Being 10,000 miles away from your family on a consultancy assignment has its good moments as well as bad, and sometimes you just have to go with the flow. So when my fellow away-from-home-and-family consultants Andy and Tony told me they were planning a wine-tasting weekend in the vineyards of Orange, it was a case of when in Rome….
Andy and especially Tony are pretty serious wine drinkers. Over the past few weeks they have toured four different wine regions around Sydney and Melbourne. The plan was pretty simple – leave work at 5pm prompt on Friday, drive the 250km north-west to Orange stopping for some food on the way. Stay at a motel to keep the costs down. A wine tour booked for Saturday, a restuarant on Saturday evening. One more winery on Sunday morning then back to Sydney.
To save costs, we had opted for a Family room at the Mid-City Motor Lodge. Opening the door to our room after the long drive to Orange, it was clear that luxury was not on the agenda. One double bed and two small singles, squeezed into not enough space. A bathroom with not much in the way of comfort. Threadbare towels. Still, you get what you pay for. And with the clock striking midnight after a long week at work and a longer drive, there was not much discussion – good or bad, as we climbed wearily into our beds.
Saturday morning awoke cold and foggy. “A sure sign of a good day to come”, said Andy assuredly. A hearty breakfast and decent walk later and it was time to meet our tour guide.
OK, so to be honest there’s a bit of a tale behind our ‘decent walk’. Leaving our breakfast cafe, we decided to head for the Tourist Information office to get some info on the region and its wineries. “No worries” I said, flashing my newly acquired Sony Experia smartphone (well, we are working for a mobile phone company and it’s on loan to me). “I’ve got satnav on this thing, I’ll just look up the tourist information office and follow the directions.” So, 45 minutes later – via the park where the satnav guided us, and then via the directions given us by a very sweet lady, we found ourselves at the tourist information office – about 100 yards from our hotel. I’ve not lived it down yet with Tony and Andy – and don’t expect to for a while yet. It would seem that smart-phones don’t make up for not-smart users…..
Anyhow, at 11am prompt, Liz our wine guide and driver turns up, and we’re away. There are over 30 wineries in and around Orange, but we’ve been recommended a few to try, so off we set.
There is (apparently) a saying in wine making circles. It goes someting like – ‘what’s the fastest way to make a million dolars as a wine-maker? Start with two-million’. One glimpse at the gleaming stainless steel machnery in the wine shed at Ross Hill Wines and I could well belive this to be true. Pointing to one machine – a fairly innocent looking contraption in steel and platic, Phil the owner and our guide announced that it was a filtration machine that cost half-a-million dollars. Outside was the main press, a monstrous machine capable of pressing a ton of grapes at a time. Back inside, the big stainless fermentation vats. Next to them the french-oak barrels. The tax on wine in Australia is 41% – so even at $20-$30 per bottle, it’s easy to see where that odd million dollars goes. It’s definitely a passion, not a get rich lifestyle.
The wineries passed with increasingly pleasantness. I know there are spitoons so you don’t have to drink the samples, but they are such small mouthfuls, and it just seems rude. By our fifth final winery I was full of ‘subtle gooseberry finish, long on the back palate’.
Returning to the Mid-City Motor Lodge, I made my fatal mistake. “Tony”, I said, full of the bluster of being a ‘proper’ wine buff, “the problem is that it’s hard to compare different types of the same varietal – how about we do a vertical taste test and you can show me how to appreciate the difference between, say a good Pinot Noir and a ropey one?”.
Dinner was at 7.30 and the time was only 6pm, so off we went to find a wine bar. Three glasses of Pinot Noir, three glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, three glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, and three glasses of some other red wine later (all shared between us) and I was truly sozzled as I staggered toward the restuarant.
To cut this part of the story short – after staring at my starter for 5 minutes (apparently I had ordered the rabbit terrine), I ‘retired injured’ (to use the cricketing term) before the main course arrived and stumbled back to the hotel room, hopefully to fight another day. Many are the nights that I’ve wanted to be in bed by 9.30 – but this wasn’t quite the plan.
Sunday arrived hazily. Apparently, afer the restuarant, Tony and Andy had toured a couple more bars before finally heading home for the night. Truly I was bested by two much larger livers than mine. A hangover clearing breakfast later, and it was on the road and off to our last winery, Bloodwood.
Bloodwood it turns out, is quite a special vineyard. Run, as many are, by a husband and wife team, it produces cool-climate wines of the very highest calibre. Crisp dry Sauvignon Blancs, fruity Pinot Noirs, peppery Shiraz. If I hadn’t been driving I would happily have settled in – but sadly it was the spitoon for me.
The drive home took us back through the Blue Mountains and a late lunch at the Blue Mountains Botanical Gardens. The views from the balcony were spectacular, and distinctly, well, blue. The air in the mountains is, apparently – filled with a fine mist of Eucalyptus tree oil, which, in combination with dust particles and water vapour, scatter the light waves and give the distinct blue hued sky. Science lesson over.
Returning to Sydney early Sunday evening I was tired, but contented. I had learned much – about wine, and about my inability to hold my drink. I can just about explain why heavy reds leave your mouth feeling fry (it’s the tanin, apparently), and how the tanin gets there (from the skins and the stalks). I can just about understand why cool climate wines have more complexity (the sugar levels rise more slowly as the grapes gradually ripen), and I can just about tell a decent Reisling from a ropy one. So all in all, not a bad weekend, not bad at all – thanks Andy and Tony for dragging me out on this one.