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Oz Musings: Vineyard Tour

Peter Clarkson and his wife Moira go on a tour of Australian vineyards.

Anybody who has spent more than a few minutes with Moira and myself will know that we are particularly fond of wine. All types, but not sweet. We do not do dessert wines.

So it was a pleasant surprise when we received a gift of a vineyard tour of the Yarra Valley, a rich wine producing area around Melbourne.

On Saturday we woke up early and slowly made our way to the meeting point, the George Hotel, on Fitzroy Street. It was just before nine and our tour was to pick us up outside the hotel. Moira went in to buy coffee for us and I stood outside wondering why the bus was not there yet. It was closing on 9am and no sign of a wine tour bus. I looked around me and up at the Prince of Wales Hotel. Slowly realisation dawned and I ran into the coffee house,

“We're in the wrong place," I blurted before running out of the shop and up the road. As fast as my little legs could carry me I ran to the next large pub/hotel. Luckily there was the bus. The driver was standing outside and as I approached he asked for my name. I am beginning to get used to the unusual stare I receive when I say "Moira" now as most of the trips have been booked in her name and I know this is what is written down on their hardboard list.

Moira brought up the rear and we finally sat on the bus, panting, having thrown our coffee in the bin.

A couple of years ago we took our trusty car on a voyage into France, driving towards Germany to see some vineyards and taste local wines. We had stopped off in the Champagne region and visited some of the big names there so we were professionals when it came to the whole wine tour process. First look at the fruit and wonder at how many tons were being harvested. It's autumn here so it is approaching harvest time. Then look at the vats and tanks used to ferment the wine. Make appropriate noises, usually lots of "ooohs", "ahs’’ and the occasional "Wow that’s a lot of wine.". Finally get down to some serious tasting. We had done this in France and especially round the Moet & Chandon vintier.

Which was lucky as our first stop was /www.chandon.com/web/index.cfm" target="_blank">Chandon a subsidiary of the French wine producers. They made sparkling wines which they cannot call champagne but due to the heritage must be the closest thing over here. A tour commenced and although our guide, Nick, was knowledgeable, I was wanting to fill in the bits I knew about from the previous tours. Such as the fact that the bottoms of the bottles are weaker than the rest so if one explodes whilst stacked in the caves it does not destroy all the bottles around it,. . But I remained quiet and provided the appropriate level of "oooh" and "aaah" when required.

They did mention the second fermentation of champagne and how the yeast is extracted, which always reminds me of watching Garth doing the same in his kitchen, wine exploding across the room as he quickly tried to reseal the bottles. The vineyards are less than an hour outside Melbourne so it was 11 am when they finally finished the quick tour and we were ushered into the Green room for tasting of our single glass of Champers. Both of us chose the vintage sparkling and it was good.

We wandered into the shop where there was more tasting, this time with the intention of making us purchase as much wine as possible. Now a clear difference here to France was the attitude of the staff. In France to try is to buy almost, with withering looks from staff if, after a glass, you merely moved onto a new wine without purchasing a bottle immediately. Here they were happy to pour several glasses and continue to do so even if it was obvious that there was no sale in place. We were, of course, very aware that the sun was hanging well below the yard-arm and as such only tasted the free wines. Maybe ten or so. After the tasting we bought a bottle of the vintage and boarded the bus for the next vineyard.

Rochford Wines is a large Vineyard in Yarra and as well as having an extensive vine selection they also play host to concerts and open air movies. They also have an excellent restaurant which was where dinner had been booked. At this station they introduced us to the local Sauvignon Blanc, completely different from the Marlborough Sav Blancs (see my little wine abbreviation there) and ran us through the tasting process. Swirling, sniffing, colour etc. But without the spitting! A couple of tasters later and lunch was served. Again friendly staff who were all too eager to continue to pour drinks for our palates to experience. For those interested Moira had a Barramundi fillet on Asian veggies and I had a rather dry looking piece of pork. After the meal we wandered into the shop, surprise, and got down to some serious tasting. Pinot, sav blanc and some others were quaffed, I like that word, and eventually we decided on a nice red to buy and take with us.

Up next was Yering Station set in picturesque countryside. This satation was acclaimed as being a winner of tourist winery of the year. and again a quick tasting session, this time Pinto Noir, and we were left to our devices in the shop. Again in the large vineyards they had a selection of some outstanding wines although this time, maybe we were tired, we just settled for a cheaper Pinot, Mr Frog, rather than one of the expensive vintages. Just a easy quaffable light wine for the evening.

Finally a family run vineyard Helensd Hill, a smaller vineyard at just 150 acres. They have been producing wine for 20 years and are a fledgling company in the region. They immediately made everyone feel welcome and quickly dispersed Pinot Noir and Sav Blanc for all to taste, comparing the standard wines with vintages. The staff were quick to point out that they were a small and new company and that they had been working hard to produce the wines on offer. We tasted a few wines and during this we also found out that they had been affected by the recent fires. They had lost 20 acres to the fires and their red was being tested to see if the smoke had damaged the grapes beyond the ability to make wine form them. So this year could be a lean year for this vineyard. We decided to buy three bottles of the Sav Blanc, two normal and one vintage. Luckily this came in a gift pack and so was a little cheaper.

After this we headed back to Melbourne, the tour was over and we had spent an excellent day in the country. Melbourne was having a river festival, the Moomba Festival, and there were displays of water ski-ing and wakeboarding on the river Yarra during the day. But laden with bottles we decided that we would visit that another day.

The next day , in fact, was when we found ourselves down by the river. Walking along the banks of the Yarra, there were stalls everywhere highlighting the river flora and fauna. Some were giving away tips on how to save water, Australians are obsessed by the stuff, but this is hardly surprising as they really don't have that much of it. Victoria is in drought conditions and the government are trying to get everyone to limit their usage to 155 litres a day. We even have a small eggtimer in the shower in order to aid us with showering in under 4 minutes. Other stalls were selling food or giving people the chance to win oversized muppet stuffed toys (not endorsed by the Jim Henson workshop I hasten to add). We cruised the banks and then headed for the pub. It’s funny the looks you get whilst sitting in the pub next to a three foot tall kermit the frog!

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