South Australia’s Clare Valley is abuzz with the second year of its new spring festival, the Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb.
Celebrating the first spring buds on the vines and the prime time for lamb in the region, the Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb is unique. Intimate style events provide an opportunity for producers, chefs, community and visitors to engage with one another and celebrate the Clare Valley’s wonderful produce.
One of the culinary events on offer this year was held at beautiful Pauletts Wines in Polish Hill River. ‘The Long Lamb Lunch’ saw head chef, Thomas Erkelenz, affectionately known as ‘Erky’, create an exciting degustation menu featuring lamb in each course, including a sensational dessert. Paired with sublime Pauletts wines, this festival event was an opportunity not to be missed.
Pauletts Long Lamb Lunch
The team at Pauletts Wines Bush Devine Restaurant welcomed guests to their Long Lamb Lunch in a relaxed and elegant style. Pauletts has a team of 30 who are, as Ali Paulett describes, ‘one big family’. Attentive service and incredible food, surrounded by nature’s crisp spring air and birdsong, made for a truly special culinary experience.
The view is spectacular to say the least. The restaurant on the deck at Pauletts Wines overlooks the rolling green hills of the picturesque Polish Hill River. Situated between the historic towns of Sevenhill and Mintaro, the breathtaking view looks like something out of a fairytale!
Neil and Alison Paulett (not to be confused with Ali, their daughter in law) started Pauletts in 1983. Inspired by beautiful, small parcels of Clare Valley Riesling Neil worked with in the 70s as a young winemaker for Rosemount and Penfolds, Neil wisely chose to move to the Clare Valley. Neil and Alison purchased what was then ‘a bare paddock’ in Polish Hill River to fulfil Neil’s dream of starting his own wine label and building a successful, generational family business.
Pauletts is now in the capable hands of their son Matt and daughter in law Ali, who met each other at Adelaide University in the late 1990s. Neil and Alison are still connected to the business as mentors, and take pride of place at the table to enjoy the festival’s Long Lamb Lunch.
Ali tells me that a desire to incorporate a sensory garden was realised in 2010, when they established a native bush food garden. 10,000 plants with 80 different species were originally planted. With survival of the fittest, Ali tells me the most prevalent ones today are ‘the warrigal greens and lots of hard herbs, such as native thyme and bush mint.’
Ali shares that Pauletts carbon footprint is looked at from top to bottom. ‘Everything is sustainable. We recycle, use solar panels, are almost on 100% rainwater with a tiny bit of bore water – and all scraps go to the chicken farm next door – there’s minimal wastage.’
Ali Paulett is keen to share her thoughts about the Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb. ‘The festival is a really great showcase for what’s in our own backyard – it highlights our local produce and the whole paddock to plate concept. We’re celebrating local produce, as well as a way we can use an entire lamb from entree through to dessert.’
Ali’s vision to incorporate a restaurant at Pauletts Wines was finally realised in 2015, when they opened their 90-seat restaurant. Chef Erky has been a driving force in Pauletts winning many awards over the past few years. At only 26 years of age, Ali tells me that Erky is a ‘real find’. A local, he came on board as sous chef before taking on the role of head chef.
Chef Erky took time out of his kitchen in-between courses to engage with guests. Erky’s passion is evident as he shares, ‘The festival is a great opportunity for a bit of experimentation and to do something different – to have people try new things. We can stop, take a bit of stock as to where we’re going with our cooking and how we’re using that ingredient. For some people it’s the first time they’ve ever seen and tasted lamb brains or lamb tongue.’
Erky highlighted,’People often talk about sustainability, but this is what it’s also about, using everything from the animal.’ Erky acknowledged Will Gwynn-Jones from Remarkable Meat Co (their lamb supplier) sitting at the Long Lamb Lunch table. ‘Will’s great! Thanks Will for taking us out of our comfort zone and encouraging us to try something new’.
Ali points out that Chef Erky not only creates delicious dishes but ‘he blows our minds’ with what he creates. ‘He has a real palate, and his creativity just floors me – he knows how to get the best flavour out of food – he puts a touch of Australian native ingredients throughout the dishes – not too much, but just enough. He has a really deft touch.’
Erky is also conscious of not leaving a massive carbon footprint, and the importance of nose to tail. Even more impressive, is that at a young age himself, Erky is a terrific leader and mentor for three young apprentices. Ali continues, ‘He’s such a beautiful and gentle mentor. Erky gets the best out of his staff – he creates an amazing energy in the kitchen – I’m so proud of watching him lead and train his team.’
Clearly an incredibly talented young man, Chef Erky delivered in spades on all our degustation courses. I was also ‘blown away’ by the depth of flavour created by using freshly foraged, bush garden ingredients with lamb. Our fifth course of a sheep’s milk cheese resembling brie, accompanied by tomatoes cooked in lamb fat, with native thyme and lamb jus and fresh basil leaves, was a stroke of genius in its concept and flavour.
Our sublime dessert finale was a cracker of a dish and incredibly delicious. Who would have thought that lamb dripping salted caramel could taste so amazingly good?
Pauletts excelled with their thoughtful wine pairings. The Long Lamb Lunch degustation beautifully showcased Pauletts Wines trilogy of Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet. An addition was Pauletts 2020 Brielle Grenache, a perfectly balanced, fruit driven, medium body red – a superb Grenache.
Exciting things are happening in the Clare Valley, and Pauletts is definitely one of them. Taking calculated risks in opening a restaurant at their cellar door six years ago has seen Pauletts Bush DeVine Restaurant grow from strength to strength. Thank you to Pauletts and the Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb for your hospitality.
Where: Paulett’s Bush DeVine Restaurant 752 Jolly Hill Way, Polish Hill River, South Australia
When: Lunch on the deck: 11 am – 4 pm daily | Cellar Door: 10 am – 5 pm daily
Contact: Bookings: Phone 08 8843 4328 or via Website