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Inside the Stone Wall Lunch

Cellar doors used to have this exclusive feel of a mate letting you in the back door to sneakily try a glass. But now they've become part of the marketing plan. So Rockford Wines try to re-create that lost intimacy with their Stone Wall lunch by creating a secret dining society.

I'm let into this elite noshery in the Barossa Valley only because a friend of mine has been a member since he was 16 - even at that age he was tall enough to be mistaken for a tree so he must have eluded any ID checks. He's warned me that this lunch will take half the day but I need to get there early for the first glass. Predictably I'm late, negotiating the Krondorf Road but mostly because for a secret society it seems deceptively easy to find.

They pop the first cork in the Stone Wall tasting room, which my friend is right. It's worth arriving early for a gutsy flute of the 1993 Black Shiraz. Sparkling reds get the wrong end of the bottle when it comes to most Northern Hemisphere winos, but a red wine that goes straight to your head is better regarded in Australia. This one has inspired paragraphs calling it "legendary" and "sex in a bottle", but rich flavours are well leavened so you can call it "plummy", "bloody" or whatever is in your wanky lexicon for a full mouthful with a long aftertaste. And then we're ushered through to lunch.


Share tables can be nightmares. You're stuck at some some poky bench between someone opening a newspaper in your face and the guy who is winning the battle of decibels about a football game you haven't seen. But the Stone Wall lunch has limited numbers, spaciously seated so you soon find yourself chatting with neighbours. The bearded gents sitting across the table had flown down from Queensland just to attend the lunch and the group of old school friends had driven over from Melbourne to stay nearby so they can drink on after.

There's a short introduction from the cellar door manager. This is his chance to dig deep into the cellar and pull out some wines that you might not get to try at a cellar door and to puzzle out dishes that set off the best of the grape. According to the ever-changing menu, we'll open with with leeks and black olives accompanied with a light riesling and finish with the Cordon Cut Semillon and quince paste with cheeses.

The most obvious feature of the room is the large hearth that presents everything you're eating. Not sure what galangal is? The chef points it out on the hearth and encourages you to give it a sniff. Their secret ingredient is that most of it is grown about two miles away - on what was once Huffendorf Farm. The range of produce comes from a small garden so the menu is seasonal and fresh. Today, the hearth flows over with ears of corn, strings of drying chillies, green blooms of coriander and cabbage to give the impression of cornucopia. With most of it just a walk away, you couldn't get much more locavore.


But getting down to the grub, the pick of the courses is the snapper curried with the flavour of fenugreek to give the fish a lift, with braised beets and kohlrabi (on the hearth just by the cabbage). The wine matching means they pull out some little known drops, but their oft-praised Basket Press Shiraz is pretty much a must-do. Today it comes paired with a soy-soused mallard, an ideal matching of two big flavours and you've warmed up through a range of whites.


After six courses, dessert needs to be light so the pear and fig tart is clever cooking - flavours that slap you awake but don't overpower the Cordon Cut Semillion, their last word on booze. Though there's a further tasting in the tasting room and unsurprisingly bottles are bought after an afternoon of generous hospitality.

Most reassuringly, my request for a press pack is met with guffaws and, "Yeah, we'll have to get around to making one of them." The secret society is safe.

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