It was raining this morning in Melbourne. Bet that's made a lot of people, especially the firefighters, very happy. Flew – along with half a planeload of exhausted firemen – to Adelaide, where it was sunny again. Turn left out of the airport on Sir Donald Bradman Drive and in two minutes you're on Henley Beach. It’s the only way to arrive.
Hot white sand, chilled white wine... and Great White sharks that eat people (they filmed Jaws here). It’s only fair fish get their turn I guess. After all, I ate a whole Barramundi today without any guilt and it was lovely. This with the Scarpantonis. Lovely boys. Among the most award-winning winemakers in the game. They'd just won two Trophies that very morning. Outstanding! Phil does the viticulture and Michael the winemaking. Dedicated and meticulous to an extreme. Can look fierce, the boys, especially in the shades and on the bikes but that's a joke, like their professed hobbies of concreting and deep-sea fishing. All a joke! I think. Yes, must be. Their place is in McLaren Vale, south of our Red Heads, near Maslin Beach. They get a couple of their antique bikes out that evening.
After lunch at Stella’s (Greek/Italian – highly recommended) we met some cute, small mummy Kangaroos and some frighteningly big daddy Kangaroos.
In the evening, some Big Wine people at 'A dinner for Tony Laithwaite' (I have the menu to prove it.), put on by the Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation. Guess I've been coming here so long now they think I might know something.
Lots of great wines. Astonishing. Revelatory.
'New Look' – or 'New Wave' Wines? Whatever. More complexity and character, less alcohol. Keen Aussie wine drinkers got bored with Aussie wines about five years ago. So the brightest winemakers have seriously changed their ways and in many cases completely reversed old practices. There's a war on between play safe Big Fruit Bomb traditionalistas and revolutionary cool-climate (where possible) winemakers pursuing the wildly complex, cross-blended and risky wines just like they've seen in Europe, that have re-ignited interest at home.
But, so far not abroad. Hence reason for my free dinner, I guess. Hence a big campaign Laithwaites are planning to introduce customers to more of Australia's regions, secrets and quirks.
The value for money is amazing! You can get meticulously crafted gems from top estates in top regions at below half what they cost last year (there's a glut of quality wine whilst there isn't a glut of cheap wine because no-one can afford to make it now.)
For the price of a little French Vin Du Pays you can now get an Aussie wine you'd think was real, fine Burgundy! I kid not! (The A$ exchange rate is just wonderful for us!)
ABSOLUTELY THE PLACE TO BUY GOOD WINE RIGHT NOW IS AUSTRALIA!!!! Go to it.
A couple more hectic long days – rather a blur – seeing people like the Lehmanns; Peter, (still leaning on the bar where I left him last time, and all the times before that since 1985. He's my hero I tell him. He tells me to Something Off. Which means he loves me really.) Son Doug, and dear Margaret. Even bumped into some Laithwaites customers from near Canterbury!
Then to the quite new Bird in Hand – premium small family run winery of brothers Justin & Andrew Nugent with veteran Flying Winemaker Kym Milne as consultant. This new wave set up is producing some great wines (finer, more complex, wonderfully concentrated).
Onto Neil Pike (again family affair with duck hunting brother, Andrew). He does our Prospectors wines from Clare. They’re an old Woodside family who also had a brewery, and now have prime sited vineyards in Lenswood, Adelaide Hills (all netted to prevent birds eating fruit).
Then to Simon Wicks (and brother) with consultant winemaker, demi god of Clare Valley Riesling, Tim Knappstein. Back on the 1985 wine trek route again! Cup of tea with Robert Hill Smith at Yalumba - he doesn't look a day older, and we vow to get together for a wine project very soon. Quick drive out to Heggies Vineyard and sensationally pretty Pewsey Vale.
Then catch up with David Hickintbotham and a tasting of the original 1976 wine we bought. (Our first or second Oz wine) and our latest wine (watch this space).
The last day before catching plane, is yet another early morning … Petaluma, crèche to so many of today's top winemakers. It’s the place that most aspire to work at. We caught a fabulous bunch of harvesters at dawn. They were fabulous bunch – a whole world of wine people in one little vineyard: Iranian, Iraqui, Vietnamese, Somalian, British, Aussie and on and on … Yves took a lovely shot of them all. Joyous! A great way to end the trip.
... goodbye sun and warmth and home to cold, wet Britain. But at least the crocuses are out.