Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tasmania


What a perfect island! It is like a small perfect world with mountains, lakes, rivers, hills, ocean all around, and very friendly people. Unfortunately I arrived in Hobart 4 hours late, because I missed my plane in Melbourne – they should announce to non-Australians that the time changes by 30 minutes from Adelaide to Melbourne. However, I didn’t realize this and showed up to the gate as the plane was leaving – with my luggage (which I believe is illegal). Regardless, I was forced to wait and catch up on emails in the airport. When I called my mother, she reminded me that the universe must have had a reason for the delay. Still not sure what is was….. but I must trust in the greater reason for all things.


Anyway, when I did arrive in Hobart I received a very small car with a manual shift on the left. At first I thought I wouldn’t be able to drive it, but then I managed quite well and grew proud of myself. After 3 weeks in Australia, with the first day of driving into ongoing traffic twice and using my windshield wipers as blinkers at least 20 times, I was now driving a left manual shift. Quite an accomplishment! The weather was a nice 74 degrees -- a big relief from the 103 in Adelaide.


I headed north toward the Tamar Valley via Coal River Valley, which is just a few miles from the airport and known for pinot noir. I passed many wineries but had decided to stop at the Pooley Winery in Cooinda Vale, so I kept driving. It was very charming country side with hills, sheep, vineyards, and glimpses of the ocean. I stopped at the visitor’s center in Richmond – a charming little town – but the man there didn’t have any information on the wineries. Disappointing. I kept driving and eventually found Pooley, but even though the signs said it was open, there was no one around. I kept knocking on the doors, but no response.


Since that was the last winery on my route, I decided to keep driving in the hope that I could catch a winery in the Tamar Valley before it closed. Only a 2 hour drive from Hobart, I managed to reach Josef Chromy Winery at a few minutes to 5, but it was closed. Feeling dejected, I made my way to the Best Western in Launceston and was greeted by the friendly owner who suggested I have dinner at Luck’s downtown if I wanted to taste local wines. I followed her advice and had a lovely dinner of Flinder’s Island lamb with tastes of two pinots – provided by the owner. He explained to me that Tasmania has much vintage variation – just like Burgundy – and therefore gave me a 2006 pinot noir from the Tamar Valley, which was quite tart, tannic, and thin…and then treated me to a glass of (ironically – the place I had tried to visit) 2005 Pooley pinot noir which was big, bold, fruity, earthy, and complex. I decided to buy a glass of the Pooley to go with my lamb and it was a perfect match.


The next morning I drove to Bay of Fires Winery (owned by Constellation) and was treated quite well and allowed to taste the 2002 Arras and 2003 Bay of Fires sparkling. The first was elegant and crisp whereas the latter was more yeasty in style. The most amazing wines were the rieslings, which I didn’t even known were grown in Tasmania. These were quite electrifying with sharp and very aromatic flavor of lime and kiwi. Quite different and pleasing with cleansing acids. Next was Dalrymple Vineyards where I had a wonderful earthy complex pinot noir and bought 2 shirts - -since the winery had just been purchased by Hill-Smith (owners of Yalumba and Jansz). I had a wonderful time and was also invited to investigate the sauvignon blanc vineyard with its different clones and view of the Bass Strait.


Next stop was Jansz Winery known for its wonderful sparkling wines, and was co-run by Roederer from Champagne for a few years, but is now owned by Hill-Smith. Here I was able to learn more about the soil, climate, and unique meso-climates in the vineyard. The NV wines here are a great value, and the vintages wines are aged a minimum of 4 years on the lees! Very lovely! Wish I would have had time to stop at Pipers Brook next door, but had to head back for my plane with hopes to visit a Coal Valley Winery on the way.


Managed to stop at MeadowBank Estate, which is a beautiful winery close to the airport with a restaurant and lovely bay view. I tasted through 10 wines and was quite impressed. My favorite was the Grace Elizabeth wooded chardonnay 2004 with layers of lemon, tart apple, steel, flint, and light oak. Also enjoyed the two pinot noirs. It was difficult to leave Tasmania – and I definitely look forward to visiting again in the future.

Margaret River - Western Australia


I want to go back here again! I didn’t have enough time – only 2 days, and it rained one day, but this is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It has pure white sandy beaches (see photo), a warm turquoise ocean, and over 120 wineries close by. What is not to love? I flew into Perth and drove 3.5 hours south to Margaret River which is on a peninsula in the south part of Western Australia and surrounded by water on 3 sides (the Antarctic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and Geographe Bay).


First stop was the famous Leeuwin Estate Winery with its concert grounds and upscale restaurant. They treated me well and I was able to taste through all of the wines, including the world famous 2001 Chardonnay, which was rated #1 Chardonnay in the World by Wine Spectator at 98 points. The wine was amazing. It actually felt alive in my mouth! – full of fruit, well balanced acid and oak, and richly concentrated with an incredibly long finish. Next stop was Cape Mentelle (owned by LVMH) where I fell in love with their sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. Later I was told that Margaret River is known for its varietal integrity – and I believe this is true. Each wine exhibited the extreme essence of its fruit, with very little interference from oak, ML, or other additions. It was pure and exquisite.


The best visit was Ashbrook Estate where I met with owner/winemaker, Tony Devitt, who showed me the vineyard, winery, and let me taste from tanks as well as bottle. I was able to learn all about the fascinating climate and soil of Margaret River, with a focus on chardonnay – their specialty. In addition, I got to taste his Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (quite fabulous) and Shiraz, which was elegant and well-balanced. In fact, I became quite entranced with Shiraz from Margaret River by the end of the visit because it was more similar to the Northern Rhone style with lower alcohol, good acid, moderate oak, and complex fruit. The cooler climate of Margaret River delivers a very different Australian shiraz experience.


That evening I splurged and checked into the fabulous Bunker Bay Quay West Resort (a tip from Colin) and wished I had more time to stay. It is a very posh place on the Geographe Bay with white sandy beaches and very elegant rooms with an aromatic spa. I dined in the restaurant and watched the sunset over the ocean while eating fresh whiting and a glass of Margaret River chardonnay (Juniper Crossing 2005) – sometimes life is just so good! I indulged in a walk on the beach before dinner and after breakfast and took a vow that I would return to such a lovely location. As I was checking out, it started to rain – quite hard – and I worried about the ongoing harvest.


Driving north, I stopped at Capel Vale (suggested by Tony) and tasted through (spitting of course) 10 of their wines. Still having a hard time believing that Australia doesn’t charge for tastings. Became entranced with their 2005 Pemberton Pinot Noir with a fruity cherry nose and gamey finish, so I bought it to take to a BBQ back in McClarenVale on Saturday night. They were very appreciative of such a delightful pinot in shiraz country – and it opened quite beautifully into a fragrant fruity wine. Unfortunately, it is only available at the cellar door, but quite an excellent value at $27.


As I got closer to Perth, I stopped at Peel Estate (also suggested by Tony) and had a wonderful visit with winemaker Will Nairn who introduced me to his huge and flavorful wines and is the maker of the best and most authentic zinfandel I tasted in Australia. Will was a lot of fun and I enjoyed talking with him and seeing the cellar. Harvest was in full process with tanks of fermenting grapes. His shiraz was truly amazing, and I have never tasted such a unique wine as the wooded chenin blanc – both of which I took home with me.


Arriving in Perth one hour before sunset, I had two strong desires – one to see downtown Perth and the other to see the sunset over the ocean. Since the freeways went easily towards downtown, I did this first and was quite impressed. However, after checking on the rates at a cheaper hotel, I decided I would take my chances and drive toward the setting sun and the Indian Ocean. Thirty minutes later, I found myself in Freemantle where I saw an oyster restaurant on the beach. Parking the car, I first took a short walk on the lovely white sand beach and then headed into the restaurant to order oysters and a beer. They tasted wonderful, and I asked the waitress if there was an inexpensive hotel near-by. She suggested Cottlesloe – so I drove 5 minutes up the road and through 2 round-abouts to find a delightful little town right on the edge of the ocean in the midst of a festival with beach sculptures and music. I saw a hotel sign above a bar/restaurant with a great rock band and decided to check it out. Fortunately, they had one room left with an ocean view, so I took it. A little dilapidated, but I had a balcony and a bottle of Ashbrook sauvignon blanc to toast the last descent of the sun with the great music flowing upwards from downstairs. Later I went to look for a restaurant, but found a great take-out fish place and couldn’t resist the catch of the day with more of my Ashbrook. Lovely, lovely day….I want to go back to Western Australia.

Barossa - Greenock Creek Winery


This was the third time I had visited the Barossa - -the first time in 1995 when I went to Yalumba, Wolf Blass, and Penfolds. Then again in 2003 when I visited Wolf Blass again – for the whole day -- as well as Penfolds Grange near Adelaide and Rockford. This time, I went to a small winery that I hadn’t heard of in the U.S., but apparently is a cult winery in Australia -- called Greenock Creek. In fact, while in Rutherglen I had someone recommend I visit because he said “the wine will change your life.” I think he was right. After asking around, Collin was able to get my Uncle Gary and I an appointment with the assistant winemaker on a very hot day (over 100 degree F). We toured the vineyard and winery, and it seemed quite similar to Henschke in terms of fermenting in the big cement tanks (but no use of wax). They had sold out of everything within a few weeks of releasing their wine, so we felt very fortunate that he let us taste out of barrel. The wines were truly amazing – huge, velvety, and very concentrated. I will never forget the shiraz which was thick and black in my glass and tasted like chocolate raspberries with white pepper. It was truly mind-blowing. Vineyards are all dry-farmed -- as is obvious in this picture of a dusty vineyard on a 103 degree day in March.

Adelaide Hills


It actually snows in Adelaide Hills in the winter time in Australia, because it is a higher elevation north of the town of Adelaide. It is very beautiful and filled with charming little towns. The main winery I visited here was called The Lane where the owner was kind enough to give us a tour of his state of the art equipment. It was brand-new and spotless with an amazing basket press and a mistral which is a windblower that sorts the grapes. He also had his own nitrogen generator, Mueller stainless barrels that rolled on their own racks for lees contact and some fascinating tall cylinder stainless tanks for white wines which he called bullets. We focused primarily on sauvignon blanc and pinot gris, because that is what the Adelaide Hills is known for. However, we also tasted 3 of his shirazes out of barrel and I was amazed at how wonderful they were – big, concentrated, but with a very nice acid. He used terms like “dead ants” and “boot polish” to describe the wine, thought I would have said “spicy dark chocolate” and “anise.”
Adelaide Hills is also known for pinot noir, but he didn’t make any. However, I tasted a wonderful Adelaide Hills pinot noir at Henschke with spicy dark cherry, medium acid, and a long finish. Very delightful.

Eden Valley - Henschke Winery

Eden Valley is a small appellation right next to Barossa, but is hillier and considered cooler in climate. One of the most famous wineries in Australia is here - -Henschke. They are known for their very famous Hill of Grace vineyard with its 150 + year old shiraz grapes that create a wine that is rich, dark and chocolately. I met with Pru, the viticulture manager and she described the farming processes in Hill of Grace. I also had a wonderful tour of the winery and tasted through the wines that were available, but Hill of Grace had already sold out at $350 per bottle. The winery is quite amazing with some of the original old fermentation tanks which they still coat in wax each year before fermenting.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Clare Valley




I left McClaren Vale at 8am on Tuesday morning and drove north towards Clare Valley. They told me the trip would only take about 2 hours, but I got lost in Adelaide and didn’t arrive in Clare until 11am – just in time for my second appointment with the Annie’s Lane winemaker. He let me taste 6 different Rieslings from different vintages and terroirs – which were quite fascinating. We went through the complete winemaking process, but they were unable to show me the winery because the wine is made at Blass in the Barossa. Transporting the wine to another processing location is quite common for larger wineries in Australia. The vineyards were also off limit, because they were much further up the hill.




The next visit was CrabTree across the street, which is a small boutique winery specializing in riesling and tempranillo. Colin recommended that I stop by here and called ahead so they were expecting me. I was thrilled to be able to talk with the owners and winemaker and was able to see the Riesling vineyards and winery. They explained that reason Clare was able to achieve the distinctive and appealing lime note was not because of the soil, but because of the higher altitude and cool evenings. I really enjoyed tasting through the wonderful wines and talking with the very friendly owners.

Wine Tasting in McClaren Vale


Since my relatives (Uncle Gary and Aunt Marilyn) live in McClaren Vale, I have spent the most time visiting wineries and tasting in this region. It is just 30 minutes south of Adelaide and quite close to the ocean. There are lovely vineyards on the hillsides and big gum trees, as well as small charming towns and the ocean with white sand beaches near by. Quite an enjoyable place to live.


On Sunday afternoon, I had an interview at Noons and was able to tour the vineyards and winery. A very special small winery with an allocated wine list. I was very impressed with the dry-farmed Grenache vineyard from the 1930’s. They are also using biodynamic techniques. Grapes are hand-harvested and the wine is punched down by hand in small open-topped vats and then pressed in an old barrel press. They primarily use French Oak for aging, and top up frequently rather than use gas. So the whole process is very natural, and the wines are amazing Grenache/shiraz blends.


I also had a nice tour of Tintara, which is much larger but still utilizes large mechanical basket presses for their high-end reds. They have a very impressive winery with new stainless fermentors on stakes so they can load and empty more easily. The oak program is both French and American and depends on the brand. I was able to taste the excellent Eileen Hardy Shiraz which is their top wine from the finest grapes with 2 years in French oak. It was powerful yet elegant, and filled with concentrated fruit and spice. A magnificent wine.


Other wineries and vineyards I visited in McClaren Vale included Pirramima, Pertaringa, Scarpatoni, Middlebrook and tasted an Amarone from Vassarelli. I found the old vine Grenache at Pertaringa to be quite exceptional and bought a bottle to take home.
Uncle Gary and Aunt Marilyn made it possible for me to pick grapes at their friend Michael's vineyard. We picked shiraz and merlot, and then had a wonderful BBQ. The following week, we met again for an elegant dinner with some very amazing Australian wines, including the Amarone.

Kangaroos in McClaren Vale


On Sunday, I drove to Uncle Gary and Aunt Marilyn’s house in McClaren Vale. They have an 80 acre ranch just outside the own on the hills above the vineyards. The nearest wineries are Wirra Wirra and Noon’s. Gary and I spent the afternoon wine tasting and then went 4-wheel driving on the property in search of kangaroos. I was amazed at how many we saw – at least 15 that evening but they are difficult to catch on camera (see video & photo). To date, I have now seen at least 40 kangaroos on their property – some are probably the same ones. There is a mother and baby that live near the water hole, and a huge male with a harem of females and babies up on the hill side. These are the blue kangaroos of South Australia and are quite amazing creatures. They actually hop and box – just like on the cartoons.

Festival and Fun in Adelaide

I flew from Melbourne to Adelaide on Wednesday evening, Feb. 27 and spent the next 2 days at the University of South Australia doing research. Since festival was going on, I got to experience some of the wonderful exhibits and music. On Friday night we saw the light show and dance on North Terrace and had a nice party at Armando’s. Saturday, I picked grapes in McClaren Vale and attended a Harvest BBQ in the morning and afternoon, then returned to a BBQ at Larry and Janet’s house in Adelaide. A long fun day of eating and drinking incredible wines.

Larry and Janet were incredibly kind to let me stay 3 nights at their house. Plus my cousins, Kyra and Chris, let me crash for 2 nights at their place -- and treated me to a wonderful night at the Australian Dance Company's Green Giselle. Truely talented and amazing dancers. In addition, kind Uncle Gary and Aunt Marilyn put up with me for 5 nights at their ranch in McClaren Vale with all of the hopping kangaroos. I am truly blessed with good friends and family support during my visit to Australia.