Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Yarra Valley

After a week where I was so busy that I felt like I had accomplished nothing after each day was done, I took a 180 on the responsibility scale and it all started at happy hour.

Friday night we (Richard, Don, Dee, Suzy and I) went straight from work to the Union Pub on Chapel Street in Windsor. We secured the couches by the fire and set up for the long haul. Random food selections and many collective pints of Draught later, (yep, that's a capital D, as in Carlton Draught, the local beer that is revered/disdained a bit like Coors is in the states) we decided that the plan for Saturday was to do some touring of the Yarra Valley wine country.

Questionable judgment led me to be taken back to Richard and Dee's apartment (we had to get a taxi to there anyway, why didn't I just keep going home?!), where I stayed up chatting until god-knows-what hour and then proceeded to crash on the air mattress, where I froze because nobody has central heat here. At some point, I made my way into the lounge room and slept on the too-short couch, which was much more comfortable even though I had to scrunch myself up the whole time. (Note to self, find taller friends.) But, I survived, and with Saturday brought a brand new adventure.

We started with a quick breakfast at Babble, where I had the egg and bacon sandwich. Quite literally, just egg, bacon and bread. Kinda hard to screw up. It hit the spot though, and so we meandered our way into Prahran Market to pick up the week's fruits and veggies.

Shopping complete, we headed out of town. The Yarra Valley is Victoria's oldest vineyard region, consisting of over 50 wineries, and is located about an hour to the east of Melbourne's CBD.

According to the brochure, "Considered one of the finest cool climate wine districts of the world, the Yarra Valley specializes in sparkling wines, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Equally impressive are the full-bodied Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon styles."

Since I know thismuch about wine, I let Richard and Dee make the decisions. (This was easy because they were driving.) Our first stop, Punt Road. This was a smallish operation, with friendly staff who were being completely monopolized by some German tourists. Psh, tourists. We didn't spend too much time there.

Next stop, Domaine Chandon. Domaine Chandon was established in 1986 by Mo√ęt & Chandon, (the champagne people) who brought their French grapes over to the Yarra Valley. Also known as Green Point Wines, they produce sparkling and still wine varieties (the still are under the Green Point label). I've never been a champagne fan, but their blanc blanc (I think that is what it was called) was really good. I bought a Sauvignon Blanc, another first for me, since I am a red wine person at heart. Needless to say, this was the biggest winery of the day, with the most extensive grounds. I would really like to see what this is like in the summer!

Next up, Badger's Brook, which had some very nice, light wines, the vintner serving the wine, and footy on in the background. A completely different experience. But, since we were able to chat him up a bit more, we learned that the reason everyone is moving away from corks (They all use screw-tops! It seems so barbaric!) is because the quality of the cork has been decreasing over the years (due to over-harvesting, he thinks) and since there is no way to prove that your wine went bad because of bad corks (could have also been bad oak, human error, etc.) they just started cutting out the cork issue all together. Seems a bit sketchy, but hey, I'm not going to be cellaring this stuff anyway, so I am not too concerned.

Riverstone Estate was our next stop, where the brochure touted "beautiful views from an exceptional bluestone tasting house". Note to self, when they talk more about the setting than the wine, there is a reason. The house was beautiful, the view was exceptional, the wine was icky. The locals running the tasting room must have known it, too, since they weren't trying too hard to sell it.

The sun was starting to set back behind the hills as we made our way to Tarra Warra. This place was completely out of context, with a big, modern concrete building that housed the tasting room, a cafe, and an art gallery. Turns out they only had two varieties of Tarra Warra wine, and the rest were called Tin Cow. I'm not sure, but a name like Tin Cow doesn't really inspire confidence in me. Turns out I was right, since the sullen tasting room attendant told us that the pinot grapes had been planted too close to the eucalyptus and had contaminated them with a minty flavor. Instead of scrapping the whole block of grapes, they made it into some kind of blush. Eww.

Last in our loop was Yering Station, the first of the wines that I actually recognized, and the first of the vineyards planted in Victoria, way back in 1838. That's ancient history out here. Well, the time to get it right made a difference, because this was my second-favorite winery of the day. (I'm sure that had nothing to do with the fact that it was last and I had tasted my way through five other wineries. That's definitely not the reason.) The setting was beautiful, the people were friendly and knowledgeable, and the wine was great. I ended up really liking four, but buying only the Sauvignon V... I can't remember the name. It was French, and a word I'd never seen before. Good though!

Completely exhausted, we headed back to Melbourne. Soon after, I made my way home and fell into my bed and slept for practically 12 hours. (Guess I really was tired.) It couldn't have been a better day though, so I was content. (I'll find taller friends next week.)

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