It was two years ago that we visited Adrian Utter at his family’s property in Buxton for Seasoned Winter 16'. There we had a brief but exciting introduction to truffle farming and were lucky enough to find a big heart-shaped piece of the black gold.
Since then we’ve gotten to know Adrian better, visited a few more times and fallen in love with another of his farms productions, Utter Wines. In his early twenties Adrian planted a collection of short rows at the front of the property. It was an interesting experiment to see what grew well in the climate. The mix of grape varieties were planted at differing distances and widths. Amazingly, Adrian can squeeze his tractor between most rows, though the scuffed posts show it is quite a squeeze. “I’ve had to make a few adjustments to the tractor equipment.” Adrian says with a smile. And were his parents supportive of the planting we ask. “I put it all in when they were away!” He laughs. Sometimes it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than approval.
Now just turned 40, Adrian is thoroughly a man of the land. His experience, both academic and practical, is behind his know-how. He holds a Bachelor Degree in Agricultural Science from The University of Melbourne, and from a life of living on the land, well-honed skills. With a résumé that includes time at Yering Station and Coldstream Hills, he now works as an agronomist (an expert in soil management and crop production) for E.E. Muir & Sons, an agricultural supplies distributor. Adrian advises and consults some of the best vineyards and fruit growers around Victoria.
With a swag of vintages under his belt, Adrian has grown his initial experiment to a 3-acre farm of Pinot, Shiraz and Riesling set at the back of the property. North-east facing with stunning views of The Cathedral Ranges, Adrian has a dream of building his own home there in the coming years. “This whole area was thick in blackberry, it took so much work to get it under control.” Looking out now, you’d never know. For biodiversity, each grape variety was planted out with a mix of clones. Soil health and inter-row cropping with beneficial plants are all integral parts of the growing process. The beautiful hardwood row-end posts show the investment and care Adrian has for his patch.
Next to the vineyard is a very special little orchard where Adrian’s father Bob joins us. Recently retired from his career in journalism, he has a wonderful enthusiasm for the property and an obvious pride for what his son has established. Amongst the oak trees, inoculated with truffle spores and planted out 10-years-ago, Adrian explains the process. “Beginning its life cycle in December, the harvesting season generally runs through July and August. Once pulled from the ground, truffles are best consumed within two weeks.” Value depends on quality and shape, but the average rate this season is around $1.20 per gram. In The Café at Meletos, diners can opt for a special addition of truffle shavings on their pizza and over in The Stables at Stones we’re excited to be hosting a celebration of the fungi as part of our quarterly Seasoned Dinner series.
Down in the winery we are treated to a barrel tasting of the recently pressed 2018 Shiraz. The consideration that goes into the growing continues in the making. The barrels are divided up into clones and plots. It’s fascinating to taste the differences in the one variety. After aging, these will be carefully blended to the ideal balance. We were invited along to last years blending session with Adrian’s friend and technical assistant Richard Hall. Up to 20 different blends were tasted and by the end of the night we had an even deeper respect for the winemaking process!
Standing amongst the barrels with a glass in hand, Adrian opens up about the Black Saturday fires that terrorised the property on that devastating February night. “A neighbour on the other side of the range called me in the morning and asked what I was doing to get ready for it. I told him a bit nonchalantly that I had some buckets and hoses. He said ‘You’re going to need a bit more than that!’”. It just happened that when Adrian’s brother was on his way out from the city the day before, Adrian had asked him to pick up a few parts he needed for the water pump. “The fire basically surrounded our whole farm. In the neighbouring property there were heritage barns, a dairy and piggery that had been in the our family for generations.” He pauses, considering his words. “The fire just engulfed those buildings.” All through the night, he and his brother did not stop. The priority was the family home, a 1940’s cottage, but he had the newly planted truffle orchard to worry about too. “I remember tearing up the steep drive in the 4WD, smashing the side mirrors and scratching the car on my way, but it just didn’t matter. I managed to get the sprinklers on, which soaked the surrounding growth and weeds, protecting the trees. It’s funny how so many farmers stress for no weeds or competing plants, and they were what saved the orchard.” The cows heard the car and all came to the gate thinking it was feeding time. They followed Adrian down the hill and around to the front of the house, where he’d dug a trench with the tractor to act as a moat. “The cattle gathered in it on the night and didn’t come out for three days.” Looking out to the Cathedral Ranges and surrounding hills, thousands of trees still stand lifeless, a reminder of the furnace.
Managing full-time work and the huge responsibilities that come with his job, along with full-time farm work, managing such high maintenance fruit and notoriously difficult and short lived fungi, we take our hat off to Adrian Utter. A rare human we’re excited to share with you on July 8th in The Stables at Stones. You are warmly invited to an intimate and delicious evening, celebrating all things truffle. Another exciting ingredient in the dinner will be gorgeous purebred Berkshire pork, locally reared and fed with the acorns that fell in Adrian’s orchard. Adrian will be sharing stories and pouring his beautiful wines, including some unreleased and back vintage stock.