Palate memory is a wonderful thing - we are often quite amazed at the power of a sip of a certain wine to instantly transport the drinker straight back to the time, place, company and flavours experienced in that precise moment. Talking with Joel about apples and Pinot Grigio brought some wonderful memories flooding back, including the most vivid flavour memories of the freshly-picked King Valley apples of my youth.
As a young kid I would sneak up through our back paddock to George Hardy’s orchard and fill my pockets with sweet, juicy apples to snack on. The orchard would have been about 10 acres out of a 500-acre bush block that George owned. It was a commercial venture for him and when he wasn’t there he was working at his brother’s hop garden up the road.
George was second-generation Chinese with an anglicised name, common practice amongst the families of Chinese origin who established themselves and farmed in the King Valley from the gold rush onwards. With a preference for market gardens and orchards, they made the King Valley a food bowl before it became a tobacco centre and now a wine region.
Later, as a teenager studying Agriculture at Wangaratta Technical School, I spent a lot of time up there chatting with George, helping him with the orchard work, usually over a few apples. Even then I was fascinated by the clear variations in the flavours, characteristics and cultivation requirements of the different apple varieties.
The orchard was beautifully laid out, with sections for each variety he grew. I was particularly interested in the different ripening times of each variety, starting with those planted at the lowest (warmest) point on the hill. The last to ripen were the King Coles, planted at the highest, coolest spot in the orchard.
We bought about 250 acres of George’s land from a subsequent owner twenty years ago. By then the apple orchard was long gone, unfortunately. It’s now one of our best Sangiovese patches. Although knowing what we know now about the simpatico between apples and Pinot Grigio we probably should have planted it with Pinot Grigio.
These days, the only reminder of George Hardy’s work is a lone King Cole tree that must have self-seeded years ago. Every year we pick a few of them. Katrina uses them to fill apple strudel for the family and sometimes in a cooking class. They are tart but full of flavour, wonderful cooking apples and very refreshing eating apples. In fact, I’m going to take some cuttings from that tree to make sure we always have King Coles to enjoy – I think George would approve.
For me, a bite of a King Cole from that tree takes me straight back to those days spent with George Hardy as a teenager and aspiring farmer, hungry for all the information that George so generously shared, as well as those unforgettable apples.