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Heston to headline Margaret River festival
Heston to headline Margaret River festival

The lid was finally lifted this week on one of Margaret River’s best kept secrets, with news celebrity chefs including Heston Blumenthal are coming to the region in November as part of a total revamp of the Margaret River Wine Industry Association’s festival structure.

The Times sketched an outline of the proposed multi-million dollar international food and wine event last month, though stakeholders to the top secret discussions that included a dozen key local industry groups were sworn to confidentiality and wouldn’t let much slip.

On Saturday, Tourism Minister Kim Hames finally unveiled solid details of the proposal which would be funded by an as yet undisclosed top-up from Royalties For Regions just as other events such as the Kimberley Muster had enjoyed.

Dr Hames said the aim was to build the event into the biggest celebration of wine and food in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.

Festivities are slated for November 22 to 25, mirroring the schedule of the old regional wine festival before it switched to a vintage-based celebration more than four years ago.

The Gourmet Escape has already been booked for 2013 and will coincide with the Margaret River Wine Show, with category winners to be honoured as part of those high profile celebrations.

Headlining the festival in November would be a gourmet village at Leeuwin Estate expected to bring 10,000 people through the gates to see chefs like Blumenthal in the flesh.

Specially-branded wine tours, sessions with winemakers, vineyard dinners and a beachside long table lunch were also proposed along with a strong trade fair component, according to Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls.

The event media release said a “food hero” award would be given to Blumenthal as part of an exclusive dinner prepared by a number of chefs and matched with Margaret River wines.

A number of other colourful one-off events yet to seek Shire and WA Government approval are also in the pipeline, the Times understands.

MRWIA president Nigel Gallop said the idea for redeveloping the festival came from UK and Sydney-based agency Brand Events.

“It was such a perfect fit not only for our wine brand, but also the greater region we had no hesitation in agreeing to participate,” he said.

Also invited are top chefs such as Rene Redzepi from Denmark among more than 25 Australian and international industry personalities.

Margaret River-based gourmand Ian Parmenter had criticised bringing outside help to direct such an event and said it was a lost opportunity to use local expertise on a short timeframe. Mr Parmenter had proposed to bring a program similar to his former Tasting Australia event in Adelaide to Margaret River.

Brand Events ran the Masterchef Live event in Sydney and has offices in seven countries.

In a statement, Brand Events CEO Michael Hodgson said it was difficult to imagine a better place to host such an event than Margaret River.

Brand Events was expected to open a local office.

Tickets are expected to go on sale next month at prices designed to encourage wide take-up.