Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Getting drunk on a bus in the Yarra Valley...

It was Christmas Eve and we’d been in Australia for ten hours by the time we were picked up in Melbourne. I was confused, exhausted but really quite excited by the prospect of spending a day drinking wine.

“I don’t much like wine” explained our driver Murray as he drove us out of the city towards the Yarra Valley. Even through my jetlag I knew this wasn’t what you’d normally expect a wine guide to say…

“Dame Nellie Melba lived there; I don’t suppose any of you are old enough to remember her” “If you see a croc in the wild, you don’t go near it” “In the bush if the snakes don’t get you the sun will” Cheers Murray, thanks for that…

Onto to the wine though and we we’re going to hit five vineyards throughout the day with a spot of lunch in the middle. Not a bad way to the start the holiday in my books.

First stop was Chandon; owned by Moet Chandon of Champagne fame but in my opinion producing sparkling wines of a much higher quality. We tried the Vintage Brut, Vintage Brut Rose, Blanc de Blanc and the Pinot Shiraz before deciding which to have a glass of.

I went for the sparkling Pinot Shiraz; this amazing red had a rich berry fruit nose with hints of blackcurrants, blackberries and cherries but if they ask don’t say it smells like Ribena! The bubbles really softened the liquorice and spice notes of this Ribena Pinot Shiraz making it a really easy drinking bottle of plonk.

Back on the bus and within minutes we were pulling into Oakridge and after the glitz and glam of Chandon this was a much more relaxed but slightly more earnest affair. They were more down to earth but very serious about their wine.

We tried some fantastic drops but the whites stood out most. The Over the Shoulder Chardonnay was rich with a green melon fruit taste and a well balanced citrus tang but the Fume was my favourite. This mix of Sauvignon, Semillion and Pinot Gris was delicious; soft light notes of gooseberry, pea and nectarine with a gentle edge of acidity it was just perfect!

I will be honest and by this point the jetlag, exhaustion and alcohol had all kicked in and I stopped trying to make notes and just started throwing the wines down my neck. “Don’t swim in the sea the sharks will get you” “Don’t swim in the rivers though either, those Crocs are rotters” Cheers Murray!

Next stop was the Tokar estate, lunch and another character… “I hate Christmas” exclaimed our host as she talked us through the wines. “I should be cooking right now but my husband is cutting the grass so I’m here doing this” Erm thanks for that…

Another six wines lay before us but the Tempra Rose stood above the rest. Salmon in colour, hints of red currant and lemon in taste it was pretty lush so I had another glass alongside my lunch before we headed back out.

At this point I had a mini melt down; we walked out of the restaurant, more importantly the AC, into the glaring sun and it all was just too much. So rather than enjoying a walk around the beautiful grounds for a few minutes I went and had a sulk in the van.

It was almost as if Murray could sense the strange funk I’d sunk into and as a bit of a change of pace he took us to see some parrots. The lovely parrots made me happy again!

Next stop was Dominique Portet and wines made very much in the French style the best being a very beautiful Sparkling Rose. Fantastic as they were I couldn’t help thinking we’d had better elsewhere and due to the parrot diversion we were late and as such rushed through…

Our final stop of the day was to Coombe Farm and thankfully Murray had saved the best till last. In his words “You’ll need to watch Nikki, she’s a little firecracker” and to be fair she was!

Nikki was a little ball of energy and clearly full of Christmas cheer as we were the last tour of the day through the doors. We were generously welcomed with most of their range; The Nellie Melba Blanc de Blanc was fabulous, the Pinot Noir rich spicy and the best of the day easily.

The Noble Voignier was sweet and lush with deep plum flavours and a great example of a dessert wine. The Arneis and Pinot Gris were equally delicious and again the Chardonnay here was amazing.

All the time while we were trying the wines Nikki was bantering along and topping us up somehow balancing chatting with pouring wine, carrying three bottles of the stuff at once and photo bombing our attempts to take pictures of the fun. My favourite statement of the day from her was “I thought I was becoming an alcoholic so working on a vineyard just made sense” priceless.

There were ten of us on the tour and at $150 dollars a piece including a really quite decent lunch on the Tokar estate it was pretty good value as well. Despite the jetlag, Murray’s weird banter and meeting some seriously earnest wine producers the day was amazing and after the tour we ended up on the beach eating fish and chips watching the sun go down.

I can’t think of a better way to spend a Christmas Eve?


  1. Sounds like an ideal Xmas eve to me - wine, sunset on the beach, weird but very Australian banter on the bus (Aussie bus drivers definitely have a - erm - unique line in banter). Damn, i miss Australia.

    The wineries sound great, I think Aussie wine is so interesting, far more than the big brands would have you believe. The smaller estates produce some sterling bottles. It's just a shame the exchange rate is so unfriendly right now.

  2. We bought quite a few bottles to drink on Christmas day which were quite good value considering the quality of the wine but you were still looking around £25 to £30 a pop. The exchange rate is a killer but Oz is pretty expensive at the moment. There will be another Oz post with a round up of some restaurants but it's safe to say Thailand was a breath of fresh air price wise after two weeks in Oz.

    1. Heh, i bet it was. Oz ended up being more expensive than Japan for us...