CSU has, as strange as it may seem, both a winery and a cheesery. Yes, that might seem odd, but then again, this is Australia, where many things are a bit odd. In our time knowing about them – from last December’s trip here through to now – we’ve had the opportunity to sample pretty much the full range of both.
The cheese…we’re not sure exactly why CSU makes cheese. The cheese factory is part of the food sciences area of the uni, but you can’t do a degree in it; we’re not even sure if you can take any classes in it, though we did meet someone one day at the market who was here from France apprenticing there. They do, however, offer a weekend cheese making class, that Dan will probably take some time in the near future. The cheese range is quite interesting: they call it bidgee cheese, a semi-hard style developed here by the cheesemaker (who is from Coolamon) and named after the Murrumbidgee River. It is a cheddar-like cheese infused with local flavours such as lemon myrtle, mint, and bush tomato. Neither of us generally like flavoured cheeses, but these are quite interesting at least for their uniqueness and some are actually very good.
Wine making makes more sense, as there are a variety of wine programs at CSU, ranging from viticulture (growing grapes) to wine making to wine marketing. These programs have been in place for quite a while, and since the winery opened in 1997 they have won numerous trophies and medals at national wine competitions. The grapes come from various areas around NSW, such as Orange, Tumbarumba, and Wagga, and the wine is all made here in Wagga.
At a recent Faculty event in Bathurst, where CSU has a campus, we attended 2 wine and cheese receptions. Of course, they have to serve CSU wines and cheeses, so we had some of the current release reds (Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon), the newly-released 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, and a few different cheeses. This beats the hell out of most campus food events, where the onsite catering company has the monopoly on Faculty events. CSU wine and cheese events win, hands down!
In early September, we went to the inaugural CSU Winery Barrel Hall Dinner, a food-and-wine pairing meal held in a huge warehouse/workspace at the winery. It was quite an event, starting with a sparkling wine and canapes while people mingled in the hall, entertained by a cello/violin duo. After watching chief winemaker Andrew Drumm ‘sabre’ a bottle of bubbly with an outback bush knife (very cool!), the first course was served. This was a salad with fennel, apple, and trout (avocado for the seafood-allergic Lisa), paired with 2002 and 2010 chardonnays. The 2010, which we had purchased previously, is good, but the ’02 has aged wonderfully and was great. Unfortunately, this was something that they don’t have enough of to put on the market.
Main course was a massive rib-eye, grilled rare and served on a bed of porcini and chevre risotto. Yummy! Wine pairings: 2009 Cab/Shiraz and a 1997 Cab, again one pulled out of the cellar in limited quantity. It was spectacular…well-aged, very mellow and fruity.
Next up was the interactive part of the dinner. Huge plates of CSU cheese (including a Camembert-style soft one and a blue, neither of which you can purchase) were brought out, and we got to be the first public tasters of the 2009 Merlot that won first place for Merlots at a recent boutique wine competition. After that was a barrel sample of the 2010 Shiraz that is aging in the building, not to be bottled for a couple of years. Then there was a game where people tried to figure out what they were drinking from an unmarked bottle. It turned out to be a new Tempranillo – a grape they hadn’t used before at CSU. It was really good – light, strawberry and cherry flavours, not too tannic but a bit acidic. We ordered a case of this one!
Then, after everyone settled down again, two dessert wines (a sticky and a light Moscato) accompanied a chocolate/licorice concoction and a chai panna cotta. The Moscato was, like most of them, horrible – too sweet and ‘cooler-ish’ for us, but the sticky (their College Muscat) is quite nice.
Much of the winery discussion of the evening was about the new labels for the Merlot and the Tempranillo. CSU wine labels are, in our opinion, pretty boring. They are very corporate and plain. The new ones are just a white letter on black background, that looks like chalk on a board. M for Merlot, T for Tempranillo (the bio scientist sitting beside Lisa joked that they might need a P for plonk label!). They got mixed reactions; we liked them but some people prefer more traditional labeling. The marketing guy said they are trying to appeal to a different audience, one that is more fun. Maybe that is why we like them!
We are looking forward to more dinners at the winery. They will be having more Barrel Hall dinners, and we have heard they also have one each year to celebrate the new releases (the Vintage dinner, where we get to wear party dresses! Well, Lisa will wear one… we’ll hope that Dan does NOT). The CSU wines and cheeses can be sampled every day at the winery cellar door sales room, so we want to remind all readers that anyone who comes to visit will get a sample of all they have to offer. You will also have the opportunity to consume both the wines and cheese in any quantity you wish at our home. CSU staff get a 25% (!) discount, so we are always stocked up, and we can get you some to take home at a good price, too. Unfortunately taking cheese across borders is sometimes a challenge, so you will have to eat that here (or risk the wrath of Canadian/American customs officials!).