The Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb is a new and exciting regional spring festival, bringing people and community together.
It is not lost on anyone that the Mintaro Progress Association’s new spring festival launched its inaugural, successful event during the year of a pandemic – a time of uncertainty when fostering a strong community spirit is more essential than ever.
It’s been a delight to recently spend a few days in South Australia’s charming Clare Valley. The perfect place to start or finish an epicurean road trip, in my case the Clare Valley was a fabulous epicurean destination within itself. The relaxing one and a half hour drive from Adelaide is picturesque, and spring is an ideal time of year to visit. To witness the stunning beauty of the rolling fields of green and gold was truly a special sight for me – the spectacular yellow canola fields were in full bloom.
The Clare Valley is well-known as one of South Australia’s oldest and prettiest wine regions. What is lesser-known is that it’s also a bountiful food region relished by locals, and one which is starting to raise its culinary profile further afield. Chatting with Simon Millcock, coordinator of the Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb he shared that the festival was not essentially about the tourism dollar. ‘The festival was a great way to bring people and local communities together to share and experience our quality produce.’ Beneficial for the community on many levels, the festival also encouraged a greater sense of pride for the region in its producers – some of whom had never even met each other prior to the festival.
It’s a real testament to the organisers of the Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb they managed to pull off an event of this magnitude in 2020. A year when many festivals were postponed or cancelled due to the complexity of needing to work around the constant moving parts of COVID-19 restrictions, the sense of time and place was evident in the Clare Valley. There was a real buzz around the villages. People were excited to celebrate the ethos of the festival and to welcome spring – a premium time for lamb in this region – with the added delight of new buds on the grapevines.
The festival kicked off in the historic town of Mintaro with community story telling and an open air cinema. Screening the iconic 1975 Australian movie set on a sheep station, Sunday Too Far Away, Mintaro and Muleteer lamb sausages were on hand to feed the hungry crowd. Key events included industry day tours of historic sheep stations Bungaree and Martindale Farm, and a wool and fibre fair at the Mintaro institute. A Sunday ‘blessing of the fleece’ church service added to the festival’s country charm.
Gourmet events at wineries and restaurants included ‘Long Lamb Lunch’ degustations, ‘Meet the Maker’ dinners, ‘Nose to Tail’ dinners, a ‘Lamb on the Lawn’ grill lunch, a ‘Fires of Hell Political Roast BBQ’ degustation lunch and ‘The Lamb Workshop’. The Lamb Workshop was a popular event for chefs, butchers and producers, featuring guest chef Michael Brine through a collaboration with the Chef Outta Water program. The festival’s finale was a tour of biodynamic Penobscot Farm followed by a six-course degustation dinner at the newly redeveloped Watervale Hotel.
One of the highlights of my experience at the festival was a dinner hosted by locals in Mintaro. Reminiscent of a European style homestay, guests received a heart and soul welcome. We were spoiled for choice with four types of delicious, slow cooked Willmott Farm’s lamb shanks, garnished with native edible flowers.
A sublime Sevenhill Sparkling Riesling greeted us on arrival and two vintages of Reilly’s Rieslings accompanied our dinner. The first riesling was a fresh and crisp, perfectly balanced 2020 vintage that had yet to be released. The second riesling was indeed special as it was a limited release. Aged by 20 years, the 2000 vintage was vibrant and full flavoured – liquid sunshine and honey in a glass.
Of note is that the Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb was the first South Australian festival to be held post COVID-19, largely made possible through federal funding from the Australian Government which came about because of the drought. This included the Building Better Regions Fund, designed to not only help drive economic growth through new events but also with the aim of building stronger regional communities. Investing in community well-being is part of the BBRF focus, particularly in areas such as suicide prevention. Other sponsors of this year’s festival were the Clare and Gilbert Valleys Council and Meat and Livestock Australia.
Clearly this festival broke into uncharted territory in the Clare Valley. This was something they had never done before. The festival coordinator Simon Millcock explained, ‘Through locals engaging, the festival helped people to better articulate and understand each other and who they are as a community. Chefs became more enthusiastic about the region’s provenance and featuring lamb on their menu’. A planned annual event, if this year is anything to go by, the Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb is certain to become one of South Australia’s most popular festivals.
Where: Clare Valley One and a half hour drive from Adelaide city
When: September (around spring equinox) 2020 festival held 16-22 September