One of the reasons I was
so excited about visiting Australia was the opportunity to
do some local wine tasting. Before flying Downunder I'd sampled
and enjoyed many of their wines (Rosemount Estate's Shiraz
remains my constant favourite) and read about how very well
Aussie wine producers were doing in the world market. My holiday
game plan included finding out more about viticulture (how
Australian grapes are cultivated), how their wine is produced
as well as how to best evaluate a wine's bouquet, taste and
does her research...
internet research showed me that being headquartered
in Sydney would easily allow for a visit to the Hunter
Valley -- Australia's oldest wine-making region, an
area about two hours and 81 miles away. Home to over
65 small wineries, this area seemed like the perfect
spot for my education to begin. I couldn't believe my
good fortune when I learned that Hunter Resort Country
Estate ran a program called, The Hunter Valley Wine
School (Fees: A$30.00 per person). Their two-hour very
informal "total wine experience" promised
not only to be great fun but to better prepare me to
sample wines at cellar doors (wineries) in the area.
And, for this solo traveller there was yet another bonus
-- I could look forward to meeting up with other like-minded
visitors from all over the world.
others join her at Wine School...
I arrived at the resort and checked-in for the course,
there were seven other casually dressed tourists already
assembled -- a young backpacking couple from Hong Kong,
an older couple from Europe, two men from Chicago and
a single woman from New York City. We chatted about
being able to learn about the wine-making process at
a winery reputed to be one of the most advanced in the
area. At Hunter Resort Country Estate they crush in
the vicinity of 6,500 tonnes of grapes each year and
their facility has a stainless steel storage capacity
for an incredible six million liters of wine.
sun and clear blue sky...
an extremely powerful Aussie sun, classes started in
the vineyard promptly at 9:00 AM. (prospective students
would be wise to carry bottled water, a wide-brimmed
sun hat and lots of sunscreen). We learned about growing
conditions in the region and that grapes were cultivated
there for the first time in 1824. Our instructor informed
us that vines can live and produce for up to 146 years
and he showed us examples of some of his "elders."
(Considering my wine preference, I took extra special
note of the 32 year old Shiraz-producing vine). I remember
noticing the bright blue sky that day and thinking how
interesting the information being offered was. Those
facts along with the image of a sun drenched vineyard
remain indelibly etched in my collection of wonderful
wears a bright yellow hard hat...
the next part of the tour students were asked to don
bright yellow hard hats and we were directed to the
interior area where giant machines roared -- de-stemming
truckloads of grapes and splitting the fruit to release
the juices. Next came the enormous vats, the Potter
Tanks, the infiltration equipment and the Cask Hall
where the final maturation process takes place. Each
step was carefully explained and all our questions about
the industry (no matter how elementary) were respectfully
answered. I learned that red wine production is more
expensive than white because of the longer, slower process
it undergoes, that wine bottle corks are made from Portugal's
cork trees, and that wines are best stored at a consistent
temperature of 18-21 degrees Celsius.