Hectic countdown to The Shed’s new life

JOHN Schuts watches as the lacquer is carefully applied to the new wood floor by a man wearing woollen booties, then turns back to the kitchen where the chef is wondering why the shelves are yet to be mounted. And the plate warmer hasn’t appeared. “Yes, he says, “there’s still a good way to go.”

Schuts is referring to the Derwent Valley’s newest restaurant, The Shed, nearing completion at a vineyard on the river’s western edge just above the Bridgewater Bridge. The once-shearing-shed-now eatery is expected to open before the end of May this year.

Normally, Schuts is the winemaker at Derwent Estate, a position he took up after stints at Capel Vale and Amberly Estate, both in West Australia, as well as Winemaking Tasmania. But picking is complete this year on the vineyard’s 11ha of north-facing slopes.

The restaurant – building and fittings, stock and staff – needs his full attention to be up to speed in the next few weeks. The restaurant tables, rendered from the original wood beams of the shearing shed, wait for the varnish to dry on the floor. Mr Schuts expects about six staff to run the finished restaurant. Front of house is Jec Johnson, while the chef is Andrew Russell, who was at Mona for seven years.

The building was erected by locals after the 1967 bushfires took down the original. Barry, currently wielding the lacquer broom, points out that the stonework in front of The Shed is laced with ancient fossils. “We’ve gone a little crazy,” admits Mr Schuts, pointing out the new lawns and plantings, as an excavator works to get a road to the kitchen end of the building. “Yes, the menu will complement our wine list, but more than that, we’ve taken a family friendly approach, with a grassed outdoors designed to occupy kids while their parents enjoy a glass.”

The Shed will seat between 40 and 60, and in function mode about 120. Once operational, he will return his focus to winemaking. “The pandemic required a switch, to sell to local consumers here in Tasmania,” he said. “And that has been very good for us, for the vineyard and bringing people across southern Tasmania into the Derwent Valley. That is the way we operate now, direct to the consumer.”

Schuts’ winemaking will continue to attract attention elsewhere in Australia. For the past 17 years, his chardonnay grapes have made their way into such premium wines as Penfolds Yattama – a mere $200 a bottle when you can get it. Meanwhile, he’s got a plate warmer to track down. And some kitchen shelves