Hunter Valley – Andrew gets driven to drink.

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Where I stayed
Bilpin Reserve, Bilpin.

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

We woke up and despite our recent routine had a fabulous lazy morning. We had sausages on bread, played a lot of Frisbee and watched all the other campers disappear off. We didn't have the ability to update the blog as we had no electricity and no power in the computer machine thing. We drank lots of tea and in the end at 10:00am decided it was finally time for Erica’s driving lesson. Of course driving an automatic is easy and in no time I think she was actually enjoying herself. We had no idea of the wine tasting etiquette, spit, swallow, spittoons, failure to buy, expectancy to buy, where to go or what to do. We set off in the opposite directionsof the tourist wine trail and saw lots of interesting animals and breathtaking scenery, in the end we decided to stop at a cellar door. We entered the estate seeing the open sign and drove right in to find only one car there, perhaps the owner? We felt a little uncomfortable and decided to spin the van round and head off, but we were greeted by the manager of the vineyard. We had formal introductions and he said "I guess we best go in then" and we entered one of the most fabulous rooms I have ever entered in my life. It was like a Terry Crammant designed room, the ceilings were vaulted and tens of feet high with huge full height windows overlooking the vineyards, a full size snooker table and dining table that sat maybe 20 people. An incredible room by anyones standards. He asked what we wanted to drink and I suggested a “heavy red”. He asked what price range we wanted and we said “budget”, it turned out we were in one of the premier vineyards in the Hunter Valley. Of all the 23 wine masters in Oz, in a region that only produces 1% of Aussie wine we managed to hit the master wine maker. Generally only 250 cases per year are made at this place, the manager was amazing showing us round his house, his estate and telling us about the owner and his expertise. We sampled two bottles, then to our amazement when we had decided we had wasted as much of his talent, brain and wine we suggested we get off. He then told us no-one ever came outside the boutique fine wine tours so if we couldn’t buy we best take the wine he had opened for us, the total value of the budget two bottles he had opened a mere $45. We were taken aback again and had to find a small contribution, it sounds like an excuse but we didn’t have any significant amount of cash, everything we buy here is on card so....... We will definitely try and make it up when we get home, a red wine that cuts through pork belly fat does it for me anytime.

We then figured out the guy who had told us to drive down the side roads had sold us a bit of a dummy, if you want to try a bit of stuff for free head to the main tourist area where perhaps they expect a bit of the cheap skate English folk. As Lady E drove me from Broke to the tourist centre, Pokolbin, we found place upon place of no expected buying just keep on drinking establishments. At first it was all good fun trying whites then reds, in typically Aussie generosity no skimps on measures, I was soon tipsy. We tried to book on a wine tour but they wouldn’t let the lady on as they spray the vines with acid and without full foot protection they wouldn’t let her in.

We did however get a tip for a great tour at 1:30pm at Tyrells vineyard perhaps the premier Hunter Valley brand. We then went to vineyard after vineyard interspersed with cheese and olive tasting shops and to be quite frank we were in heaven. If only we had a normal disposable income to spend we would be in heaven, for foodies and wine lovers this is a paradise but after maybe four shops it felt like hell. It was clearly in my eyes stealing, we had no intention to buy but were taking advantage of the hospitality by trying and then leaving. It just felt very wrong. Regardless our favourite part of the day was the cheese and olive oil tasting. We were just in heaven but as soon as we had done a tasting a price list was put in front of us that was well beyond our means. If you had no heart what so ever this would be heaven absolute nirvana, but even a stubborn nosed QS could not drink all that booze, eat all that cheese and not feel guilty, it just wasn’t right.

We enrolled on a tour (which we paid for but only $5 each) with Tyrells (mentioned previously). It was the most amazing insight into winegrowing and the Australian wine growing industry from a guy that enthused knowledge but did not burden you with it nor try and show off merely ask you to ask him questions. The 45 minute tour lasted nearly 2 hours and we were totally engrossed by the guys’ passion and knowledge of wine and the Hunter Valley, his name was Scott Richardson go and meet him he’s great. Due to its proximity to Sydney and therefore tourism (hence us here) land has become very valuable, therefore wine has become mearly a subculture and the cost of land has gone through the roof, for golf courses, spa’s etc. Yet he was being offered free land only 20 years ago as even then there was so much available no-one really knew what to do with it. Anyway, my tip if you are in the Hunter Valley and want to do a bargain wine tour, go to Tyrells, taste afterwards, and buy some good hand crafted wines for about $90 a bottle, we didn’t want to taste those but those who did bought and if we were back in working capacity or short holiday mode we would probably have bought too. An amazing family with an amazing story. Get there and learn a bit, taste a bit and buy a bit...... again I feel very guilty about the latter.

We left Hunter in love with the place, everyone so friendly and generous as we have come to know with Aus. We drove onwards and some more spectacular scenery as we drove towards the Blue Mountains. At Bilpin we managed to find a free campsite and pulled in. We were greeted by a man who was bald but with a beard almost down to his waist who was lighting a fire in between throwing the ball for his dog. While we cooked our pork chops (half price specials obviously) and pasta we listened to this hilarious couple (a couple of friends actually) he was a fully qualified grey nomad she still worked but was travelling East to West with him for three weeks. He explained that as he was almost deaf she would have to shout at him, they got onto the conversation “why don’t you get a hearing aid?”, “I would rather learn bloody sign language than have one of those things”. They followed such great comments on, by talking about us, well shouting in fact because of the deafness like they couldn’t hear us, it was however generally positive except that we cooked on gas and not an open fire showing that we had never lived. After cooking the man bellowed “do you have a plate, do you have enough sausages, have you a knife, a fork, salt, pepper, do you want sauce, more peas, anything else at all”, “no I’m fine said the woman”, “well f*ck off out of my face then woman and go and eat”. They really do have a have a way with words.

While I read a little and had a glass of red, Erica started to feel the cold and headed off to bed however she saw a pair of eyes reflecting in our head torch from the bushes. She was terrified for some reason, I thought it was probably a roo but maybe it could be a dingo, one of the few animals we have not seen in Aus yet. As I slowly approach, Erica started shouting “be careful, you don’t know what it is”, I got a little closer, Erica jumped into the van, the neurotic woman started to make me panic then the eyes started to come towards me through the bush, they accelerated, Erica was shouting “run, run its coming”, oh my god it was, I started to retreat, then saw a tail as it was running, perhaps it was indeed a dingo but it had no fear what so ever, as it came into the light I turned to run, Erica was still screaming..... I turned back and saw the dog that belonged to the old guy in the caravan. What a fool, I still blame Erica for turning us both into nervous wrecks, man eating dingos, we went to bed in hysterics, Erica remembered at one point me saying “its a fox but isn’t scared of me”. There goes my notion we were starting to be so confident in the Aussie outdoors.
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