Welcome to Australia! Home of amazing ocean beaches and ocean drives. Home of kangaroos, koalas and the Great Barrier Reef and home to the Miller family for 2.3 extraordinary weeks.
Relax on the Gold Coast, pet a koala, see rescued joeys at Steve Irwin’s zoo
The continent of Australia is actually very similar in land size to the US. but the Australian population is 24 million, whereas the entire US population is around 322.7 million people. Most of the Australian cities are on the coast and much of Australia is temperate. Oceans, beaches, sun and great wine. It was fabulous!
You can find skiing in the hills outside of Melbourne in the winter, but they don’t get consistent heavy snow. It was 80-104 degrees through most of our trip, while in the US our neighbors were at the beginning of winter. It was snowing at home, so it made the weather even more sweet for us.
My whole family LOVED Australia. I have traveled to Europe, but this trip was just so much easier and less stressful. Everyone speaks English and people are very friendly. One US resident we met there, who had been living in Oz described the interior like the dessert in Arizona. Though he and his family live there, and nearby many aboriginal families, they live in desert like conditions and many regions surrounding him are uninhabitable.
We brought the whole family, me, Mr. W and our three children aged 9, 11 and 13. We were going for a work visit for Mr. W in Brisbane, while the kids and I vacationed, but the last 10 days were purely vacation for all of us. It was much more fun when all of us were traveling together.
Now to wine country. We were in Brisbane and the Gold Coast the first week and then took a quick drive out to Bundaberg. The wine there in Queensland does not have a good international reputation as the climate is sub tropical and is just not conducive to good wine making. I did see wineries out in the vast farmland between Brisbane and Bundaberg, however, because they get too much sunshine to make fine wines, we focused on the outstanding ice cream and fruits and vegetables. (It is often the struggles of the vine, along with the soil, amount of sunlight, rainfall, etc. that make a complex and structured wine. But with too much sunlight and available water sources, grapes for wine thrive and grow large and full of water. Grape juice can be good from sub tropical climates, but good wine, not so much.)
Along the road in the Yarra Valley
After our Queensland trip, it was my turn to do some work in Australia. We flew to Melbourne and I enlisted in the #1 rated Trip Advisor wine tour, Vinetrekker, for a one day wine tour.
My choices for the tour were the Yarra Valley or the Mornington Peninsula regions, both about a half hour out of Melbourne. The Yarra Valley is an older wine region and has a cool continental climate. Melbourne is well south of Queensland (the region we had been in), and it is known for more moderate temperatures.
The Mornington Peninsula has been turning out some great wines in the last few years. This is an up and coming wine region with really talented wine makers and chefs who have been locating there. I figured it would be more fun to drive the Peninsula with the family later in the week, so I opted for the Yarra Valley tour for this day.
My hubby and kids headed to a great breakfast and then out to the aquarium in Melbourne. I got some fantastic texts pictures from the Miller crew throughout the day, assuring me that they too were having a great adventure.
For my part, Steven from Vinetrekkers picked me up directly from my hotel at 8:20am in a small van, and we proceeded to pick up the rest of our tasting buddies for the day from several area hotels. By 9:30am we had just arrived in the Yarra Valley. It is a 30 minute drive outside of Melbourne and once you leave the sprawling suburb, you are immediately in stunning farmlands with the far off mountains laid out in front of us (The Great Divide is the name of the mountain range). Steven shared with us stories of new wineries and investments that have been regularly popping up. This was one of the earliest wine regions in Australia, and many people have been investing in land in the Yarra. It’s so close to Melbourne, a really easy commute in, and you feel like you live in the country.
We dropped off a couple from Boston at the area wildlife preserve. (They had booked another tour with Vinetrekkers and would join us later in the day for lunch and two additional wineries.) We were then on our way, and arrived at our first winery by 10:45am.
Coldstream Hill Winery was beautiful and is known by the owner, author, wine critic and wine pioneer James Halliday. Their Chardonnay and cold weather Pinot Noirs were good. Yarra Valley is a continental climate and they have over 30 types of soils in this region, making the diversity of the wines quite interesting. Our pourer Saran was a hot ticket. She shared with us how she had locals in as soon as they had opened that morning, as the wine they wanted for Christmas was just released and was expected to sell out. She also shared that the winery had named a wine after a local doctor and the doctor had ordered many cases as presents for friends for the holidays. I always enjoy the personally tied stories. It makes me feel a little bit a part of the art and lifestyle of the vineyard.
The sparkling wine wasn’t for me, too fruit centric, but I enjoyed the Chardonnay and the Pinor Noir. The Pinot will use some ageing to round it out. I still needed to get my taste buds acclimated to the Yarra Valley Pinot Noir, as it was really earthy, but the Chardonnay was definitely a drink now.
As I mentioned, there is a lot of investment going in to the Yarra Valley, still so much of it is farmland. Saran told us that their new neighbor drilled down through their 6-8 inches of soil into the bedrock in order to be able to plant their vines. It will be very interesting to see how that wine turns out and if the struggle in the vines they are looking for will come to fruition.
We boarded back on the van, where I was flanked by my new friends from Adelaide (near the McLaren Vale, Barossa and not too far from the Margaret River. These are the hottest Australian wine regions right now, showing big, bright, bold and beautiful reds), but I didn’t have time to fit that region in. I picked three cities I had to see and all else was bonus on our first trip to Australia. Traveling to Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney would be like traveling to the US for the first time and trying to see New York and Boston, and then CA, TX and Florida. Too much in one trip. Adelaide will definitely be my first stop for my next trip to Australia, and when I am there, I am sure to visit Ashley and Gayle (my traveling companions on this tour). Their family just so happens to run a wine touring business out of Adelaide! https://www.hillsluxurydaytours.com.au
Our group was rounded out by Andy from Hong Kong and three generations of wine tasters, originating out of Cleveland, OH; a son, mother and grandmother. Ashley and Gayle kept me laughing all day. As Andy and I were on our own, Ashley and Gail immediately adopted us and kept an eye out for us. Steven did as well, taking in our interests and knowledge, and engaging us in each of our interests like a pro.
The drive through the Valley to each winery followed through beautiful hills and valleys and past many grazing Angus and Waygu cattle. We then arrived at Medhurst Winery. The cellar door was closed, but they have a relationship with Vinetrekkers, and so we had a private tasting with the winemaker/ livestock manager, Simon. I LOVED Simon’s energy. He was rushing as he had just come in from working the fields to meet us. He threw together a few cheese platters and poured the wine immediately. The cheese platters were stunning. On the two platters was local hummus, the best feta cheese I have ever had and amazing tzatziki spread with fresh, warm sour dough bread. It was a true feast of the senses.
Simon discussing cold climate shiraz vs. warm climate
Simon was so much fun and full of information. It was a great tasting and I really enjoyed his Chardonnay. I purchased a bottle and bought two wine packing sleeves, which I highly recommend. It made packing the wines much easier and less stressful.
(NOTES on SHIPPING and BRINGING WINE BACK to the US from Aus: It is $15-20 to ship within Australia to a freight company. The wine is then shipped by freight to the states. 6 bottles were around $215 extra for total shipping and 12 bottles would be $250ish. It was totally not cost effective, so I resolved to just carry back a few wine bottles. The rep at Quantas had told me she thought each adult could bring back 2-3 bottles in their packed luggage. There are many agencies that govern how much we bring back to the US. Australia customs, US customs, the arriving airport (Dallas, TX for us) and then our state, either Massachusetts (our final flying destination) or New Hampshire, all have a variety of governing laws. No-one seemed to know the answer of how much we could carry back. Andy found that Hong Kong, on the other hand, waived their taxes and extra fees, and made it very easy to bring wine back to their country.) We ended up bringing back a few more than the 2-3 per person and it was fine.
We then left Mehurst and Simon and headed to Domaine Chandon.
Though the grounds of Domaine Chandon were beautiful, I was pretty disappointed with the experience and with the facility. On driving up, it is a beautiful site and a lovely building. Steven brought us in, noted that he needed to leave us for a bit to pick up the couple on the wildlife tour. He showed us to our personal tasting room set up above the cellar and restaurant. The restaurant happened to be under construction, so it was a bit hard to hear Tim, our wine guide, while all of the noise from the work was going on. The room was pretty, with a fabulous view. Tim then put out one glass for each of us. He described each wine and then asked us to choose one glass we would like him to pour. We were all a bit stunned, in the end of his presentation, that we then had to choose one sparkling wine and wouldn’t be tasting the others. The other option was, after finishing our glass, we could go downstairs and pay $10 for the full tasting. That was a strange way to do business. I felt badly for Tim, as he seemed to be a nice guy, but I really thought it was a bit tacky for Domaine Chandon as Vinetrekkers brings clients to them all of the time. I guess they are so big now that customer experience doesn’t matter as much to them.
What I did learn from this stop was that Chandon has opened wineries all over the world under their name and pour the locally made wines for tasting. This facility served Australian sparkling wines. The Chinese facility is serving wines sourced in China, and in CA the wines sourced are from CA.
My rose, our lovely van for the day
As a group, we decided to revolt, and though we didn’t know each other well, we grouped up and shared our wine tastings. In the end we each ended up with a glass we each liked. We left to tour the grounds and Ashley asked why champagne seems to make you more giddy than other champagne. The theory is that the bubbles in your stomach make your body absorb alcohol more quickly.
Ashley and Gayle then reminded us of the time, and we booked it up the hill to meet Steven. He arrived for our pick up and was thrilled we had arrived right on time to meet him. What he missed was all of us running up the hill in our heels and wine tasting garb, just as he was turning the corner into the lot. We were all giggling by that time, a little from the bubbly and a little from the elation of finding fun new friends on a wonderful warm, sunny day in the Yarra Valley.
Restaurant at Yering Station, my lovely meal, view from restaurant
Steven was happy to inform us that it was lunch time and that he hoped it would help to clear our heads for our afternoon tastings. He shuttled us over to Yering Station, past the original building erected circa 1859, to eat at their restaurant.
The views were outstanding, the food was absolutely incredible, the wine terrific and the company and conversation was excellent. We all enjoyed our dishes, shared freshly baked sour dough bread with garlic butter and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our activity. They then brought us over to the Cellar Door, Yarra Bank at Yerring Station, next door, where we were given a private tasting with Emile upstairs in a quiet room.
Tasting by Emile, Yering Tasting Room – overlooking restaurant top right, Yering Station tasting selection for us, Boxed Artists Collection – beautiful!
This tasting was delightful. We did clear our heads a bit at that point, though there were a few tipsy moments. Emile, from Cape Town South Africa, was patient with us and we tasted an outstanding reserve Pinot Noir along with several notable wines. My favorites were the Pinot Noir reserve and the Shiraz Viognier, as it was just very different. They also have an artists collection of wine bottles that, if I had room, I would have loved to bring back. I did purchase a luscious bar of dark chocolate from Cuvee to share in the van. It was decadent and a perfect treat at that time of the day.
We last headed to De Bortoli wines and cheeses. Steven had prepared us for the outstanding cheese plate and he was correct. The cheeses were out of this world (small pun intended). They served both local and imported cheeses.
We were served a Le Dauphin French double crème; a Cashel Blue, an amazingly stinky blue cheese from Ireland; an Annie Boxter buffalo milk that was so yummy and tasted a bit like goat cheese but better and also a Heidi Farm Raclette, an Australian swiss-style cheese, rumored to be lovely melted or grilled. They were all outstanding, and some of the group opted to forego the wine and focus on the cheese and crackers.
Jason was our server. He was from China and was training in Australia. He will return to China to work at De Bortoli in a few months. He served us a wonderful Reisling and several other interesting wines. The labels of their La Bohemme wines were beautiful.
Kangaroos hanging out in the afternoon heat, how many do you see?
We then headed back to Melbourne. On the way, Steven made sure to pull over to show us a huge group of kangaroos lounging in the shade of the Yarra Valley. It was a bitter sweet end to such a wonderful day. As I hugged Ashley and Gayle goodbye, I promised to visit and maybe bring some friends with me… Gayle asserted that it needed to be within 10 years. I certainly hope so!