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  • Liane Morris

Pinning Down Matt Dillow (P.S. It’s Not Easy!)


Matt Dillow is the driving force behind The Deck Café and Gartelmann Wines, set amongst the idyllic landscape of Lovedale.

 

The chef, restaurateur and vineyard owner is well known in the Hunter Valley as a talented chef and a committee member of the Lovedale Long Lunch, which attracts thousands each year to the Lovedale wineries and restaurants. Add his status as saviour of family celebrations during covid with the home delivery and virtual cooking classes of his Degustation to your Door offering and his talent for hosting travel groups on food and wine tours to Tasmania and Italy, and you have one very busy fellow. Throw in several awards for the winery, and it’s quite simply mindblowing!


Matt 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. So when the opportunity came to purchase the winery in late 2020, Matt didn’t hesitate.


“It makes a huge difference to be the owner rather than a tenant,” said Matt.


“It provides certainty for the café and enables everything we do to gel perfectly. I’ve invested heavily in the buildings and the property; we’ve got a new juice bar, and we make sure the grounds have massive street appeal. There’s so much to do for those who visit, with plenty of space for the kids to run around and enjoy the farm animals – we’ve got alpacas, chickens, ducks, lambs and a new baby mini foal plus we’re also dog friendly.”


Matt can be found just about anywhere on the property – shovelling dirt, making arancini in the kitchen, hosting a wine degustation, serving breakfasts in the restaurant or wine tastings in the cellar door.


“I don’t really stop, but I am blessed with my team. We are a big family. I make sure I look after them, providing everything they need to excel at their work and lots of team bonding. It’s important to me that they enjoy what they do and are happy to come to work, and I think it makes a big difference for our customers.”


The café regularly hosts popular Locals Nights once a month and raises money for a local Cessnock Church that hosts the homeless and needy at Christmas every year.


“We’ve been doing this for ten years, and I’m very proud of our involvement. It really touches my heart. The other local businesses support it, and we run raffles during our December Locals’ Nights. We usually raise about $5,000 that buys food and equipment for the church,” says Matt.


Locals Nights in 2023 will begin on Sunday, 26 February, with Matt’s Favourites as the theme. Cost is $65 per head, includes bubbles and dinner with BYO allowed and kicks off at 6pm hosted by Matt and Gartelmann Wines. Following on from February will be 19 March with Tastes of the Ocean and 16 April with Mediterranean Night. Details for the remainder of the year are on the website.

During covid, Matt and his team developed Degustation to your Door to keep the business running and staff employed. More than just a restaurant-quality takeaway, it was a fully immersive, interactive experience that included live-streamed cooking classes to aid in preparing and serving the food. It was delivered as far afield as Sydney.


“I’m still getting emails about it. People were so thankful. They were stuck at home on special occasions with no way to make it memorable. On Father’s Day alone, we delivered to 790 people. We didn’t say no to anyone. It was almost like survival – people looked forward to it, and the reaction has been absolutely heart-warming. We even won the 2021 Hunter Business Award for Excellence in Innovation and Adaptability for it. Now that we are out of covid, we’re still doing Degustation to your Door, but only once yearly because it is such a massive undertaking.”


Covid also prevented Matt from doing his food and wine tours, but now that the borders are open and travel is once again on the menu, he is taking off to Tasmania and Italy in 2023. Much in demand, the mid-year Italian tours are already sold out but will be back in 2024. The Italian trips include seven nights touring the picturesque Lucca, Cinque Terre, Pisa and other beautiful locations from a private Villa in the hills of Lucca with cooking classes, visits to fabulous restaurants, markets, historic sights and more.


Closer to home, Matt loves taking people on Tasmanian tours to Launceston, Tamar Valley, Freycinet National Park and Hobart. The tours include cooking classes, flights over Wineglass Bay, private wine tastings, cider tasting, a James Boags Brewery tour, chocolate tastings, oyster farm tours, a trip to Bruny Island and more.


Even closer to home, the Lovedale Long Lunch for 2023 is already on sale. The Gartelmann Wines and Deck Cafe menu has been set with mains of saffron and preserved lemon risotto with snapper, prawns, baby calamari, tomatoes and zucchini ribbons (GF), matched with Benjamin Semillon, or there’s the Spanish pulled pork, spiced chorizo and white

bean cassoulet with honey and cumin yoghurt (GF), matched with Wilhelm Shiraz. Desserts are brie, cheddar and blue cheese with crackers, rhubarb compote, fig date and walnut roll or chocolate, muscat and almond fudge cake, berry coulis and vanilla mascarpone (GF).


Matt also runs cooking classes with bookings open for 2023, including Spanish Paella on 1 April and 3 June, Classic Italian on 29 April and Classic French on 5 August.


It would be remiss not to mention the extraordinary achievements of the boutique winery that is Gartelmanns, including the 2018 Diedrich Reserve Shiraz taking out Best Shiraz of Show at the 2022 Cowra Wine Show and Gold Medal 2022 at the NSW Small Winemakers Awards; the 2022 Veronica Rosé taking out Best Rosé of Show at the 2022 Hunter Valley Wine Show and the 2022 Benjamin Semillon and 2022 Jessica Verdelho scoring 96pts and being eligible for Wine of the Year Trophies with Winestate Magazine.

Bookings at The Deck Café are essential, and bookings for tastings at Gartelmann Wines are highly recommended. Visit www.deckcafelovedale.com.au or www.gartelmann.com.au.

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