The Truffle & Wine Co launches wines

About 240 bottles of wines from Australia's The Truffle & Wine Co will be available in Singapore, says its wine manager Stuart Hutchinson (above).
About 240 bottles of wines from Australia's The Truffle & Wine Co will be available in Singapore, says its wine manager Stuart Hutchinson (above).ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Truffles and wine are two of life's luxuries and both are produced by Manjimup in Western Australia.

While the town, 300km south of Perth, is famed for its black winter truffles, not many know it is also fertile ground for vineyards.

The Truffle & Wine Co there is the largest producer of the prized black fungus in the southern hemisphere, harvesting 6,000kg of black winter truffles annually. However, it was wine-making that kept the 53ha farm commercially viable for 15 years before its production of truffles stabilised.

Mr Stuart Hutchinson, 38, wine manager of The Truffle & Wine Co, says it was a gamble for the truffiere, which started in 1997, to branch out into wine-making.

As it took six years before the first truffle sprouted in 2003, the farm started a vineyard to stay productive.

The farm has a 12ha vineyard where eight varietals of grapes such as sauvignon blanc, cabernet franc and merlot are cultivated on the fringes of the oak and hazelnut trees, where truffles are grown underground on the inoculated roots of these trees.

The Australian says: "We were surprised that the growing conditions of truffles can be extended to viniculture so well, and wanted to synergise two great luxuries - truffles and wine - to complete the culinary experience."

With wines accounting for one-fifth of its business, The Truffle & Wine Co produces about 36,000 bottles of wines under its Truffle Hill label annually.

It also has a premium Truffle & Wine Co Wines label made with grapes sourced across Australia. The bottles include a Tamar Valley Vintage Sparkling 2009 wine blended from chardonnay and pinot noir.

Mr Hutchinson was in town last month to introduce the wines. They can be bought from online gourmet shop Le Bon Marche (www.lebonmarche.sg) from next month. About 240 bottles will be available here for a start.

Singapore is the first stop for the wine label's overseas expansion as Singaporeans form the largest group of overseas visitors for the farm's truffle-hunting tours and are familiar with the wines served there.

One of the five wines introduced here is the Truffle Hill Cane Cut Riesling 2015 ($46 for a 375ml bottle).

The gold-hued wine hits the palate with lingering flavours of beeswax and citrus blossom, and has aromas of apricot, ginger and lime marmalade.

The wine's intense fruitiness is a result of the cane-cutting technique: Each fruiting cane (a mature shoot from a vine) is detached and the grapes are left to desiccate on the cut cane for two to three weeks before being harvested by hand.

Mr Hutchinson says: "This technique balances the acidity of the grapes with sweetness developed through the ripening of the fruit."

The Mediterranean climate - characterised by consistently warm, dry summers and mild winters - also helps to extend the ripening season and "develop intense fruity and jammy flavours".

The loose, nutrient-rich karri loam soil, which is endemic to some parts of western Australia, is ideal for cultivating both black truffles and grapes.

The soil naturally drains away water from the regular rainfall that the area receives. This reduces water build-up in the fruit that would dilute its flavour.

Despite growing in close proximity to black truffles, the grapes do not taste and smell like truffles, Mr Hutchinson says. He adds that the wines have a "seductive earthiness" that comes through instead.

It also helps that the harvest seasons for truffles and grapes are comfortably spaced out throughout the year.

The grapes are mostly harvested from February to April, while June to August are peak months for harvesting black truffles.

Thus, the company's tight team of seven truffle hunters has to multi- task by taking care of the vineyard and truffle farms, and harvesting both produce.

One of them is Mr Hutchinson's partner, Ms Shane Downie, 38, a productive truffle hunter who has the help of labradors to hunt for the underground fungi.

The couple have two daughters, aged seven and six.

Mr Hutchinson says with a chuckle: "That's what make us love each other. She gets the hard job of hunting for truffles six days a week and I bring home wine."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Truffle supplier launches wine'. Print Edition | Subscribe