December 2010


December 31 After a session at the gym and brekky we headed
off early ( to escape the heat) for a walk to Granite Island. The
island is accessed via a causeway on foot or by the historic horse
drawn tram. We chose the former because we wanted the exercise and
because the first tram didn’t commence until after 10.30am. The
island is home to a penguin colony and had a fabulous walking track
that circumnavigates the island. As we commenced the walk we
realised that it was not called Granite Island for nothing. It
should have been called Granite and Hurricane island because while
the granite formations and the seascapes were spectacular, the
winds were horrendous. We then took a drive to the Bluff and
Encounter Bay for more photography. We then spent the remainder of
the day lazing about Victor Harbour, visiting the pub for lunch,
doing some shopping, reading and having a nanna nap. We then saw
the NY in at the resort restaurant with a lovely meal accompanied
by local wines.

Awoke after a peaceful night’s sleep in our 19th century
slate cottage to a beautiful cooked brekky sourced from local
ingredients: bacon, free range eggs, vine ripened tomatoes and
mushrooms. We then walked it off with a 45min walk through the
vineyards and around the streets of this lovely historic town. We
checked out and did a last minute tasting of the wines we hadn’t
tried over lunch yesterday. We then headed towards Clare for a
tasting at Tim Knapstein and a look at the soap shed which
specializes in olive oil soaps. Chris was familiar with Knapstein
beer but not the wines and he was pleasantly surprised. While I was
very taken with the rieslings and an odd blend called “Three”
created from sem/Sav & chardonnay grapes. Chris tried some
amazing shirazes, the best he had tried over the last few days of
tasting. We both agreed that the Clare wines were much nicer and
better value than the Barossa. While we only did five wineries in
the whole Clare region, we came away convinced that it is a real
treasure with great scenery, food and wine. Paula kept finding
beautiful old stone buildings — that real South Australian look, so
well preserved out here. Sadly, the McDonalds code of building is
very visible in the newer suburbs and particularly around the golf
courses — lifestyles of the retired and/or pretentious. Less taste
than a Mildura cleanskin accompanied by a vanamei prawn cocktail.
Crabtree, our last stop, was a treat. Not only did we get a chance
to taste in a very small winery — run by Bruce Woods’ brother
Richard — but we got a view of the ‘valley’ from one of its highest
points. The rieslings lived up to Bruce’s promise with floral and
citrus (Chris is calling in lemon zest here) and the honey, steel
and lemon palate. Paula loves the acidity of the young rieslings,
particularly if the sugar is low and the fruit is there. Chris
still likes them after a few years in the bottle and even with a
bit more sugar, but he is still amazed at the berry, cherry and
chocolate palate in the Shiraz (still don’t quite get the ‘mint’
thing) which we found throughout the valley. Richard’s muscat
showed what you could do with fortified, but it was bone dry and
really a cheese and fruit wine more than a dessert wine. Yummy. So
we had to go — maybe Paula’s riesling epiphany will continue in the
Adelaide Hills, but I rather suspect she will find the Nepenthe
sauv blancs making a strong play for renewed allegiance. I might
find a Pinot! We are now safely tucked away in the country club at
Victor Harbour — safe from tomorrow’s 40 degree heat in Adelaide.
The sea breeze is lovely and we got into the bistro for happy hour:
nothing like cheap drinks and fish and chips to keep life smooth.
Paula has fallen asleep and it sounds like the couple next door are
copulating in their jacuzzi; either that or they are watching a
documentary on seal mating. I think I will read for a while and
reflect on travel, wine and locust-removal techniques for the
bonnet of my car. C’est la vie!

After breakfast and a quick clean of the “Ruby suite ” we headed off towards the Clare Valley.

We took a detour through Kapunda, a historic mining town dating back to the 1840s and boasting a fantastic Heritage Trail which commences with a visit to the interpretive museum and then a 10 km drive around some of the historic buildings and places in the town. There were so many beautifully restored houses, churches and public buildings. There were also a number of lovely B&Bs worth a return visit. What a fantastic find!

We commenced our wine tasting tour at the Sevenhill winery, the oldest winery in the area run by the Jesuits. The winery supplies altar wine to churches across Australia but it offers much more. We tasted a few nice rieslings, a verdelho and a few good quality and comparatively cheaper reds. After a six pack purchase we then did battle with the thousands of locusts and headed off for a look through the beautiful church and crypt.

We had booked for lunch at Reilley’s so we only had a little time to check out the township of Clare and one winery. We chose Pikes because of their beautiful rieslings but they had so much more to offer including the unusual savagnan and a crisp Pinot gris. We made a quick purchase which we sent home with free freight. The highlight for Chris was the rather snazzy enotech wine dispenser.

We arrived in Mintaro (not to be confused with Shintaro a Japanese martial arts drama from the 1960s) and easily located Reilly’s (the “town” only has six buildings) which was opposite the Magpie Hotel which had been rebuilt after an illegal still exploded in the 1850s! Around the corner from the cellar door were three gorgeous slate and stone cottages, one of which was Pulford, our accommodation for the night.

The cellar door and restaurant was a 19th Century house with a big shady verandah festooned with grape vines. We were given our table and ordered our Reilly’s wine by the glass and our food. Much of the food is locally sourced, as evidenced by the cottage garden out the back, or from the Adelaide Hills and it was delicious. We started with bread, local olive oil and homemade dukkha followed by pork in prosciutto with lentils and a quince glaze and an antipasto platter with an Australian twist: local cheeses, chutney, cold lamb and kangaroo “wog” meat (metwurst, Paula).

Desserts mainly consisted of home made ice-cream loosely relating to alcohol. This was fine by us, as sparkling Riesling, pinot gris and a nice Grenache rose had left us easy to convince about anything. After two hours, we retired to consider our options (!), with a basket of farmhouse breakfast provisions and the smallest and best value lunch bill in living memory.

A late evening walk around and a qld at the pub left us ready for culture. Unfortunately, Chris chose the biopic “Michael Collins”, thinking Paula would be interested in Irish history. She shamed her forebears after two hours in favour of a Val McDermitt crime thriller, deserting Irish independence for lesbian sex and murder. Well, funny things happen on holidays!

I awoke early ( a holiday habit I am desperate to break) determined that I was going to make up for the huge blunder I had made with the accommodation. I was going to get us a cottage in the vineyards even if it meant doing our money for one night here. I informed Chris of my plans and searched the Internet for some alternate accommodation in the Clare. After an exhaustive search we settled on a night at Reilly’s Retreat, a winery, come restaurant, come B&B. The late 19th century cottages sounded just the ticket. The prospect of a restaurant lunch was also a bonus. I was at peace…

After a light breakfast we headed off on our morning walk through the centre of town and out towards a vineyard about 1.5kms out of town.

It was a beautiful morning and the walk along the tree shaded streets was a great start to the day. From an architect’s perspective Tanunda is a very pretty town with gorgeous houses blending federation and Californian styles set off with equally beautiful gardens. We passed the historic Chateau Tanunda Winery with its lush, green vines and headed out along the Bethany road before turning around and returning through the centre of Tanunda. Another few shops had opened to join those which had opened the day before.

We had already decided that I would do the driving because the Barossa was a Semillon & Shiraz area; not my favourite grapes. We headed towards the Seppeltsfield road and commenced with Whistler, a small family owned vineyard run by winemaker, his retired school teacher wife and another couple. His wife was lovely and the first few tastings showed great promise; a sem/sav and a delicate reisling. Chris then moved through the reds savoring the grapes and the conversation. After a few purchases and some suggestions of other places to visit we headed off.

Torbreck seemed to be at the top of everybody’s list of places to visit more lovers of red. Once we got over the initial shock of the cellar door prices ( only 2 under $25 but most $50 and above) Chris settled in for his second tasting and the promise of some unique blends.

A few of the other cellar door picks along the road were closed so we drove straight to Seppeltsfield, the oldest winery in the area started by a pioneering German family but now owned by Fosters. Set amongst beautiful surroundings and boasting a number of restored 18th Century buildings, it was stunning but also incredibly commercial catering to buses and picnicking tourists. Seppeltsfield is known for its fortified wines so that counted me out until the girl at the counter took pity on me and gave me a glass of their famous red cordial (not recommended for sufferers of ADD). The young pretty blond took a fancy to Chris and took him through the entire range of Sherrys and ports allowing him the chance to reminisce about his parents passion for a pre dinner tipple. I retired bored to the lounge as she gave him a glimpse of the “rare” varieties. After a few purchases and a more suggestions of wineries we headed off in search of lunch.

We arrived at Maggie Beer’s Farm (along with every other tourist) a lovely commercial culinary oasis selling all of Maggie’s products as well as light lunches, wine and offering daily cooking demonstrations. We shared a yummy pate basket beautifully presented and eaten off old fashioned enamel plates and watched the turtles gently glide through the dam. After a mandatory purchase of some of her wonderful products, many of which are not available in supermarkets, we continued our journey along the wine trail. The first winery, Langmeil had been over run by tourist buses so we gave it a miss and headed to Rockford. Rockford is one of the older family wineries but the wines didn’t really appeal to Chris and the arrival of the crowds meant that we could slip out unnoticed without having to make that “polite” purchase.

The last winery on our trail was Charles Melton, a small winery specializing in expensive reds, much like Torbreck. Chris was in red heaven but he sensibly restricted his purchases to the only two bottles under $25.

We finished the evening with a spaghetti bolognaise washed down with a glass of our purchases from the day and planned our attack on the Clare tomorrow.

We headed off from Balranald at about 9am and drove through Mildura and were amazed at the size of the largely commercial vineyards. The countryside was very green and the road in good condition. We were amused by the constant warnings about falling asleep at the wheel but after driving for over 3 hours on a dead straight road I appreciated the value of such warnings. Thank God for Chris’ 50th Birthday soundtrack on the iPod because the Cricket was offering nothing to keep us awake.

Once again we paid homage to the Golden Arches by stopping for a “tick” meal at Renmark before heading into the last hour of our journey.

We arrived at Tanunda and searched for our accommodation. The name “Hall Manor” conjured up images of a small historical cottage in a vineyard, behind a grand old manor house. I pictured a breakfast basket overflowing with local produce, what I got was very different!

We were staying in suburbia and our “suite”(like the other two “suites” ironically all named after rare gemstones) could only be described as an old, fairly rundown flat (although clean) out of back of an equally run down larger 1950s/60s concrete house. The “full breakfast provisions” for THREE days consisted of 4 tiny pkts of cereal, a loaf of homebrand bread in the freezer, small packets of butter and condiments, small bottles of juice and milk and 4 small apples that looked like they had been sitting in the fridge for about a week. The “welcoming bottle of port and chocolates” consisted of two chocolates and a small bottle of decanted port of dubious quality.

I was shattered. The two pictures on the Internet showed the bedroom ( which was large) and the verandah which appeared to promise views across the vineyards but instead looked out on the next soulless “suite” separated only by a screen of pathetic grass matting. I kept apologizing to Chris not just for the lack of judgement but also for extending our stay by an additional night!

We set off into town in the hope of collecting some nice provisions for dinner but alas we were again disappointed by the fact that most of the town (except for Foodland, a Charity clothing shop and a few homemaker shops) was closed for the holidays. With almost all of the restaurants closed, one pub closed and the other almost deserted and offering little excitement by way of culinary delights for dinner, we decided to self cater, falling back on the old favourite, Mexican. We thought we could wash it down with a nice local drop (which we had to purchase over the counter at the aforementioned pub) but alas, it too only brought disappointment. It was the roughest sem/Sav either of us had ever drunk, most ending up down the sink.

We comforted ourselves with “Driving Lessons” and fell into bed awakened sporadically by the local possum colony and gusts of wind that suggested the ghosts of (disappointed ) tourists past.

Paula and Chris together:— After a quick breakfast of toast
with spaghetti/ baked beans and a pack of the car we set off. I took the first stint to Yass. Two and a half hours later we paid homage to the Golden Arches by stopping for coffee and a frappe. I
then waited in a queue that wound its way back into the restaurant (for want of a better word) to gain access to one of only four toilets. As I waited, breathing in the pungent odour of reconstituted sausages, eggs and bacon, I reflected on the fact that this had become another one of those modern Australian travel rituals that was being practised in Maccas all over Australia as a way of bribing children (both young and old) to cope with the next stage of their journey to whatever seaside destination they were heading to before they asked the question dreaded by all traveling parents: “are we there yet?”

With coffee, frappe and Boxing Day
Herald ( half the news content but double the ads ) in hand we
commenced the next stage of the journey to Griffith. It wasn’t long
before the frappe & coffee took effect so we had to make a
short detour at a Rest & Revive stop St Young where some
enterprising local was trying to offload boxes of cherries. In
deference to Dorothea Mackellar we won’t comment on the sweeping
plains because there was almost 1,000 kms of them but it was
extraordinary to drive along the Murrumbidgee in flood, everything
was so green. We felt very proud of the fact that we were so well
prepared for our journey to the point where we had organized both
lunch and dinner, that was until we reached the “fruit fly border”
and realized that most of our foodstuffs had to be disposed of as
toxic waste. We then spent the remainder of the journey on the
lookout for a place that sold salad items that weren’t green. But
alas the only sign of life in any of these towns was a $2 shop in
Griffith (obviously operated by Buddhists) which was selling
discounted Christmas decorations and Tshirts for those beginning
their 2011 Christmas shopping. I took over the wheel and headed to
Hay where we stopped for a bottle of Coke not realizing that in
Hay, Coke was like Grange Hermitage, every drop was precious and
expensive. The drive to Balranald was the most boring part of the
journey; 187kms of flat saltbush punctuated by emus and flooded
billabongs. The Club Motel in Balranald was a welcome sight (
particularly when you looked at the alternatives- the Motel Sturt,
the Caravan park and the Shamrock Hotel.) We injected some cash
into the local economy by having a drink in the Ex Serviceman’s
Club next door ( with the other 6 customers) and were pleasantly
surprised to find evidence of civilization through bottled boutique
beer and Sav Blanc! We finished the Christmas ham for dinner
accompanied by GREEN salad ( sadly our quest for colour came to
nought) and washed down with Hay’s finest bottle of Grange. We went
for a walk through town but suddenly the wind came up; curiously
all was calm in the rest of the town except around us, where the
ghost of Christmas Dinners Past was raising a gale. We didn’t need
aerogard: Paula was knocking the mosses down with gas attacks
reminiscent of the Somme in 1916. Once ventilated, there was
nothing for it but bed. The TV had nothing on except the same
movies that Sydney had a week ago. By Adelaide, we should be able
to enjoy the second series of West Wing on its first run. Time
zones are amazing!

December

by Gary Johnson

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels singing overhead? Hark.