Sunday, April 17, 2005

Australia: Day Four

...and the saga continues...

Friday, October 10, 2003
(Lots of links here folks. Be sure to check out as many as possible.)

I woke up after the first real sleep I'd had so far on this trip. My bed at the Adelaide Hilton may very well be the most comfortable in the world. It was unbelievably welcoming. Although I probably only got about 6 hours sleep it was perhaps the most rewarding and restful sleep of all time. I was in frickin' Australia on the top floor of the Hilton overlooking Adelaide with the ocean in the background. What could be better? My room windows were cranked open and the breeze was absolutely marvelous. What a glorious day! It was slightly overcast, but an absolutely beautiful day. We had to meet in the hotel lobby at 8:00AM. I was up with plenty of time and decided to get a jump on the day. This was the perfect opportunity to get some laundry done seeing as I still had another night. I didn't know if I'd have a chance to do laundry, so once I figured out that it was indeed possible I jumped at the chance to pay way too much for someone to wash and fold my boxers and other dainties. I took a glorious shower in the world's best shower, got dressed, and sprang out the hotel entrance to address the world.

There was a greenspace across from the hotel where there were parked a few "Road Trains". Awesome! Road trains are the mega trucks (triples and quadruples and such) that you see in all the Aussie movies. Apparently there was some sort of trucking convention at the hotel. Cool! I walked around the immediate area of the hotel and then returned to the Adelaide Central Market. It was early but it was already hoppin'. I found a friendly looking booth and ordered a meatpie and a double short black (espresso). Good meatpie, great frickin' coffee! They really know how to make great coffee in Australia! I then found a baker's stall and ordered a small crusty sourdough loaf, and two still-warm croissants (one chocolate). Damn!!! I've never had a croissant so fresh or so fabulous. I don't want to sound like a possessed foodie, but I found Australian dairy to be far superior to just about anything I've had. This includes the butter that went into my skullf'in good croissants. I saved the sourdough loaf for the day ahead. I enjoyed the sights, smells, and sounds of the Central Market for a while and then returned to hotel to meet my comrades in vino. Jan, fearless president of the Australian Wine Bureau, had business to attend to and would not be joining us. We were to split into two groups this day to explore the McLaren Vale (my favorite Aussie wine region). Philippa would take Shayn, Eric, Brittney, Nichole, and Tim with her in Group 1. I would be traveling with Sarah, Trudy, Jordan, and Nathan. We got into our respective SUV's and met our drivers. We had the most fantastic driver of all time. Her name is Karen. She was one of the greatest parts of the trip for me. She's kind, funny, ballsy, and all in all just an amazingly great person.

One of our companions was not feeling too well from the night before (we have been drinking non-stop for Chrissakes). We stopped a drug store to pick up some Berocca. Berocca are these amazing effervescent orange-flavored tablets that you drop in water and drink like Alka Seltzer. Berocca, however, contain a megadose of vitamins and other goodies. They are highly recommended for hangovers or just to start your day off with a boost. They're hugely popular in Australia. They even taste good. As far as I can tell they're illegal in this country. Damn! Anyhoo...Karen began to drive us to our first winery of the day. We arrived at Hugo Wines on Elliot Flat Road in the gorgeous McLaren Vale. We were greeted by proprietor John Hugo. He was very kind and down to earth (typically Australian). We tasted through his wines and he also gave us a ride through and around his property. We stopped near the top of a hill and took in the glorious valley. It was stunning. No one in our group but me had seen a kangaroo in the wild yet. Some asked if there are any kangaroos in the area and he replied that there are tons of them...just not for us to see apparently. The kangaroos are very good at playing hide and seek from humans. We also had our introduction to "Patterson's Curse" or "Salvation Jane". Patterson's Curse is a beautiful purple flowering weed that is taking over much of the vineyard land in South Australia. It's gorgeous to look at, but a giant headache for winemakers. We returned to Hugo Wines' Cellar Door and took a good look at some of the vines. There were some glorious old bush vines that had to be pushing at least 50 years. We bid farewell to John Hugo and his wife and Karen drove us to our next destination...Kangarilla Road Winery.

Kangarilla Road Winery is a nice little gem in the McLaren Vale. Our tour was less hands on, but a simple tasting. The property is gorgeous and the blooming spring flowers were a sight to behold. Kangarilla Road is one of the very few Australian wineries that has an notable quantity of zinfandel planted. They make two zins and they're both good, but the McLaren Vale is utterly fantastic! Most wineries have a dog, but Kangarilla Road has a bunch of the friendliest canines you'll ever encounter. There was a very excitable large puppy in the tasting room with us. If anything, at least stop by the winery to pet the dogs. ;) They're great!

We were moving ahead of schedule so the fabulous Karen drove us to Wirra Wirra Winery. Wirra Wirra was not in our schedule but we stopped by to taste anyway. Our other group had already been there earlier. Karen had mentioned that it was one of her favorite wineries. We entered the Cellar Door (Tasting Room) and sampled all of their wines plus a selection of some fantastic local cheeses and charcuterie. Good stuff. I bought a couple bottles for Karen and presented them to her as a "thank you" gift for hauling our misfit asses around.

Our next stop was d'Arenberg Winery. I was excited. I think that d'Arenberg is one of the greatest wineries in Australia if not the world. I had previously met winemaker Chester Osborn in Michigan a few years ago (on his birthday coincidentally). Chester's an awesome guy and even a greater winemaker. We arrived at the winery and it was beautiful, as expected. The experience, unfortunately, was somewhat of a letdown. We were seated for lunch by the dining room manager and met a representative of the McLaren Vale wine district. The manager seemed a little "put out" and acted snobbishly as if he were thinking "Who are these young kids getting a free lunch?". The lunch was great (off the menu). I think I had lamb chops. The experience was fine, but perhaps it bugged us because everyone else we had encountered was so entirely welcoming and gracious. We moved over to the tasting room and tasted through several fantastic wines. Unfortunately neither Chester or his dad d'Arry were at the winery that day. They were in Adelaide for the "Taste" festivities. I think our experience would have been better if either of them were there. But at least I got to visit one of my favorite wineries.

We again had some extra time and since Shirvington Winery wouldn't see us (Karen called for us, but they told us they were too small and not to visit) we ventured to Kay Brothers Amery Vineyards. Shirvington Shiraz is one of my favorite wines, but they're very small and cultish. It's almost like an "Area 51 of Wine". We had no appointment for Kay Brothers Amery Vineyards, but we took our chances. The setting was breathtaking. The Cellar Door is perched atop a small hill. I took some beautiful pictures here. I was able to get a few pictures of the vineyards with Salvation Jane, cows, and a frickin' RAINBOW in the background. How sweet is that? We stepped inside the Cellar Door and none other than General Manager Colin Rayment was there to pour for us. He was most accomidating, friendly, and down to earth (as you'll find with most Australians). The wines were INSANELY good! I love selling them in the store because the wines are so damn good, but I also had a great experience. The winery is moderately obscure, but cultish to those in the know. Australian winemakers are some of the most humble people you'll ever meet. You may have tasted the best wine you've ever had in your life and you tell the winemaker and they simply respond "No worries." They work hard and take pride in their work, but they never flaunt it or show ego. Colin is one of these great souls.

Our next stop was Yangarra Park Winery. Karen had a good map, but had some difficulty finding the place. It was hidden...really hidden. You see...Yangarra Park is owned by Kendall Jackson...they're kind of private and have LOTS and LOTS of money. I was a little hesitant before arriving thinking that it would be a boring mega-corporate affair. There was absolutely no sign marking the property. We figured out that we were in the right place when we saw the electric fence guarding property in the middle of nowhere. Only KJ would do that out here. There were lots of trees so we couldn't see into the property either. We drove up the drive slowly and were greeted by a couple of vineyard managers. They were again very kind and down to earth and one of them was hot (as the girls seemed to think). The head vineyard manager took us for a rough and tumble drive through the vineyards and showed us experimental rows with different vine-training and some colossaly thick old bush vines. It was pretty cool. We finished our drive around the property and we were greeted with the most beautiful surprise ever... We were greeted by a roaring fire next to a pond on the property. There was a picnic table with a beautiful arrangement of cheeses, bread, and such as well as their wines to taste. There was absolutely no pressure. Taste what you want and enjoy yourself. They figured that we'd had a long day and they wanted us to enjoy ourselves casually. The fire was grand and they were baking "damper bread" for us right in the fire. Great stuff! They then asked if we'd like to fish the pond. They brought out some fishing rods and let us fish the pond for yarbies. It was so relaxing that none of us wanted to leave. We were having the time of our lives. They had a great dog with lots of energy. We all had fun playing fetch with him but I think Nathan was especially taken. It couldn't get any more casual, fun, and relaxing. None of us caught a yarbie and we didn't care (I somehow managed to get my line caught in an overhead power line, but eventually coaxed my lure back to earth). We certainly wouldn't have minded staying all night, but we had further obligations. It was grey and misty, but absolutely perfect. On the surface it looks like the mega-corporate KJ had never heard of their own property...that is very refreshing as it is one of my best memories. Thanks Yangarra Park!

Karen drove us back to Adelaide as night was approaching so that we could attend the Taste of the Best fete at the Adelaide Showgrounds. The "Taste of the Best" was a giant wine tasting where the winners of the Royal Adelaide Wine Show were featured. There were thousands of wines in a room almost the size of 747 hangar. I've never seen so many open wines in my life. Spit buckets were actually giant garbage cans spaced about the room filled with saw dust. At this tasting you can take any bottle you want and pour as much as you want. It was so big an expansive that it was really overwhelming. It was fairly crowded and the line to the top award winning wines was pretty long. We as a group decided it was just too much to take in and took some taxis downtown. Our cab driver who didn't speak much English (apparently it's an international rule for cab drivers not to speak the language of the country they are driving in) couldn't find the Earl of Aberdeen Pub (now the Coopers Ale House). We stopped and Shayn went into a place for directions. It was a strip-club. That was pretty funny. We drove around a bit and decided to get out because we knew we were in the vicinity. We eventually found the Earl of Aberdeen and stepped inside. We were supposed to meet Jan to watch the first World Cup Rugby match of the Australia Wallabies vs. Argentina. It was packed! It was like the Gaelic League or the Old Shillelagh on St. Patrick's Day. They even had sod laid down on the floor in one of the rooms. It was a raucus good time. I had several pulled pints of Coopers Stout (YUM!). Jan was there with friends and colleagues and we were just having the grandest time. Eventually Jan, Brittney, and myself decided that we should probably get something to eat. The formal dining room at the pub was shutting down for the evening so we had to make other plans. We walked outside and found a simple Balinese restaurant next door called Pondok Bali (310 Pultney St.). I ordered Balinese spring rolls for the table, a Singha (beer) and a whole fried barramundi (fish) with spicy dipping sauce and rice. Damn fine! The place was not overly complicated but the owner was very friendly and the barramundi was memorable. You'll notice that there is a very large Asian/Indonesian influence and presence in Australia.

Nathan walked by and noticed us and sat down. We talked for a bit and Nathan and Brittney and I decided to walk back to hotel. Brittney and I bought Jan's dinner (it's the least we could do as she made the whole free trip to Australia possible) and the three of us headed back to the Hilton. We stopped at a gas station for snacks and such. I think I bought a milk and a Cherry Ripe (Cherry Ripe is one of the biggest selling confections of's pretty darn good). We strutted off with our wares and made our way to the entrance of the Adelaide Hilton. We said goodnight and went off to our respective rooms. My clothes were laundered and pressed and hanging in my closet. Great frickin' hotel (even if Paris Hilton's family owns it)! I drank my milk, brushed my teeth and crashed in the world's most comfortable bed. We had another big day in store for us tomorrow...

Until the next time...G'day
To be continued...



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