27 July 2021

Five minutes with Nathan McDowell, Van Du Vin food and wine tours

| Michelle Rowe
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Nathan McDowell, Van Du Vin

Van Du Vin’s Nathan McDowell focuses his tours on the incredible food and wine experiences on our doorstep. Photo: Nathan McDowell.

Who is Nathan McDowell? I’m the founder and owner of Van Du Vin, which provides luxury private wine and food tours in the Canberra region. Each tour is tailored to your group and taste in wine.

Best recent dining experience: The food, wine and views at Brindabella Hills winery are truly special. My partner Corey and I have the very difficult task of testing all the wineries we visit on our tours. Drinking great wine and eating delicious food is challenging but important research. The seasonal set menu that Sweet Pea Catering puts together makes for a great day trip to the winery just outside the ACT border. The confit duck leg is my pick of the entrees and barramundi for main, paired with the winery’s unique white, the Marsanne.

Brindabella Hills winery

Take in the stunning views at Brindabella Hills winery. Photo: Vin Du Vin.

Most embarrassing pantry item: I’m not sure I’m embarrassed about anything in my pantry. You have to own it. I take pride in my large collection of dark chocolate bars. What else is better on the couch with a glass of cool-climate shiraz than some dark chocolate?

Must-buy ingredient: This is a tough one. I’m currently obsessed with the homemade zucchini pickles from Gallagher Wines. Also, black pepper and Frank’s RedHot sauce. Apply to everything. Liberally.

Brindabella Hills winery food

Nobody goes hungry on a Vin Du Vin tour. A beautifully composed bite at Brindabella Hills. Photo: Vin Du Vin.

Next big thing: This might sound basic, but is there anything better than a bunch of small share plates at a restaurant with friends? Places like Raku in the city, Rizla in Braddon, XO in Narrabundah and Lambshed’s in Yarralumla are our kind of vibe. I love that you can go all out or have just a light meal. Choose your own adventure. Start with a cocktail. Move to a red wine. Rules? What rules? Another round of croquettes!

Asian bolognese at XO

The popular Asian bolognese at XO restaurant is a dish to be shared … if you’re the generous type. Photo: XO.

Favourite place for breakfast in the ACT: Breakfast isn’t really my thing. Especially since skipping breakfast became known as intermittent fasting and quite fashionable. In saying that, the sweet potato hash brown with smoked ham, scrambled eggs, dukkah, toasted almonds and rocket at Maple + Clove in Barton is a good time. And their range of healthy smoothies cancels out any sins one may have accidentally participated in the previous day.

My Canberra food secret: The best burger in Canberra is the chicken burger at the Kingston Hotel. Order online. Pick up through the drive-through in the car park. Apply to face.

For wine, Canberra Wine & Spirit Merchants in the city has the best range of local wines. It’s so easy to grab a decent bottle from the region on the way home from the office.

Maple + Clove

Maple + Clove is a local favourite in Barton. Photo: Daniella Jukic.

Biggest culinary influence: Probably travelling, especially in Spain. The lifestyle, the food, the wine. My life goal is to be a very relaxed retiree in Spain, eating my body weight in Iberico Jamon. I’d also say I’m constantly learning and being inspired by the people in the Canberra wine industry. They’ve had a tough slog, losing the 2020 vintage to the smoke taint and COVID, yet they are still so passionate about what they do.

Favourite cookbook: Google.

Who I admire on the Canberra food and wine scene: We don’t like to play favourites … but I will. Marina and John at McKellar Ridge Wines in Murrumbateman are doing amazing things. They are only a few years into their wine careers, but they make my favourite reds in the region. Their Shiraz Viognier is a really beautiful drop.

Fiona Wholohan

Fiona Wholohan is the winemaker at Yarrh Wines in Murrumbateman. Photo: Jess De Scipio.

Fiona and Neil at Yarrh Wines, also in Murrumbateman, not only make beautiful, delicate cool-climate wines, but the way they transformed and elevated their wine-tasting offerings after last year’s COVID lockdown has been inspiring. It’s now one of our guests’ favourite stops.

What’s on the menu this week: During winter in Canberra, it has to be truffles. As part of the truffle hunt and degustation lunch at The Truffle Farm, they teach you how to get the most out of truffles, including making truffle eggs and truffle butter.

The Truffle Farm

Vin Du Vin makes it easy for food lovers to enjoy the Canberra Region truffle season. Photo: Vin Du Vin.

Where I’m going next: We were thinking about a little Sunday drive to Grazing at Gundaroo restaurant. Super cosy and a warming winter menu.

Death row meal: It has to be French, creamy and bloody. Add wine.

My COVID-19 response: We’ve had our ups and downs. In some ways, COVID has been a bit of a blessing as it has meant more locals are exploring the beautiful wine region in their own backyard. Our guests love our tours because it’s a day tailored around their taste in wine, where they can sit back and relax and have all the decisions taken care of for them. A day to unwind has been crucial in these crazy times.

Winter views in Canberra

Winter is the perfect time to take in the stunning views of the Canberra District wine region. Photo: Vin Du Vin.

The wineries have been the real heroes, adjusting so quickly to new rules. Seated wine tastings are something I hope continues after COVID. It feels more relaxed and special than the old wine tasting format, crowded around a bar.

My really simple recipe tip: Home delivery.

Vin Du Vin has three wine-tasting packages available, from a half-day experience to a full-day luxury food and wine tour with multi-course restaurant lunch and premium tasting experiences. All luxury transport, tasting fees and lunch are included. Book here.

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