2 February 2023

Next generation takes the reins at iconic Poachers Pantry Smokehouse and Vineyard

| Katrina Condie
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family in vineyard

Will Bruce, his partner Lauren Allen and their children have taken the Poachers Pantry helm. Photo: Thorson Photography.

When Susan Bruce opened an artisan smokehouse “on a wing and a prayer” 30 years ago, she had no idea that the Poachers Pantry food and wine label would become a household name right across the country.

From humble beginnings, Susan’s foodie dream has flourished and now includes the Smokehouse Restaurant, Poachers Vineyard, farm shop and cellar door.

The property at Springrange, near Hall on the northern side of Canberra, is also a popular country wedding and event destination.

While Susan is not quite ready to step away from Poachers Pantry completely, she has passed the reins to her son Will, who has been running the vineyard and sheep farm side of things for the past eight years, and his partner Lauren Allen, who is the new general manager.

“We’re in that transition phase where Will and Lauren are taking on the business for the next generation,” Susan said.

“I’m stepping back from day-to-day operations and spending time on managing one-off-type projects.

“I’m currently working on a refurbishment of the smoked-meat facility after we were lucky enough to win a NSW grant from the Regional Job Creation Fund.”

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Plans are also in the pipeline to renovate the cellar door later this year with a separate tasting room and smokery where visitors can try both the Poachers Pantry wines and smoked meats.

Susan says her family is driven by “an enduring passion for our region that now has the fourth generation growing up on the farm and playing in the gardens”.

“But it is the brilliant group of people that are on our team, including winemaker Nick O’Leary and head chef Jenny Tressler, that make Poachers Pantry and the Poachers Vineyard an exceptional operation,” she added.

The winery has won numerous awards for its products over the years, including best Pinot Noir of Show at the 2022 NSW Wine Awards, while the pantry products, including smoked duck breast and smoked chicken with tarragon and lemon, are regular medal winners at the Royal Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart Fine Food shows.

The 50 acres (20 hectares) of vines on the property produce a variety of wine styles, including shiraz, pinot, riesling, sauvignon blanc, sangiovese, chardonnay, pecorino and tempranillo.

With global warming, Susan says they’re looking at planting more Spanish and Italian grapes, such as tempranillo, and moving away from the less drought-tolerant French varieties.

While their products can be found on dinner tables, restaurants and supermarket shelves around the country, Susan says the events side of the business has taken off again after COVID.

Set in the heart of a working farm, surrounded by grapevines and fields of grazing sheep, the homestead and gardens make an ideal venue for weddings and special events.

“Obviously we went through a nasty phase with COVID, but now everyone is catching up and weddings are going gangbusters,” Susan said.

“2022 was incredibly busy with weddings because of the bottleneck and we are filling fast for 2023.”

Susan and her husband Robert moved to the family sheep farm in 1984, 11 years after it was purchased from the Kelly family by Rob’s father, John Bruce, in 1973.

She says the business has since been built around “a love of good food and sharing with family and friends”.

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Poachers Pantry was built to supply hotels and restaurants with a range of smoked meats that would impress chefs and foodies, and opened to the public in 1991. The restaurant and cellar door opened 10 years later.

Their products are prepared using traditional handcrafted techniques by a team dedicated to making exceptional-quality products with craftsman-like care.

“Whether it be at your place or ours, the meats we smoke and the wine we make are the perfect ingredient for creating delicious occasions,” Susan added.

The Smokehouse Restaurant is open seven days a week, serving picnic hampers to enjoy daily, three-course lunch Friday to Sunday, and a two-course brunch on weekends from 9:30 am. The farm shop and cellar door are open seven days from 9:30 am until 5 pm.

Check out the online shop and website for information and event bookings.

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