A Day in the Vineyards…

27 Jul

*This post was by T2, a co-author of In The Taratory from 2011-2013.*

I never used to like wine. I thought it was bitter, and much preferred the girlier alternative of vodka and cranberry (or even, I’m ashamed to admit, vodka Cruisers). Oh, how times have changed!

Now, I adore wine. Especially a good, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon or, in summer, a light Rosé or Moscato-style Rosemount O (a cheapie, but a goodie). In the last year, I’ve been on three winery day tours: the McLaren Vale region, the Hunter Valley region, and the Barossa region. So when my friend suggested that we go on a tour of the Canberra region wineries, I didn’t need much convincing.

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As it turns out, there aren’t any large tour bus companies operating winery visits in Canberra. I suppose the Hunter Region is much bigger (quantity over quality? We’d soon find out) and services the Sydney area, so there’s more demand for coach tours up there. After quite a bit of digging on the internet, we came across Canberra Guided Tours. They are a well-established tour company (operating since 1961– not a bad track record!), running visits to museums, galleries, wineries, embassies and other exhibitions. We were told that it would be a small group, with a maximum of six guests in the minivan. How intimate!

I must admit that I was a little apprehensive when told the price: $90 per person, not including lunch. Previous wine tours I’d been on had cost between $50 to $70, including a generous lunch (and the McLaren Vale tour was FREE, thanks to my chauffeur brother!). But figuring that I must have just snagged a really good deal for the other tours, the tour was locked in and the $50 deposit paid.

On the morning of the tour, our guide, Virginia, picked us up at my house at 10am. Door-to-door service – very handy. The rest of the guests had already been collected, so my two friends and I jumped in the front of the van. We hit the Barton Highway and, before long, arrived at our first destination. It only took 40 minutes to get to the Gallagher Wines cellar door (located out in Murrumbateman, on Dog Trap Road) – I was impressed. The Hunter Valley had been a three-hour trek out of Sydney (making it a good five hours or so drive from Canberra). This makes it very easy for folk of the Capital to head out for a lazy Sunday brunch.

Our group was the only one there, which was understandable given it was still only 10.40am. This meant that Greg Gallagher – an extremely experienced gentleman who was once the senior winemaker for Taltarni – was able to devote all of his attention to us. The first bottle was popped without further ado; a lovely, light sparkling white. My tongue tingled as I sipped it slowly – ‘twas lovely. Greg then disappeared out the back, and returned with a plate of cheeses. My friend’s eyes gleamed – she was a huge cheese fan. We were not disappointed. The cheeses were divine, and matched perfectly with the Gallagher Riesling. I ended up buying a washed blue cheese (I surprised myself – I never was a big blue cheese fan, but this one was creamy and delicious, almost more like a camembert).

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We then hit the road for Shaw Estate, home to the lovely Flint in the Vines restaurant. I’d been there once before for brunch (their breakfast pie is a must try!). After a quick tasting from their extensive list, we were seated for lunch. Since I’d just filled up on cheese, I wasn’t keen to have a massive lunch. My friends and I elected to share two pizzas between us: one with chicken, basil pesto, caramelized onion and sundried tomato, and the other with wild mushroom, roquette and white truffle oil. And, boy oh boy, do Shaw know how to do a tasty pizza! It was the perfect amount of food for the three of us. I was a big fan of the truffle oil – so much so that my friend bought a bottle of it and gave it to me for my birthday the next week (thanks B!).

The next stop was the Helm cellar door, located on Butts Road in Murrumbateman. By this stage, we were all merrily chatting in the car, so I didn’t pay attention to how exactly long it took us to get there – but I reckon it would have been less than 15 minutes. Helm wines are consistently rated highly in the James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion, with their Rieslings and Cabernet Sauvignons particularly well regarded. This winery was by far my favourite of the day. It was set in a sweet 100-year old school house, complete with miniature student desks and a vintage cash register. Again, we were fortunate to be the only group there – it would have been rather squishy with any more people.

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We were welcomed by their friendly Border Collie, Matilda, before owner Ken Helm ushered us inside. He was so hospitable – his love for and knowledge of the wines was palpable. My friends couldn’t get enough of the Helm Riesling. Meanwhile, I adored the 2008 Premium Cabernet Sauvignon. It was described as a ‘well-balanced and elegant wine with the richness of berry fruits and butterscotch flavours deriving from two years maturation in oak casks’. I was kicking myself afterwards that I didn’t splash out on a bottle, even if it did cost $52. I hear that it’s sold at exclusive Sydney Restaurants such as Tetsuya’s and Rockpool, as well as Canberra’s own Sage and The Ginger Room. Top quality wine for top quality restaurants.

Dionysus winery was the last visit of the day. It was a popular place – not only for wine, but also for coffee, cheese and other savoury delights. I’ve purchased their olive oil before from the Old Bus Depot markets, so knew that they produced high-quality goods. I’m a big sucker for dessert sauces, bush herbs, pesto, marinades and glazes – and they sold it all. I also came across a jar of pickled onions cleverly called ‘bum hummers’. Interesting… oh, and their wine was quite tasty too!

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Before we knew it, 4.30pm had rolled around. Time flies when you’re having fun, eh! We piled back into Virginia’s van and were delivered home just after 5pm, handbags full to the brim with cheese, wine and oils. My friends and I were pretty buggered after a full day of drinking – but that certainly didn’t stop us from cracking open another bottle to relax with at home!

All in all, it was such an enjoyable day. The weather was beautiful (for the most part) and Virginia was clearly an experienced guide – articulate, knowledgeable and friendly. It’s always a relief not being stuck as the ‘Sober Bob’ driver. So while the tour was a little pricey, it meant that everyone could fully enjoy themselves. The only shortcoming (in my eyes, that is) was that none of the wineries seemed to produce port. Since my trip to the Barossa region, I’d become an avid port drinker (Grant Burge’s 20-year old Tawny is a favourite) and was hanging out to try Canberra region’s offerings. Ah well, not to be! Nevertheless, the quality of the other wines was second to none. I must admit that I thought all great reds came from South Australia – but this is certainly not the case. So I wholeheartedly suggest that you Canberrans get out there and support the local winemakers. In fact, why not pencil the upcoming Fireside Festival in your diary? I know I will be (right, T1?… we’ve been talking about this for a while now!).

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Date: 10-5pm, Saturday 30 June 2012

Attendees: T2 and friends (plus three other wine fans)

Cost: $90 per person

Worthwhile factor: Worthwhile (especially Helm!)

Want more? http://www.canberraguidedtours.com.au/TourWine.php

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4 Responses to “A Day in the Vineyards…”

  1. Gary Lum July 27, 2012 at 6:47 am #

    I wish I could drink alcohol *jealous* 🙂

  2. Captain Sweatpants July 27, 2012 at 8:45 pm #

    I lol’ed at Vodka Cruisers. Drooled at Helm. And cheered at Grant Burge’s Tawny. Awesome post.

  3. Sue November 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    I recommend “Stomp!” at 4 Winds Winery Murrumbattman. It is an annual event during the harvest festival. Pick the grapes in the morning, have lunch at the winery and in the afternoon have a stomping competition with your fellow stompers. Lots of fun with the owners, locals and tourists.

    • inthetaratory November 8, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

      Great tip! T1 actually purchased a bottle of Four Winds shiraz this evening!

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