Building on a Wonderful Legacy - From Chef to Vigneron (and Everything in Between)
Matt Dillow is a man of many talents and just about the closest thing we have in the Hunter Valley to a celebrity chef. If you’re interested in local food and wine, then you have no doubt heard of him. He ran both The Verandah and Twine restaurants to great reviews and loyal followings, before settling into The Deck Café Lovedale on the Gartelmann Wines estate in July 2013. His time there has been such a success that when the opportunity presented itself in December last year, he bought the winery.
Gartelmann Wines was established in 1996 by Jan and Jorg Gartelmann and celebrates its 25th year of operation this year. Jan and Jorg developed the winery which specialises in award-winning handcrafted wines using grapes sourced from the Lower and Upper Hunter Valley, Mudgee, Rylstone, and Orange regions of NSW. They’ve been partners in the Lovedale Long Lunch since 1999 and enjoyed a strong membership base. The peace and quiet of retirement was calling them, and so they decided to sell the winery. When Matt heard, he jumped at the chance to buy the cellar door and estate.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Matt. “When I first laid eyes on the estate eight years ago, I fell in love with it and knew that one day I would own it. I adore the bushland setting with the dam and outdoor seating that we’ve extended over the time I’ve been here. I want to continue the legacy that Jan and Jorg have left, but right now, I’m still pinching myself. It feels surreal and hasn’t quite sunk in yet.”
Purchasing the winery is a natural extension for Matt – it provides certainty of location for his restaurant which has never been busier, despite COVID. The Deck Café showcases a tapas-style menu and is open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch and dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. They also do weddings and private functions, and with the COVID backlog of weddings this year, they have a number of them booked in already. The setting of the café is something that every review mentions with outdoor seating overlooking the beautiful dam and all set in bushland – it’s an idyllic country food and wine experience.
Despite this busy and demanding restaurant, as chef and owner of The Deck Café, Matt created a well-received line of products called, fittingly enough, “Matt’s Produce”, based on his love of, and enthusiasm for, the local agriculture. The gourmet range includes Apple Balsamic Glaze, Rosemary and Parmesan Oil, Olive Tapenade, Smokey Bbq Sauce, Beetroot Relish, Asian Basting Marinade and Preserved Lemon. It’s a popular choice for fans of the restaurant, enabling them to take home some of their favourite flavours.
He has run food, wine and produce tours to Italy, New Zealand and Tasmania regularly with plans for Spain once COVID travel restrictions ease. The Tasmanian tour is still going ahead this month. COVID notwithstanding, the restrictions have led to another new offering from Matt and his team. Matt's very popular Degustation to Your Door service was created when COVID forced the temporary closure of The Deck Café. It has become so successful that even now that the restaurant is open again, the service will be offered at various times throughout the year. Degustation to Your Door was more than just a restaurant-quality takeaway. It was a fully immersible interactive experience that included live-streamed cooking classes to aid in preparing and serving the food that had been ordered. Not restricted to the local area, Degustation to Your Door also delivered to the Sydney region. More than 6000 people took advantage of the service, and its popularity took Matt completely by surprise.
Now that the restaurant is open again, Matt has noticed how bustling the valley has been with so many Australians having no choice but to holiday at home. The extended outdoor seating at The Deck Café has made it a particularly attractive proposition for customers in our pandemic world. And if you’re local – you’re in luck. Matt’s highly popular themed local’s nights are back on selected Sundays with one scheduled every month. Themes include Tastes of the Ocean, Mediterranean, Spanish, Big Red Night, French, Italian, Dad’s Favourites, Spring Night, Saffron Garlic & Olives and Christmas Treats. Cost is just $60pp, and it’s BYO!
Owning the Gartelmann estate has provided Matt with space to expand his offering and build on the popularity of Degustation to Your Door whilst at the same time, honouring the legacy of Jan and Jorg Gartelmann. He is keen to take advantage of the beauty of the natural environment and is excited to be running regular cooking classes set up outdoors on the cellar door verandah. The classes culminate in the enjoyment of the five courses prepared by the participants and matched with Gartelmann wines. The classes cost $160pp, including cooking class, dinner and wine and run for five and a half hours. There are plans to run the classes every month.
Matt is keen to freshen up the estate and work has already begun on a pop-up coffee, juice and gelato bar which should be ready for next summer and be a hit with families. “It’s important to me to offer a beautiful food and wine experience that is welcoming for all the family,” said Matt. “We’ll be expanding this aspect of the estate. I want it to be a place where the kids feel free to roam and run about, to have as much fun as Mum and Dad when they visit.”
The estate is home to several farm animals, including alpacas, “Dash of Class” and “Bentley”. There are silky chickens, Shetland ponies, a miniature pig, and 2 Galloway cows will join the petting farm at the end of the year. The estate is also pooch-friendly so long as the “Pooch Rules” are followed, and if they’re really good, there may even be a treat provided.
Matt’s daughters are incredibly excited about their Dad’s latest venture. Brittany 15 and Bianka 14 can often be seen working around the estate, running food, taking orders and helping in the kitchen, but by far, their most favourite aspect of the winery is the animals.
“The girls can’t wait until we get our super cute Galloway cows at the end of the year,” confirmed Matt.
While family groups are enjoying the petting farm and the fabulous food, the serious wine connoisseurs will be as well catered for as ever.
“Gartelmann’s wines have won multiple awards, and we have no plans to change anything dramatically,” said Matt.
Above: Owner/Chef Matt Dillow, Cellar Door Manager Jimmy Smith and Members Manager Judith Boskett
“I’m lucky that I have an excellent cellar door manager in Jimmy Smith, and he will continue to create beautiful wines. We’re keeping the magpie and using the slogan ‘Gotta Love the Magpie’. Eventually, we’d like to extend on our varieties, some sparkling and Moscato and more reserve wines, maintaining the high level that Jan and Jorg established and maybe even exceed that if we can.”
There are plans to develop the Wine Club membership benefits with a new Members Manager joining the team. Judith Boskett is enjoying a tree change from corporate life in the big city to join her friend Matt on his new venture and help him run the place.
“Judith is fantastic, and she’ll be working hard to make sure our members get the value they deserve,” said Matt.
There is no joining fee to become a member; the commitment is simply to purchase two cases of wine per year. Members will enjoy free events, opportunities for members’ cooking classes and most notable of all, the July Mid-Winter Festival where members will enjoy themselves at no charge.
Matt’s vision for the property as a whole is inspired by The Farm at Byron Bay and The Grounds of Alexandria. The Farm at Byron Bay is a working farm housing a collection of micro-businesses such as a restaurant, bakery, produce store, florist, gelato, market garden, nursery and farm animals including poultry, pigs and cattle. The farm’s motto is “Grow, Feed, Educate” with the purpose of bringing communities closer to the food they eat. It’s hugely popular with families and visitors to the region.
The Grounds of Alexandria is located in a former industrial precinct from the 1920s in Alexandria, Sydney. It is a café, restaurant, bar, garden, bakery, patisserie, coffee roastery, animal farm, florist, markets and more. Matt already has an award-winning winery, a popular restaurant, accommodation, a charcuterie, and a small animal farm, with plans afoot for the coffee, juice and gelato bar. He’s well on his way to achieving his goals.
“Purchasing Gartelmann’s Winery brings all the elements of what I’m trying to achieve together,” said Matt.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’ve got a lot to learn on the winery side of things, but the vision is there, I’ve got a great team behind me, and we’re building on a wonderful legacy.”
Get a Taste at Home
As mentioned earlier, Matt has his own gourmet range (Matt's Produce) of condiments including Apple Balsamic Glaze, Rosemary and Parmesan Oil, Olive Tapenade, Smokey Bbq Sauce, Beetroot Relish and an Asian Basting Marinade (among others). These popular condiments allow you to take home some of your favourite restaurant flavours – and hampers are also available! Visit www.mattsproduce.com.au to see what's available or find them in stock at The Deck Cafe/ Gartelmann wines.
Visit: 701 Lovedale Road, Lovedale.