September 12, 2016
The weather may have been rainy and overcast on Saturday, but it did nothing to dent the enthusiasm of festival-goers who went to Moffatdale Ridge for the winery’s second annual Italian Day.
While final numbers are still being worked out, Moffatdale Ridge owner Jason Kinsella estimates attendance was 10 to 15 per cent higher than last year, despite the weather.
And everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves, with a crowd of roughly 1000 keeping the food stalls and cellar door staff busy all day.
Guests could get to enjoy Italian cooking demonstrations in the winery by Roberta from the The Saucy Fork, or sit out under large tents placed around the lawn to watch a program of stage entertainment that ran throughout the day.
Moffatdale Ridge Tuscan Feast regular Fortunato Isgro and his band headlined a program that also included 12-piece jazz and blues band Soul Good, operatic soprano Meg Kiddle, and popular South Burnett saxophonist Tom McKenzie.
A row of food stalls provided a wide selection of Italian foods for the hungry, and for those whose taste ran more towards ale than fermented grape juice, there were Italian beers on offer as well as Moffatdale Ridge wines.
While the day turned out to be just a little too wet for bocce (Italian bowls), distractions such as the always tantalising Salami Wheel or the Traditional Italian Dress competition provided plenty of fun for spectators.
But perhaps the most interesting event of the day was the Pasta Eating Competition, where eleven contestants took on the task of trying to beat reigning champion Michaela Graaf.
The contestants included a small team from Stanthorpe who were determined to wrest the crown from the South Burnett, as well as Clovely Estate winemaker Stefano Radici, who said he was convinced an Italian could (and should) take the crown.
And as an Italian himself, he said he was prepared to put himself to the test of defending that nation’s honour.
Last week in an exclusive interview, quietly-spoken Michaela told southburnett.com.au she hadn’t taken on any special training program to prepare for the competition, and was concerned her 2015 win – with spaghetti bolognese – might be overturned if a different type of pasta was used.
But to everyone’s relief, this year’s pasta of choice was spaghetti bolognese, too.
The rules of the competition were simple: each competitor was given a plate of bolognese and a glass of red wine. They had to consume both – and do it without using their hands – to finish. And the first to finish would win.
When compere Jason Kinsella gave the word, its was heads down for all competitors, and the results certainly weren’t pretty to watch.
But it was Michaela who triumphed, followed microseconds later by Vito Morello from Stanthorpe.
Jason said in the circumstances in wasn’t entirely fair to declare Michaela the winner. So in a spirit of friendship with the Granite Belt, a rematch was called for.
Both competitors were then reseated next to one another, resupplied with bolognese and wine, and Jason gave the signal again.
But in the rematch it was Michaela who clearly won the day, wolfing down her second helping of pasta and finishing the meal off with a palate-cleansing glass of wine before Vito had gotten through half his second course.
Later Vito told southburnett.com.au he had clearly underestimated the South Burnett competitor, and was full of admiration for the way Michaela had demolished her pasta plate in the second round.
But now forewarned of the fierce level of competition he can expect, he may try again in 2017. Or not.
Towards afternoon as the sun struggled to peep out from under the clouds, Fortunato Isgro encouraged a conga line to snake its way around the grounds, much to everyone’s delight.
And as the sun set, a long stream of buses and cars slowly wended their way out of the winery’s grounds, some singing Italian songs and some waving Italian flags, either in defiance of Hughie the rain god or in defence of la dolce vita.