Australia is definitely a unique and surprising place. I admit that before this trip, I had a bit of that stereotypical impression of “the land down-under” being mostly expanses of desert and relentless heat and expected to find mostly warm region red wines. Not so! We tasted as much Pinot Noir and sparkling wine as we did Cabernet.
We began our Australia wine odyssey based in Melbourne, about an hour from the Yarra Valley. Here we visited De Bortoli Wines, Innocent Bystander, and Dominique Portet wineries. The Yarra Valley is known for its cool climate wines, and we got to taste a wide selection of quality wines from each place. Ben Portet, the tenth generation winemaker at Dominique Portet, gave us a good sense of the fascinating history of winemaking in the Yarra Valley.
The next day we traveled to the beautiful Mornington Peninsula, where we met and were hosted by Lindsay McCall of Paringa Estates winery. He really charmed us with his energy and passion, and wined and dined us in style. During the gourmet lunch hosted at the winery restaurant, we tasted 12 wines, all expertly paired with the wonderful food. What an incredible visit that was!
Next stop – Tasmania, for three days of island life. As soon as we walked off the plane at the tiny airport, we knew we were out of the city, out of the heat, and in Pinot Noir country. We visited Jansz Winery, Freycinet Vineyard, Spring Vale Wines, and Morrilla Estate. At each winery we were treated to Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Reisling, Gewurztraminer and Merlot – and a wonderful variety of sparkling wines. Janz was the first in Tasmania to make sparkling wine using the traditional méthod champenoise, and it is the only Tasmanian label solely devoted to sparkling wines. They now have localized their technique and call it Méthode Tasmanoise.
After our Tasmanian adventure, we returned to the mainland and spent a day traveling along the renowned ribbon of Australian highway, the Great Ocean Road and then turned inland to Coonawarra, and spent the final days of our trip in Adelaide, a wonderful coastal city. From there we travelled to the Barossa Valley wine region where we visited Henschke, Yalumba and John Duval wineries. Yalumba is one of the oldest wineries in Australia and is being operated by the sixth generation of family vintners. They are known for their innovation and willingness to try new approaches to winemaking, and were the first winery to introduce Viognier to Australia. John Duval is one of the top Shiraz winemakers in Australia, and, in a note closer to home, he is also one of the winemakers for Long Shadows in Walla Walla, WA.
What an amazing trip this was – this journey “down under.” So packed with wonderful wine experiences, generous, warm and gracious people, unusual terrain, new histories and innovations to hear about and foods to try. Oh, and did I mention the kangaroos, wallabies, kookaburras? The stories of this trip are as big and vast as the continent – it just won’t all fit.