Living the Derwent Valley life: Boil the jug or pour yourself a pinot!
Derwent Valley local Derek Jones and his mate Scruffy share from their patch of paradise, Ryelands farm on the banks of the Derwent River. The farm is a picturesque 15 acre property with 450m direct frontage onto the River Derwent in Macquarie Plains.
Derek grew-up in Launceston and spent years interstate and overseas before settling in the Derwent Valley nearly a decade ago.
“The Derwent Valley is a fascinating place, visually and from a photographic point of view it is always changing. The river passing my property is rising and falling, the colours and scenery are always changing with the seasons. There are also fascinating people living here – I never cease to be amazed by what people have done in the past, and are doing here at present.”
Derek lives with Scruffy, an 8-year-old Smithfield dog, in the property’s original 1908 timber farmhouse. On a bluff overlooking the river, the old house has stunning views and is rattled by seasonal winds.
At some point the house’s slat and plaster walls were replaced with reclaimed Baltic Pine sourced from local Hop Kilns. A sign of austerity, these pine planks were painstakingly layered with hessian, sized, and covered-up with wall paper. Today they are beautifully exposed again, and fragments of hessian and wallpaper can still be seen in the corners of some rooms.
There are many anecdotal stories about the past inhabitants of Derek’s house, including about the elderly lady who bathed every single day in the River Derwent year-round. On the hill below his house are the remains of turn-of-the-century rubbish dumps, where Derek finds lovely old glass bottles, and there’s even the remains of a convict-built tailrace. About 12 foot deep and 15 feet wide, this trench was built in the 1820s for the Terry Family (original owners of Askrigg Estate, Macquarie Plains) to service an intended grist mill.
The endeavour took time, and when nearby property Clarendon completed their grist mill first, the Terry’s project was abandoned.
When Derek arrived at Ryelands Farm he started growing fruit and vegetables. Through trial and error, and a lot of help from friends and neighbours, he has learned what grows well on his land. He planted a small vineyard, trialled potatoes and garlic – but the most unusual thing he produces are Mangelwurzel, a root vegetable originally used as cattle fodder.
“I knew about it from the British kids TV series Worzel Gummidge but I’d never tasted it” he says. After ordering seeds from a catalogue he discovered the unusual root vegetable was “a most astounding plant, extremely ugly and big.” With a crisp texture like celery and a sweet taste, this culinary curiosity has captured the attention of Sally Wise and Rodney Dunn and feature in their renowned Derwent Valley farm-based cooking schools.
“If you put Mangelwurzel on the menu, it starts a conversation!” Derek jokes.
Derek’s vegetables are sold into some of Hobart’s best restaurants and as a seasonal addition to the menu at the Pavilion, the private dining experience for guests of Tasmania’s only Small Luxury Hotel, Woodbridge on the Derwent.
Pinot Noir grapes also grow very well here. Derek’s tiny vineyard is north facing, slopes towards the river and drains freezing air quickly giving some protection from frosts. Especially in the face of global warming Derek believes the Derwent Valley is one of Australia’s finest wine-growing areas. 5 years ago his first batch of handmade wine was a failure due to small yield, lack of knowledge and skill.
“I knew nothing about winemaking at first, but everyone in the local industry I’ve spoken to has been so helpful. You can’t return knowledge to where it came from so you have to pass it on!” he says.
His subsequent vintages have been increasingly successful, with the 2015/16 vintage showing great promise. His small-batch wines are exclusively for consumption by himself and two old friends, who share the vineyard, and their friends.
Written by Bec Tudor co-owner and co-operator of Big River Highland Beef based in the hamlet of Plenty in the Derwent Valley. Photos Bec Tutor
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