The treasures of this renowned region don’t end at the vineyards. Its people make it special, too, writes Mal Chenu. Photography by Frances Andrijich.

Wine Destination

JAMES IS reminiscing about his days as the coach of the Lithuanian women’s hockey team as he pours me a shot of his Cold-Drip Coffee Vodka at Old Young’s distillery. Down the road at food emporium Providore, the bloke overseeing tastings – a Sean Penn look-alike named Ollie – is enticing the “epicurious” with dukkahs, chutneys, balsamic vinegars, chocolate liqueurs, olive oils and barbecue beef marinades.

Western Australia’s Swan Valley region is known foremost for its superb food and wine but its people, as I discover during a two-day visit, are just as appealing. Colonial settlers planted the first vines here in 1829, making it Australia’s second-oldest wine region after NSW’s Hunter Valley. But it was Croatian and Italian immigrants who, from the 1920s onwards, transformed the region into a winegrowing centre.

Today, many of their descendants remain, players in a varied top-end epicurean destination. It’s just a 30-minute drive from Perth and while the locals invade in huge numbers at the weekend, I find my midweek visit ideal for lingering and having a chat.

Most of the valley’s treasures are centred on the 32-kilometre Food and Wine Trail, a delicious, enticing loop crowded with wineries, restaurants, cafés, breweries, distilleries, galleries and seasonal roadside stalls – and the passionate people who run them. Here’s how to make the most of it.