I woke. My head was buried in the soft goose feather pillows, creating a perfect mould of my forehead. I opened my eyes slightly, trying to adjust to the bright light that was entering the room. All I could see was light reflecting off the white walls and crisp white Egyptian cotton sheets. I rubbed my eyes to see whether it would alter my perspective. Nothing changed. Everything was white.
My right hand extended to the side table, fumbling around to find my weapon. A Beretta M9 was my weapon of choice at the moment, equipped with 9x19mm Parabellum rounds – one in the chamber, 15 in the magazine. Cocked and locked – ready for action. It wasn’t there. Then I woke up…
An interesting nights sleep to say the most. Not sure whether my interrupted sleep was due to a preservative in the wine we drank with dinner last night, or due to the many books I have read whilst away. Currently on 10 books, 8 of which are by Lee Childs on the Jack Reacher character – an ex army soldier who fights crime and busts caps. Don’t worry, no guns in the caravan, plenty in the books I am reading!
Despite a poor nights sleep, all occupants of the van woke later than we have done over the last 56 sleeps. I think it was 7.15am, a huge sleep in for me, and Ava hadn’t stirred. After the ladies exited hibernation, we ate outside – the day was a little overcast (with the potential of being gloomy) contrary to the positive weather cited on the weather ap. Ducks and geese lined in a row outside the metal fence that separated our campsite from Burra Creek. They waited patiently for the girls to arm themselves with day old bread crusts. The geese were first in line, protecting their real estate by giving a good peck to any ducks that were getting between them and the bread crumbs. Ava and Audrey fed both the geese and ducks without bias, saving food for the ducklings and goslings. Being the fountain of knowledge that I am, I imparted some of my knowledge onto the girls. “Do you know what that duck is called” I said, “no” the girls replied in unison. “Dinner” I exclaimed. The penny finally dropped and the girls laughed. The names continued, “that one is called ‘Peking’, the one next to him ‘crispy’ and the one at the back ‘pancake'”. Ava replied “Duck pancakes, I love duck pancakes!” Yes they may bad dad jokes, don’t fret I hold the appropriate licence to deliver said jokes.
Another action packed day for the travelling Beatties. A visit at Mintaro Maze for the girls, some wine tasting at a few cellar doors followed by a visit at a bakery for some afternoon treats. We climbed into our trusty wagon and headed for the historic town of Mintaro and it’s living maze, constructed of around 800 conifer trees! After paying the ‘gate keeper’ the entry fee, we received a list of things to find whilst in the maze. To make it more entertaining, Caroline and I split into two teams, lets call them Alpha and Zeta. I led team Alpha with Ava and raced ahead of Caroline and Audrey to complete some the answers for the questions before the other team knew what had hit them. To accelerate the fun factor of the maze hunt the girls were equipped with the UHF radios. Team Alpha with orange, Team Zeta yellow – Audrey’s favourite colour.
Team Alpha was off to a good start, we had answered three of the questions within the first five minutes, surely team Zeta would be feeling the pain of our success. Ava radioed in on channel 15. Audrey replied “have you found the middle of the maze yet?”. Despite being just a little competitive, we were behind team Zeta. Time to increase our pace from a dawdle to a jog. Finally Ava and I found Caroline and Audrey. We compared answers to the questions and traded team members. Audrey and I were now a newly formed team – the mission was to be the first to exit the maze. I ran, Audrey followed and Team Alpha had their first win for the day. Success!
Mintaro maze was a fantastic place to visit. We bought the necessary coffee and milkshakes to refuel our bodies and had a look at the other obstacles they offered to entertain our minds. There were oversized puzzles, naughts and crosses, chess and games that I had never seen before. We played a few games of naughts and crosses before leaving for the first vineyard of the day – Sevenhill Cellars, the first winery established in Clare Valley.
The vineyard was initially established by the Jesuits in 1851 to make sacramental wine – even though I was the designated driver today, my appreciation of the wines bouquet (and some small sips) reinforced that the Jesuits knew what they were doing! Caroline worked her way through their range of Rieslings. We were surprised that Clare Valley was well known for this wine variety, particularly with the warm weather and cooler nights. According to the cellar doors we visited today, it is the composition of the limestone based soils, that makes this area ideal for Riesling.
Boasting vines that are 160 years old, Caroline initiated her wine experience at Sevenhill with a 2016 Inigo Riesling. She passed the glass to me after her first mouthful and we both decided that we would move to something accustomed to our palate. We moved onto the red wines. Audrey accompanied Caroline during this tasting, remaining asleep on Caroline’s shoulder the entire time!
The first red was a mixed variety, a Touriga Shiraz Malbec. A medium bodied blend that can be served chilled. Pleased with this wine, Caroline moved onto the Inigo Barbera (a north Italian styled wine), the Inigo Merlot followed by a paired tasting of the 2014 Inigo Shiraz and the 2010 Brother John May Reserve Release Shiraz. The latter was priced at $95 a bottle. While the Reserve Release Shiraz was lovely, the 2014 Inigo Shiraz was better value.
After a visit to the historic church within the grounds of the vineyard, we left Sevenhill pleased with the wines we tasted. As such we purchased our first bottles for Clare Valley:
- 2014 Four Buckets Touriga Shiraz Malbec
Second stop was Shut the Gate, a vineyard that we expected to be small in stature after receiving information from the Clare Valley Wine, Food and Tourism Centre. Upon arrival, we were pleasantly surprised by the relaxed atmosphere. A rustic ex-nursery that had a Tuscan feel about it. Outside the cellar door there was a beautiful garden, an eclectic mix of plants with a fountain as the centrepiece. Inside, the building was complemented by small rooms, suitable for multiple tastings. Caroline, the girls and I sought refuge in the first room we entered and were entertained by the owners. Wine tasting number two was about to commence.
Caroline commenced the tastings with another Italian influenced white varietal, the 2016 Spring Farm Fiano. An interesting drop, but not entirely to our palate. Caroline once again soldiered her way through the Rieslings, sampling Rieslings from Watervale, Polish Hill and Rosie’s Patch. It was interesting to see the change in bouquet and taste between the regions, albeit all still within the grasp of Clare Valley. All were unique, some drier, while another was described as a mouthful and ‘slurpier’. We particularly enjoyed the Watervale Riesling! Caroline then moved onto the Sauvignon Blanc, a nose of passion fruit which tasted of a citrus passion fruit hybrid when it was on the palate with a tropical aftertaste. After trying the Rose, Caroline boycotted the Sangiovese, Barbera and other varietals moving to the all important Shiraz.
Caroline requested a taste of the 2014 The Forager Shiraz alongside the 2012 Single Site Shiraz – an older grape, hand basket pressed and over twice the price. The nose of the 2012 was superb, similar to that of the finer Shiraz we have had back in Sydney from South Australia – a good contender to that of Barossa and Mclaren Vales better wines!
We left Shut the Gate overwhelmed with the quality of their wines, surprising ourselves by purchasing a Riesling – a variety that Caroline and I don’t ordinarily purchase! We left Shut the Gate entertained by the owners and a little more knowledgeable of wine varieties and the impact on climate/soil on the taste of wine, purchasing:
- 2016 Watervale Riesling
- 2016 Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc
- 2014 The Forager Shiraz
- 2012 Single Site Shiraz
Two birds with one stone for the next and final stop for the day before heading to Burra. We headed towards The Little Red Grape, which had a bakery attached to the premises. After visiting the bakery for some afternoon cakes, we headed to the cellar door. As Caroline took Ava to the toilet, I advised the owner that Caroline would most likely boycott the whites and move to the red wines. When she returned from the bathroom, this is exactly what she requested.
The owner of The Little Red Grape advised us that he wasn’t a fan of blending wines, encouraging people to appreciate the ‘truth’ behind the variety, rather than mixing it with something else. Caroline tried the Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec before one again moving to a paired tasting of their Shiraz. Admittedly I wasn’t as taken by these wines when compared with the previous two cellar doors we visited. Despite this, we left the cellar door with:
- 2012 The Dorham Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2014 Rieslingfreak No 9 Method Champ Riesling
The rationale for purchasing the Riesling fizz was that surprisingly we were ill prepared to enter the New Year. No fizz to end our evening. Nonna and Gramps would be ashamed and there is no bottle shop to speak of in the area! The two bottles were purchased, with the Rieslingfreak entering the fridge for some serious chilling before we end the year.
Wanting to make the most of the last few hours of 2016 with my darling wife while we have the comfort of the girls ‘supposedly’ sleeping before waking for the 9pm fireworks I will cut the blog short for now. Any further antics for 2016 will be included in tomorrows blog.
Happy New Year to family and friends. Some of you may get the chance to read our blog whilst waiting for the fireworks to commence in Sydney or abroad, sitting on a boat within the harbour or whilst operating a drone and injuring one of your guests upon landing. Don’t worry Darren, I won’t let anyone know you were the one with the drone!!
All our love, here is to a fantastic finish to 2016 and a brilliant 2017!
Lachlan, Caroline, Ava and Audrey xoxo