So here it was. The Hunter Valley Scenic Wine Tasting Tour. Without the tasting. So, The Hunter Valley Scenic Wine Teasing Tour. We were under 48 hours to August. So close. So tantalisingly close. And yet…
I was joined today by fellow GoDoers Leah and Michelle. It was the day before Michelle’s birthday and she had brought along a couple of supporters. (Rumour has it that they were literally supporting her by the end of the tour but you didn’t hear it from me!) I could see the Machiavellian glint in Leah’s eyes. I had had my fun for the month. Now it was time to suffer. Little did she know I had $275 worth of golden tickets up my sleeve for just such an emergency!
At this stage of a month long sobriety binge, a 7am start was water off a duck’s back for me. The others didn’t look quite so sprightly. Our tour guide, Don, was also in a chirpy mood. Originally a Kiwi he wastes no time in sparking up the age old rivalry. The Aussies are outnumbered on the trip with two Chicagoans and an English Mum, Dad and 15-year-old daughter. I felt my national pride take a hit. I was the only one of age not part-taking in a tipple today. What kind of an Irish person am I? What kind of a question is that to ponder without a drink?
Our first port of call (mmmmmmmmmmm port) is the Australian Reptile Park. As we’re walking outside to grab coffee and a lamington we hear “Can we get a koala to undercover area 2 ASAP” come over the PA system. Honestly, people treat koalas like performing monkeys these days! The koala looks almost as sleepy as the rest of us. A couple of wombats also come over to greet us, lumbering along like two kindly old granddads. There’s also a huge croc sunning himself with a helpful “No swimming” sign close to the water. Thanks guys, I was considering a quick dip but I’ll keep that warning in mind.
In no time at all we’re dipping into a bag of what looks like Sugar Puffs and feeding emus, wombats, kangaroos, wallabies and whatever other wildlife happens to cross our path. I never tire of Australia’s native animals and the particularly playful kangaroos are charming and cheeky enough to keep my mind off the upcoming test of resolve. The sun has obligingly come out in spectacular fashion and the day is heating up nicely. The air is fresh, my head is clear. Do I really need a drink to enjoy the day? Hardly.
We’re back on the bus and heading towards The Wollombi Tavern for a Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice. It wasn’t even 10am when the bartender was pouring some fairly hefty looking shots for the troops. The bar itself was charming, all old wood and open fireplace. I take a picture of the posse shotting the port and brandy concoction. This was going to get loose! I grab a bottle of Dr Jurd’s on the way out and whisper “soon, my pretty, soon” to the old style ceramic bottle.
At our next stop we’re treated to some beautiful cheese, including a particularly delicious soft blue. The Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop also has lots of other delectable goodies for the pantry. “I have a fridge on board if anybody wants to use it” Don mentions. Hearing that, I happily put a fair old dent in my credit card and try to avoid eye contact with the Tempus Two winery on the way out. We’ve had some good times baby, but today is not our day.
The next stop on the trip is the first real challenge. The Brokenwood cellar door was particularly busy but the gals soon found a choice spot in the corner. The whites come out. I get to tick two of the three basics of wine tasting. The wines look good and smell good. Leah spent some time in South Australia working in the industry and as our resident vino expert I ask her to describe each one and she happily swirls and sips. I know she has a soft spot for a nice chardy so it’s not too painful when she says it’s a good’un. As the tasting segues into reds I feel my heart sink a little. I console with the fact that we’re in the Hunter. Really, how good can the Pinot Noir be? Leah’s face as she tastes a particularly robust looking pinot tells me everything I need to know. Just as I’m about to retire outside Michelle starts to get rowdy. Giggling at something (anything) and holding at least two wines that I can see she seems to be having a particularly good time. Michelle is quite amusing at the worst of times and she is in flying form by the time tasting is rounded off with a couple of stickies. Beaming, she bounds out the door with rosy cheeks and I’m glad she is having such a good time on her birthday weekend.
Lunch is up next at the Hunter Resort. The food is matched with no less than four wines and mine sit in front of me untouched. I can practically hear them singing a siren song of my name, evil temptresses of Satan! I try to fob them off on someone else but Leah’s responsible side seems to have kicked in and Michelle is way down the other end of the table. Did someone say “Golden Ticket”? I concentrate on the food and the conversation which has turned to books. English Dad seems particularly well read and I pick up a couple of tips that I’m glad I’ll remember tomorrow.
Our merry band totters off to the Blue Tongue brewery for a beer tasting next. The tasters are served in a paddle of seven. Michelle throws convention to the wind and starts with a dark ale. Leah tries (and fails) to bring order to the proceedings but Michelle is having none of it. In no time at all the tasters are gone and the others shoot off to get their free midi. They down it and it’s back on the bus to head for Oakvale. We’re greeted at the cellar door by a man playing an electric guitar and singing “Love is in the Air”. No, really. Now, I’m not naming any names here but there was some boisterous singing and what can only be described as vigorous swaying (or “dancing” apparently) going on at this stage. At the tasting the reds look good again and a couple of expensive stickies come out at the end. Leah is asking what seem to be coherent and relevant questions but I suspect it’s all merely a thinly veiled attempt at appearing somewhere in the vicinity of sobriety. Michelle is giggling away at the back and English Dad is poking fun at Leah’s earnestness. I look at Laura, the 15 year old daughter and my companion in soberness. She looks bemused and I can’t help but have a chuckle.
Our next and last stop is chocolate tasting at the Hunter Valley Gardens. The chilli chocolate is particularly good. I grab a packet of Belgian buttons for the bus ride home and Leah thoughtfully gets us a coffee. It’s a nice way to round off what was a wonderful day in the Hunter. And I’m almost sure the wine will still be there next time I go back.