Steve Feletti describes himself as ‘an unabashed pursuer of dubious causes, and likely to join the ranks of the rural poor. Be it grapevines, oysters or grains he’s made them all accelerants to the flame of burning capital'. Only an incredibly tolerant spouse lends some respectability to his 'ventures'. His 'other favorite wines pursued in travel (but thankfully not executed) include, Amarone, Sardinian Cannonau and any Bellavista sparkling.’ This is his (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition.
As a young kid in a 1950’s small town western new south wales I still can recall the solicitous aroma of marsala stained floorboards in our local greengrocer’s dark musty shop. Mum dragged us along for weekly shopping and a flagon refill. Pretty gutsy for the daughter of a staunch teetotaller. But it was those beguiling marsala aromas that lodged forever in the nasal passage.
We haven’t always been an oyster family, this was only intended to be a semi –retirement gig after life overseas in funny places doing funny things. From the Middle East to the Far East and the USA. One side-splash of expatriate life was the cornucopia of luxe corporate dinners ranging from mansaf in Muscat to ultra formal Japanese events at rare pre-war geisha houses. From Giza to Ginza, from Nizammuddin to Nishi Azabu, it was a long way from dusty, drought stricken western new south wales. The rot set in however, hazardous exposure to haute cuisine paired with good wine.
Fast forward to an oyster business – requiring arduous research trips across France, the role model for oysters. Sitting at a waterside grill in Bouzigues (with oyster trellises in front) , I was intrigued to see local vine roots being used to fuel the fire. A platter of oysters arrived ( professional tasting you understand). The wine waiter asked to pour the wine he held. I slurped an oyster and sipped the wine. And well, it was just ineffable. I’ve tried a thousand times to describe this visceral impact of the oyster & wine. I examined the label, “Picpoul de Pinet” , a protected name I’d never heard of. Supple, citrusy and soft , it embraced the lingering oyster backdraft. Oh happy days! Later, Mr Google told me none existed in Oz, and even France didn’t shout out loud about this secret, humble little hardworker from the Languedoc oyster coast.
Like Rumi’s Saqi, wine’s passion lit my candle. Left brain whispered “you’ve got a few acres inland (like 300kms) from the oyster leases”, while the right brain yelled, “whoa !, you’re in the oyster business stupid”. The family DNA for perverse causes prevailed and I was hooked on the mad equation of my oysters plus piquepoul blanc ( the varietal name) equals untold bliss. But how to get it?
A French friend volunteered to phone ( and soften up) a grower in the Languedoc. And so in the midst of a bitter French winter we found ourselves hurtling on the TGV to Montpellier, peering at winter pruning scenes, with two photos in my pocket. One of our canola crop, another of our oyster leases. Right brain whispered – what are you doing, going to ask a guy you don’t know, in a language not your own, to please hand over some free intellectual property.
I showed him the canola, showed him the oyster leases and mangled “j’avez la terre, j’avez des huitres , je nai pas le Piquepoul!” (beaucoup les apologies). With a final armtwist the veteran vigneron succumbed, ( or his ears burned) and I was gifted seven cuttings. I levitated momentarily. A very emotional moment. A decade later, amongst awesome print & tv response, our piquepoul blanc remains a cornerstone pour at #3 best restaurant in Oz, Saint Peter ,(God’s seafood temple on earth) matched with our oyster brands. Proof positive of perverse causes now radiates from customers’ beaming smiles, sparkling eyes, their thumbs very up in delicious embrace of Sydney Rock Oysters with piquepoul blanc. They get it!