Wednesday, October 13
Thanks to a very active day yesterday, we both collapsed into bed and woke up at our regular time of 7 without any difficulty. After a quick cup of instant coffee (blah), half an energy bar and a banana, we headed out for our 7:40 pickup. Steve, our driver and guide for the Boutique Wine Tour, was a very funny, knowledgeable and entertaining fellow. We couldn’t have asked for a better person for our first tour.
The Mercedes van held 14 travellers from around the world: San Diego, England, Japan, Austria, Toronto and, yes, another couple from Victoria. They were a great group and became ”more greater” as we tasted more wines.
The Hunter Valley is about 2 hours from Sydney, but Steve made the trip fly by with his funny stories and details about wine and the development of the wine industry in the Hunter Valley. In 1978, there were only 6 wineries, today there are 140. Many of the wineries are internationally recognized. We went to three: Iron Gate, Ernest Hill Estates (our favourite) and Samantha’s Vineyard.
Iron Gate reminded us of a small version of Mission Hills with a lovely tasting room and some wines we’d never heard of: Semillon (fruity white wine somewhat like a Cabernet Sauvignon) and Verdelho (another crisp white with hints of lemon). What we ended up buying was a bottle of Milenio which is a blend of one-third Verdelho and two-thirds Semillon. It’s going on the cruise with us! Their website is http://www.irongateestate.com/1.2/index.php.
Our favourite wines were at Ernest Hill Estates (http://www.ernesthillwines.com.au/). Another family run winery, what it lacked in ambience was made up by the amazing wines they offered. We liked four wines, but realized we couldn’t make it through that much before we board the cruise ship in three days. So, we narrowed down our selection to a rosé called “Crackling Rosé” and a Shiraz called “Shareholder’s Shiraz.” After two wineries and dozens of tastings, we stumbled into the van to head off for lunch.
Lunch was at the Hunter Valley Gardens ‘ Cellar Restaurant where Victor enjoyed Duck with a glass of Verdelho, and Joanne had Snapper with Ratatouille and a glass of Shiraz. We lounged and enjoyed a table outside with a warm breeze and lots of greenery around us. What a great way to spend our first full day in Australia!
The final winery, Savannah’s Estate Winery (http://www.savannahestate.com.au/) was a bit rushed. We were our host’s third tour of the day; he had just finished a tasting with a group of 40, and a group of 10 arrived minutes after we moseyed up to the bar. We all felt sorry for the poor guy who looked a bit frazzled. Undaunted, we gave it our all and sampled 10 wines ... we settled on a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc that we’ll likely put on ice when we get into the hot weather in Cairns.
On the drive home, Steve popped a DVD in and we learned about the creatures in Australia and another about the flora and fauna in neighbouring countries like Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. All of us were deliciously weary, have made new friends and look forward to learning more about Australian wines.