7:45am came fast! I was pretty groggy to be honest, but headed down to the YHA reception and had a $5 continental breakfast to wake me up. I had time to run across the street and get a cup of coffee before my tour guide picked me up.
The name of my tour was the Barossa Valley Experience. For just $75, it included a three course lunch, four winery tastings, a trip to the world’s largest rocking horse, and a couple stops at other touristy attractions I will tell you about.
My tour guide Craig picked me up first along with two other gentlemen. I can’t remember their names, but one was a long haired, tough looking deaf man and the other was his friend who did most of the talking. They had taken the Union Pacific Railroad down from Sydney.
We then picked up a woman going on the tour solo. Her name was Ann. She was probably 60 to 65. She had the kind of personality that unintentionally comes off as rude, but has no intention to be. I’ll tell you more about her also later on.
The last two people we picked up were from Melbourne. They were dressed more like wine connoisseurs and were nice to talk to later on in the day. So it was just the six of us plus Craig. We were on our way.
The drive to the Barossa valley takes nearly two hours, but it is an amazing drive. We drove on one of the windiest roads I’ve ever been on, passing deep valleys, green fields as far as the eye can see, rivers, and lots of sheep.
Craig had on a headset in the van we were in and gave a great history of the region to us on the way up. I had brought my iPod and thought I was going to sleep on the drive up, but not once the entire day did I put my headphones on, and not once did I fall asleep until the ride home, which, after four wineries was very acceptable.
About an hour into the trip we stopped at the Big Rocking Horse in Gumeracha, South Australia. This horse stands 60 feet high and is made out of many tons of steel. For a $2 coin I was able to climb it. It was actually kind of slippery climbing up it and required going up a couple steep ladders. I could see someone definitely falling a few feet. But I made it up there safely and had Rawdon take my picture. After I climbed down, I went and visited the little wooden toy factory they had right next to it. It reminded me a little bit of Basketville, the store in Vermont, but on a smaller scale.
There was one sign there that had arrows pointing in the direction of many of the world’s larger cities. I couldn’t stop staring at the New York City sign that stated I was 17,594 (10,935 miles) kilometers from NYC. I wondered if this was the furthest I’d ever been from home.
The seven of us hopped back in the van after 30 minutes at the Rocking Horse (that didn’t even rock!) and were off to our first winery of the day, Wolf Blass.
Wolf Blass was a very large winery, owned by Fosters. You could see how rich they were just by looking at the luxurious property. We entered the gift shop that is also the site of the tasting and tried five or six different wines. I enjoyed the port wines, or the sweeter dessert type wines. Wolf Blass does a lot of business in the United States and the UK. The prices on some of the wines there were very affordable, but I wasn’t there to purchase any, just taste!
I was going to tell you about Ann. It was funny watching her taste wines because if she didn’t like it, she was like “Oh I don’t like that.” Or when she was being poured a sample, she’d tell the woman kind of abruptly that “that’s enough.” Like I mentioned, she just didn’t have the most tactful way of saying how she felt. But when she enjoyed one, she smiled and said great things. I could tell she was a sweet lady at heart. But I did move away from her a couple times just to make sure I was listening to what the winery employee had to say.
Before we left Wolf Blass, I found I had a couple bars of reception on my cell phone and decided to call my dad. I couldn’t believe he answered. I think it would have been around 10pm (although now that I think about it, at the time I thought it was 10am in NH). It was great to talk wine with him for a couple minutes. I was having an experience that I just had to tell someone back home about as it was happening.
I said goodbye to my dad and got back in the van. We were off to lunch. Now the more I describe this day, the more you are going to agree with me that this was the best $75 I’ve ever spent.
Actually before lunch, Craig stopped and showed us a little store called Angas Park Fruits. It was like Ye Goode Shop in Keene, NH. So that meant it had heaps of homemade chocolate and candies as well as its signature dried fruits. I refrained from making any purchases, but it was a nice little look around.
When they said we’d get a three course meal, I didn’t get my hopes too high, but was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the restaurant. On the way up to the Barossa Valley, the six of us had selected from a menu Craig gave us what we wanted for lunch. There was roast beef, chicken parmesan, barramundi (A popular Aussie fish), and a couple other standard meals. The one that stood out to me was kangaroo. I thought to myself “I’ve never eaten that before and may never get the chance again, so for lunch I’ll have kangaroo.” I also thought “Yesterday I was feeding one of these; today I’ll be eating one!”
The restaurant was beautiful. It had a bar and a salad bar. We only had to wait about five minutes for our appetizers to come out. We had some bread and butter and a couple sandwich meats. Not long after that the mains came. I have to tell you the kangaroo was amazing. I’m not much of a great describer of food, but it reminded me of deer or venison. It came with mashed potato with some peppercorn sauce to add a little spice. I feasted on that roo.
The whole tour was sitting at the same table. I was sitting across from the couple from Melbourne when the gentlemen said, “You know you’re eating our national symbol there. That’s like me going over to the states and eating bald eagle.” He was kidding of course and said it with a smile, but very funny.
After the kangaroo, I still had my third course to eat, which was a sticky date pudding with a hot black coffee. Heaven.
We then waddled back to the van. There was still much to be seen including three more wineries. The next one was much different in size than Wolf Blass. It was called Vine Crest Wines. They produce probably only 10% or less of what Wolf Blass does, but their wine tasted great. The young woman pouring for us was very informative. I started picking up on wine terminology like full bodied, dry, sweet, port, and that helped me understand a bit more. There really are no stupid questions with wine, I feel, so there was no fear of asking a dumb one. It didn’t come as a surprise, but I liked how they know what wines to serve first, second, third and so forth so that you don’t ruin the flavor of the next wine you try. For example, you always will finish with a sweet dessert wine or port.
Just like Wolf Blass, I was so impressed with the property Vine Crest sat upon. They didn’t have the fancy marble structures that Wolf Blass did, but the wineries all seem to be so classy looking. Other words I think of are old fashioned and rustic.
The weather up this point had been rather dreary all day. But try to imagine the most beautiful dreary day you’ve ever seen. This is what it was like. There was a small mist of rain coming down, and the endless fields of vineyards were covered in grey skies. But every now and then a small patch of blue sky would appear for a few minutes. It was so picturesque and peaceful. I think something like a wine tasting weekend is something I’d love to try once or twice a year – or more.
Craig rounded us up and took us up to a beautiful lookout point where I could get a photo. On a sunny day, the scene would be amazing I’m sure, but as I said before, the grayness of this day was one of the more beautiful scenes I’ve looked at in a long time.
The third and fourth wineries we visited, Barossa Vines and Kies Family Wines weren’t structured like the first two, in that you just told them what you wanted to try and they served it up, rather than going through a list with you. The wines were quality. I really can’t say I remember all of them, but I remember always having a couple sweet wines at the end and of course the Tawny or port last.
After the fourth stop, none of us were intoxicated, but we were all feeling like taking a good nap. But that would have to wait because Craig had one more thing to show us.
He took us to this large dam that was built over 100 years ago. It’s called the Whispering Wall. After building this huge dam, locals discovered it had very strange acoustics. By standing at one end of the dam, I could have a normal conversation with someone over 400 feet away without yelling or even talking that loud. Due to the curve in the reservoir wall, the sound travels right around to the other side. Just like the World’s Largest Rocking Horse, seeing the Whispering Wall was not something I thought I’d see when I woke up that day, but am glad that I saw them anyway.
The ride home was nap time. I think most of the van took a snooze. I had a great one. We were dropped off at our hotels, motels and hostels around 4:30pm. We all said our good luck and goodbyes and that was that on the Barossa Valley.
I went and had a shower and was picked up by Sean and Shannon around 6. We went out to an organic pizza restaurant. It was really good. We had some tasty garlic bread for starters, and then split three individual pizzas. I ordered the salmon pizza, Shannon had the chicken and Sean ordered duck pizza.
Then we went and had ice cream, despite having nowhere to put it. If you go back and read my Adelaide Days 1 and 2 blogs, notice how I ate like a king for 48 hours.
To end the night, the three of us went bowling. I hadn’t been bowling since last November, so it was good to get the shoes back on. I won both games with scores of 163 and 158. I was rolling great – for me. Bowling is exactly the same in Australia except that they don’t have ½ shoe sizes. I’m a 10.5 but had to go either 10 or 11. I went with 10.
After being out until 3am the night before, we decided to go home because we had some big plans for Friday night. I had no problem with that because I had just spent an entire day on 4.5 hours of sleep.
Tomorrow: Adelaide Day 3