PERTH Hills wine producers and opposition politicians have reacted with a mixture of shock and anger to what they perceive as a missed opportunity by Tourism Minister Paul Papalia in announcing the new format of the WA Gourmet Escape.
Mr Papalia and Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan formally announced the new version of the Gourmet Escape on Saturday, September 1.
Instead of a sole focus on Margaret River, the event, which will be operated by international events company IMG, will now run for one week and will be bookended by events first in the Swan Valley and then Margaret River, with a week of WA branded gourmet events in between.
However, it was comments made by Mr Papalia to the West Australian on Saturday that drew the ire of Hills producers, with the Tourism Minister describing the Swan Valley as the only Australian wine region within a metropolitan area.
La Fattoria Italian Restaurant owners and wine producers Lucy Cole-Radice and Eric Radice were quick to vent their fury on their Facebook page, with the Perth Hills wine region, which stretches from Chittering Valley in the North down to Serpentine in the South and includes the Bickley-Carmel region, firmly in the metropolitan area.
Incredibly Mr Papalia doubled-down on his comments on their Facebook page.
“Instead of Margaret River being the only region promoted we are investing more money and expanding the Gourmet Escape event to feature Perth and the Swan Valley,” he posted in the comments.
“The Perth Hills is included in that.”
For Mrs Cole-Radice, it was a hard comment to swallow for a region that has now come into its own, despite more often than not being overshadowed by the Swan Valley region.
She told Echo News that as a producer, she was in the dark.
“His failure to mention anything outside of the Margaret River, Swan Valley regions came as a bit of a shock,” she said.
“Perth Hills has pretty much been overlooked for a long time in terms of tourism funding.
“I don’t think the actual gourmet escape has been completely strategized yet incorporating anybody. It’s just been an initiative to bookend MR and SV, there’s been no opportunity to participate any further since it was first mentioned.”
Perth Hills Vignerons Association president Dennis Humfreys said he was was incredibly disappointed with the comment, but was prepared to cut Mr Papalia some slack until he met with him, with Kalamunda MLA Matthew Hughes arranging a discussion between Mr Humfreys and the Minister which is anticipated to take place this week.
“I’ll allow him a little bit of slack until I catch up with him,” he said.
“I just want to remind him that we are in the metropolitan area and at the moment we’re forming a strategy with all the shires and councils in the Hills region.
“I just need to know if Mr Papalia is able to assist us in this.”
Darling Range Liberal MLA Alyssa Hayden and Opposition tourism spokeswoman Libby Mettam were also critical of Mr Papalia, with Ms Mettam saying he had missed a golden opportunity to promote the Hills Wine Region and Ms Hayden describing his comments as ignorant to the tourism potential of the Hills region.
However speaking to Echo News, Mr Papalia was quick to point out the Hills Wine Region would be included in the Gourmet Escape.
“What I will be saying to stake-holders in the Hills when we meet up very soon, is to grasp the opportunity with both hands, look towards partnering up with the event operators and develop a product or a series of products that meet the needs for satellite events around this event.
“It was only one comment and I appreciate the point made by the passionate wine producers of the Hills region and I’m looking forward to meeting with them this week.”