Chocolate flows in the Yarra Valley

By Michael Harden
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It is easy to miss the small white building tucked behind a house on sleepy Briarty Road. Even if you do notice it amongst all the glorious bush and paddocks, there is nothing to indicate that behind the building’s nondescript exterior some of Australia’s best chocolate is being crafted.

It seems both impossible and perfectly logical that such a modest building could be the engine room of one of the Yarra Valley’s star products. Impossible because Kennedy and Wilson chocolate is so revered, glamorous even, and is stocked in Australia’s best food stores and hotels, is offered to Qantas first class passengers and has developed a cultish following amongst chocolate fans. Logical because it is just this sort of small scale, brilliant quality artisan produce that sits so well with the Yarra Valley’s current direction.

Kennedy and Wilson is named for its founders, Peter Wilson, winemaker and former punk band manager and his wife Juliana Kennedy. Peter was in Burgundy in his capacity as winemaker at Yarra Yering when he discovered Valhrona chocolate and developed an instant bee in his bonnet about turning his winemaker’s palate and skill to making great chocolate in Australia that “tasted of chocolate, not just sugar”. He left Yarra Yering, sourced the best equipment and ingredients – cocoa from South and Central America, milk from New Zealand, vanilla from Vanuatu – and set up the white shed at the back of his house in Briarty Road.

The small range he began producing in 1998 included bitter chocolate Cats Tongues, dreamy milk chocolate Bears and dark chocolate and cinnamon Autumn Leaves, luxury chocolate with high cocoa content, amazing richness and a voluptuously velvety texture. A couple of years ago, Peter invited Didier Cadinot to join the business to complement his existing range with a range of filled chocolates. Didier, a French chef and chocolate maker with an impressive moustache and even more impressive CV (working for Paul Bocuse and Phillippe Mouchel) fitted in perfectly with Kennedy and Wilson’s hand made, small scale approach. When Peter Wilson decided to return to winemaking, Didier was there to take over the chocolate making.

While Didier maintains the fastidious quality of Peter Wilson’s basic range, he continues to experiment with the filled chocolate side of things, using many local ingredients like raspberries, pears and blackcurrants. He is even testing a range of truffles filled with locally made red wine.

Such is the prestige and the demand for Kennedy and Wilson chocolate that there is a constant pressure to expand but, despite the lure of increased fortune through automation, there is little interest in changing the way things are done.

Christine Fryer, director and administrator of the business says, “Kennedy and Wilson is about a craft, about making something special in a special place. There is nothing about the approach we would change because that would change what we are doing. We would rather employ three more like-minded folk who appreciate the hands-on approach than buy more machinery. You can expand but you can do it without sacrificing the quality because the quality is what makes the chocolate so unique.”

© Michael Harden 2006

First printed in Food and Wine Lovers’ Guide to Melbourne and Surrounds (2006)

Kennedy and Wilson Chocolates are available nationwide.

Regions

  • Yarra Valley (Wine) (VIC)

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March 12th, 2007
 
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