Monday, December 19, 2011

Yarra Gonna Have A Good Time

Sorry its been a while since I last wrote.  There are more pictures in my Flickr Account so if you want to access those follow this link: Flickr Stream

Every team in this league has a “bye” week or a week off.  This past week was some much needed R&R for the Aces.  During this extra week off I had a visitor come to town, my wife Pam.  For those who don’t know me, Ive been married for 4 years now and together we have 2 amazing children; Brady (2 Years) and Hudson (5 Months).  Our wedding anniversary is November 17th which happened to be two weeks after I left Colorado for Australia.  I had originally planned on taking my wife out for a nice dinner and then to go see the “Lion King” at the Denver Performing Arts Center.  We ended up selling the tickets to the show and planned that at some point she would come out to visit.  As the day approached for her to come out, I began searching the web for places to take her while she was visiting.  I ran across several tours involving penguins and beach visits and other various landmarks around Melbourne.  I eventually asked my teammates where I should go and a suggestion came from Justin Huber.  He had taken his girlfriend wine tasting the Yarra Valley and said he had a great time.  I knew my wife loves wine and wine tasting so I thought it was the perfect match.  I quickly grabbed a computer and did a quick search on the Yarra Valley and found that its only about 45 minutes from Melbourne and they have tons of wineries and heaps more tours that drive you from tasting to tasting.  I booked us a spa room at the Balgownie Estate Winery, also at the suggestion of Huber.  I also booked a tour with Yarra Valley Wine Tours, which picked us up from our hotel and took us to 5 different wineries and returned us safely that evening.

Balgownie Estate
The day started early.  We woke up at 7:30am and were on the road by 8:30am.  The morning was pretty glum, even by Melbourne standards.  It was overcast and drizzling but fortunately it was not a sign of things to come.  It rained pretty much the whole way up the Yarra Valley with some slight breaks here and there.  We pulled into the Balgownie Estate Winery about 9:30am and I thought, just for gits and shiggles I would try and check in to our room early.  Luckily the night before they had a no show for a corporate meeting and a room was ready for our arrival.   We went back to the car to grab our luggage and walked down the tiles walkway to the end of the building and up a quick flight of stairs to our room.  As we entered the room our first impression was that it was definitely modern, clean and perfect for our stay.  To our immediate left was the bedroom and slightly down the hall from that the bathroom with built in hot tub.  To our right was a counter with sink, microwave, refrigerator and a basket of instant coffee and tea.  As you enter all the way into the room you enter the living room complete with large 42” flat screen TV, couch, dining table and patio with a small table and chairs.  There was also a large curved window that gave you a glimpse into the hot tub and bathroom.  Our view was equally as impressive as the room.  We were looking out onto rolling hills dotted with rows of grape vines, slightly cloudy skies and lots of green vegetation.  We took a moment to unpack our bags and settle in a bit before heading down to the front office to wait for our chariot to arrive.
As we approached the front office, the van had just pulled up.  Perfect timing.  Pam and I hopped into our seats and we were off to the first tasting of the day.  My wife is a social butterfly, so she tried to strike up conversation immediately upon setting out.  Everyone was either shy or still waking up because you could hear crickets chirping inside the van.  Our driver, Bill, started explaining a bit of history behind our first stop at Sticks.  We spilled out of the van, still under drippy skies, and walked down to the cellar door.  Inside we were greeted by two winery representatives who would be serving us their tasty selections.  We both went down the menu and tasted everything they had to offer.  The Yarra Valley is known for its white wines such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc because of its climate and growing conditions.  After sampling all the creations the group piled back into the van and headed off to the second tasting. 

View From Our Room
Once on the van my wife again tried to stimulate some conversation with the groups on board and again she didn’t get much in return.  One couple, sitting next to us, was a bit more chatty and offered up some conversation but not much.  Our next stop was Oakridge.  Once inside our server was much more outgoing and humorous.  As he cracked jokes and poked fun at people he explained about their wines and a bit of history of the winery.  At this point people began to loosen up a bit.  Maybe it was the humor maybe it was the wine, either way the trip was about to be infinitely more fun.  We went through the whole menu there as well and back into the van and off to the next cellar we went. 

Rochford Wine Barrels
Once back on the van, sleeves were rolled up and hair was let down and it was a party van.  Everyone was talking, laughing and having a great time.  We began asking and answering questions about where we were from and what other parts of Australia were like.  The third winery was Rochford, which ended up being our favorite of the trip.  The skies and weather were now both cooperating as well, as the sun began to peak through the clouds and the rain ceased.  Rochford was also where we were going to be eating lunch for the day.  The wine expert at this winery was definitely the most informative of the trip.  He explained the different bottle types, how certain wine varieties came about and why twist tops were now replacing corks to seal bottles.  We tried a variety of whites, and reds and we eventually came to my favorite wine of the trip, a fortified cabernet.  The wine maker explained to us that a batch of Cab Sav had inexplicably stopped half way through its maturation period.  The wine was still good, but it was no longer going to age any further so they decided to blend the Cab Sav with Brandy.  I don’t want to sound ignorant or misinformed but Im pretty sure he said the reason they chose brandy was because it was either brewed in a similar fashion to wine or its made from the same style of grapes…I don’t quite remember.  What I do remember is drinking an absolutely delightful wine.  It was sweet like a port but had similar flavors to the Cab Sav’s im used to.  A side bonus to the brandy mix was that it also increased the alcohol percentage to about 14.  Needless to say I bought a couple bottles to bring back to Melbourne and stash away for a special occasion.  After going though the whole menu of wines, the group entered the dining room and we had lunch.  I ordered the parma and Pam ordered a pasta.  Both dishes were tasty and disappeared from our plates along with a glass of our favorite wine.  With our bellies full and our BAC through the roof, we got back on the booze bus and off to our fourth winery of the day.

Coombe Winery
Our next stop was Coombe, home of what they claimed was the best Chardonnay in the Yarra Valley.  The two ladies here were a riot.  The smaller of the two seemed like she had been drinking all day.  She was very loose and goofy and kind of rambled on about this and that.  The taller lady seemed more collected and professional.  Regardless, together they were a good match of knowledge of wine and practical uses for them with food.  We started with their sparkling wine which Pam and I both agreed was pretty good.  We are not much of sparkling wine fans but this one was quite tasty.  Next was the crown jewel of the Coombe winery, the Chardonnay.  It was sweet, lemony, buttery and smooth.  These ladies were not kidding.  Im not a white wine fan by any means but this Chardonnay definitely won a fan in me.  We finished the rest of menu and once again piled into the van and off to our fifth and final destination of the evening.

Group Lunch at Rochford
Punt Road Winery was the final stop on our small tour of the Yarra Valley.  This winery was not so much known for their wines but for their ciders.  Ciders have become increasingly popular in Australia over the last few years and its easy to see why after tasting the delights of Punt Road.  We started with Pear Cider.  Made with several varieties of pears this cider was easy drinking and smooth on the tongue.  Although there was an alcohol level to the drink you would be hard pressed to taste it.  Same thing applied to our second offering the apple cider.  We were lucky they day we showed up because it happened to be the first day they were offering a special blend of their apple cider that usually sells out in a matter of weeks.  Of course we bought into the sales pitch and purchased a bottle of cider to keep for later consumption.  After the ciders we ran through the rest of the menu which included some whites and some delicious reds, some of which we thought were the best of the trip.

Dinner is Served
After the final winery we poured ourselves back into the van and our driver Bill managed to safely drop us all off at our respective hotels around the valley.  We bid farewell to each couple as they exited the van and I think in the end we all had heaps of fun and all made some new friends.  Bill dropped Pam and I off at Balgownie and fortunately we had just enough time to taste the wines our hotel had to offer.  That brought our total to 6 wineries for the day and by the end our taste buds and our bodies were tired yet satisfied.  We capped off our night with a delicious meal served at the hotel restaurant.  Our waitress asked during the meal if we would both like a glass of wine to accompany our entrees and we both looked at each other, smiled and politely declined.  Not because we didn’t like their wine but because  we had simply drunk enough during the day. 

What a great way to spend an anniversary.  It was nice to finally have some alone time with my wife, without kids and outside distractions.  We retired to our room for the evening with more adventures to await us the next day.  The Yarra Valley was a beautiful place and definitely left a lasting impression on us both.  We were both extremely happy the weather cooperated with us and made for a beautiful day.

No Worries, Its My Left Arm!
The next morning we tried sleeping in a bit but to much futility we were up about 8am.  Between kids and time zones and travel there really was not much hope for sleeping in.  We both arose and ate some breakfast at the hotel then quickly packed our bags and headed home.  Before getting back on the road we stopped at a zoo called the Healesville Sanctuary.  The sanctuary was not large by any means but had a good representation of Australian wildlife.  Pam has always wanted to feed a kangaroo and pet or hold a koala and fortunately the sanctuary affords the opportunity to do both….to an extent.  We had to buy tickets for our “magic moments” with the animals of our choosing so due to time constraints Pam choose hang out with a koala.  She wasn’t allowed to feed or pet him but she could stand right next to him and practically whisper in his ear.  
Pam and Benny

Benny was the star for the day and luckily for us he was awake, which is a rarity during daylight hours.  Koalas, we found, sleep nearly 18 hours a day and are most active in the night hours.  Pam met up with the zoo keeper and she escorted her into Benny’s pen.  He was lounging in the stump of a eucalyptus tree about as relaxed as one could possibly be.  All he need was a fruity drink with a little umbrella in it and some shades on.  The zoo keeper gave us a small lesson in koalas and their habits and the history of Benny.  Pam was able to stand right next to his perch but like I said wasn’t able to pet him.  He was a lot bigger than both of us had expected but very docile and charming.  Pam had a great time hanging out with him and it was definitely worth the extra money for her “magic moment”.  After Pam was done admiring Benny, we took a short cut through the park and took our seats for the wild bird show.  We got to see a bunch of the native birds of Australia flying around, performing tricks and buzzing our tower.  It was a great mix of parrots, hawks and owls.  As with most things there was a message behind the whole performance and oddly enough this one was to use recycled toilet paper to help save the trees and preserve the homes of these wild birds.  We walked around the rest of the sanctuary looking at emus, dingoes, and even caught a glimpse of a platypus.  
Saving Nature One Wipe At A Time

We walked through the kangaroo reserve where they lazy bums just laid sunning themselves and staring back at us as awkwardly as we were staring at them.  Near the end of the trip we toured the animal hospital and got see the nurses helping a few animals, including a baby wallaby.  We completed the day by getting lost on the way home because Google maps wanted us to take a toll road and I didn’t have a toll pass.  So instead of a nice 45 minute drive down the highway we took a 2 hour tour of east Melbourne.  Overall a great two days seeing the sights, tasting wine and spending some quality time with my wife.


  1. Glad you are getting out to see some of our wonderful town.
    BTW toll passes can be purchased up to 48 hours after using the tolls.

  2. "Justin Huber: Romantic Events Management Services Pty Ltd" - for all great occasions!

    I'm pleased that you've now had some great Aussie experiences.

  3. Did not know Huber was an know that he has hit 2 MLB home runs. ! off Cliff Lee and the other off Randy Johnson...doh! Cool~Marc Stout