on staff whose task it is to manage and care for the wetlands, in consultation with the local indigenous elders. The elders are consulted and come to inspect any renovations or changes that might be planned and the management are respectful of their opinions and also very conscious of the fact that this is shared land. Wetlands are of tremendous importance in nature, being the filter, nursery and food supply for the river and its inhabitants. At Banrock the water levels are meticulously monitored and managed. Small flow regulators have been constructed to allow the ebb and flow of water in and out of the wetland to replicate a natural water cycle when necessary to promote the health of all the flora and fauna in and around the wetland. Boardwalks and bird hides have been constructed through the wetlands to allow the public to enjoy the natural beauty and the facility now attracts an enormous cross section of tourists who come to Banrock for the wetland experience as much as for the wine.
Banrock has developed relationships with the wider community and hosts the students of Black Forest primary school who go up there annually to plant trees. They are also part of an international program for overseas students who come to work with the rangers and learn about conservation techniques and ecotourism. Such is the significance of the work done at Banrock Station that it has attracted the attention of the Ramsar Convention – an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands. Ramsar has a list of Wetlands of International Importance which includes 1,950 sites – including Banrock Station which was added in 2002.
Banrock Station has built a notable ecotourism experience around these wetlands with eight kilometres of walks (800 metres of which has wheelchair access), guided tours and conference facilities. They have their own landing, so if you happen to be touring the area on a houseboat you can arrange with the centre to be picked up from the boat and enjoy the wetland and wine experience. The centre also boasts a restaurant which was nominated in the 2011 Restaurant and Catering awards and, as you would expect, has a distinct leaning towards the local producers and suppliers. Executive Chef, Peter Kent, has produced a menu that is truly reflective of the local food and winemaker Paul Burnett has embraced the local climate and, like others in the region, is having success with some of the less well known Mediterranean varietals such as Fiano and Montepulciano.
Of course this is a food blog, so I couldn’t finish off without mention of the simply sublime dish I enjoyed at Banrock. I chose my lunch from the now defunct winter menu and this beautiful Pumpkin and Parmesan Tart went down very happily with a glass of Banrock’s own Sauvignon Blanc. They have now introduced their summer menu and are opening later in the evenings on Friday nights for both the locals and the tourists who might drive up in the evening and need a meal. I can think of no more pleasant way to wind down after a long week than at Banrock Station, enjoying a glass of something cold (I’m very fond of Fiano at the moment), a plate of something tasty from Peter’s summer menu and the stunning view from the deck.
Lambs’ Ears and Honey dined as a guest of Banrock Station.