Pip Forrester, McLaren Vale foodie Q&A | WineTalk

In McLaren Vale, it’s hard to talk about wine without talking about food. And it’s hard to talk about either without mentioning Pip Forrester, for the self-confessed bossy boots has helped McLaren Vale mature into one of the most respected wine regions in the world.

Her passion to immerse herself in the community was forged at the iconic Salopian Inn, which she owned and managed from 1988 to 2004.

From here Pip merged business acumen and experience as a government executive to serve on progressive boards and even in retirement, she’s a key player in growing the region’s food, wine, tourism and economic sectors.

Pip’s contribution is too vast to mention in these limited lines but WineTalk* hopes to share a smidgen of how she’s helped bring prosperity and pride to the region she loves.

Was the Salopian Inn one of the first high-end restaurants in McLaren Vale?

It was the first restaurant to focus on regional food, and that’s credit to Russell Jeavons. He was the chef and loved to scavenge around to find ingredients produced locally.

Early trail blazers for the Eat Local campaign...

It was a point of difference for us and it made sense. Buying local produce is about what is fresh and seasonal; it’s also about the locksmith, the plumber, and other businesses. Supporting local is an absolute tenant of life for me. I value community and therefore I need to put back into community.

Which you’ve done generously since you moved here more than 30 years ago...

The community supported me, valued the little place on the corner, and I now have the opportunity to give that back, and without sounding tripe, it’s an honour. Sometimes I get frustrated but I love the challenge, love organising, love controlling; I love all of that.

And the region’s experiencing an explosion in food culture...

I saw this change happen when I was at the Salopian. In the early 90s, winemakers started flying off to their markets - New York, London, Europe - and then their markets started coming here to see where the wine came from. The winemakers would bring international guests to the Salopian, and it was great for me to see they had pride in the place. Now there’s about 30 or 40 restaurants in the region, and many really good ones.

I think food is the heart of our lives.

Pip Forrester

You’re deputy chair of the Willunga Farmers’ Market. Has it fuelled the food culture too?

I think it’s helped people become more aware of provenance, what food is grown around here, and how it’s delivered to customers in a really fresh way. And from the farmers’ point of view, the market is a great opportunity to find out what people want. But I actually think the leaders in culture change are chefs. They are the ones who find the product, do different things with it and introduce us to it. I discovered purple brussels sprouts at a local restaurant the other day. They were absolutely brilliant, so now I want to cook with them.

As former chair of the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association you helped introduce legislation to preserve productive lands...

McLaren Vale and Barossa worked together and the state government understood the importance of preserving agricultural land for food, wine production and tourism. From a personal point of view, from the mid-70s, it was like watching lava of cement come across the hills and swallow up productive land. There had to be a better way.

Now you actively support the UNESCO World Heritage bid for the region...

That’s critical. We need to build, we need to create housing, but we need to be smarter and retain our fertile agricultural land.

You’re on the Southern Adelaide Economic Development Board. Was bringing NBN to this region a highlight?

Definitely. We presented a case to government and were fortunate they selected Willunga. 

Another boon for the region is the Fleurieu Art Prize. As a founding member did you envisage it would become the world’s largest landscape prize?

We actually set it up to be that. It was always about landscape art of an international standard, focusing people on this region and celebrating our wine, our food, and our art. That was the goal. And it’s grown from strength to strength as well as calibre, with last year’s winner also winning the Archibald. I’m no longer involved, but it was a pleasure to be part of it, and a wonderful community effort.

You’re back chairing Fleurieu Food, which you started in 2003, and helping to facilitate relationships between the City of Onkaparinga council and China...

The council is doing a really good job of building relationships with China for export purposes and investment attraction, and we are the conduit for what’s on the ground. That’s clearly a role we should play, connecting food businesses with council and international visitors.

Pip Forrester, mayor Lorraine Rosenberg and Wu Xiaogang, at Willunga Farmers' Market as part of a Chinese delgation in late 2013. Pic courtesy Rachel McMillan.

Pip Forrester, mayor Lorraine Rosenberg and Wu Xiaogang, at Willunga Farmers' Market as part of a Chinese delgation in late 2013. Pic courtesy Rachel McMillan.

Is food a tourism driver?

Definitely! When we started Fleurieu Food it wasn’t perceived to be, but now food is an important aspect of tourism for this country. At last they get it. For me, that’s how we build up businesses, how do we connect with our customers, and how we create wealth and jobs for this region. 

So food is more than a source of nutrition?

I’m interested in food as a connector, for the pleasure it gives, as a facilitator for relationships, family, business, the rest of world. I think food is the heart of our lives.

And wine?

The reason we are here is because of wine, it’s fundamental for this region. On its own, wine is one dimensional. To be honest, it needs everything else; it needs the markets, the food, the artists, bed providers, the chefs, all of that, but the wine industry is the foundation. And the growth of the industry in 30 years I’ve been here is huge, in terms of volume, cellar doors, sophistication of product, the marketing knowledge, the corners of the world that we’ve reached, the innovation, and the way the new generation of winemakers incorporate food in their lives. It’s very exciting.

* WineTalk is a feature of On the Coast, a free monthly publication and website that covers South Australia's southern vales region.