This morning we were really excited that we had the wine tour, Sarah had done the research before we left Melbourne and came upon these guys.
It looked perfect for us as we were not wine experts, despite being good wine drinkers.The Wine for Dudes idea is that 'wine is for everybody' and therefore you should be able to enjoy the wineries and not be put off by the snobbery associated with wine tasting.
We were picked up by John, a Kiwi fella who at first I just thought was a driver but it turned out he was the owner. He fitted 'Wine Dude' stereotype as he was a pretty laid back character but he was good value and obviously knew a lot about the area and the wineries. On route to pick up more of the group he told us that back in Nov 2011 there was a bush fire that came through the Margaret river area burning down 33 homes including the replica of one of the first settlers house which looks over the river. John wasn't able to get back to his own house as the roads were closed but was relieved to discover that although the outside was burnt that the contents inside including his wine collection had survived. For 3 weeks they weren't allowed to go back to their homes but the community rallied together with dinner parties round people's houses who were putting friends up.
John also explained why Margaret River is a famous wine region as the climate and soil in this area has ideal conditions. The clay soil absorbs the little rain (this mornings rain was unseasonal) that the area gets releasing just enough for the vines rather than over watering them. This area gets lots of hours of sunshine which allows the gapes to ripen, however as it has the ocean on 3 sides which helps to cool it down rather than being too over heated, similar to Mediterranean. Grapes do well on western coasts , which is why you will find wineries on the western coasts of South Africa and South America and California.
We up 2 other couples who were from the UK and headed to our first winery passing through Cowamup aka "Cowtown". This town wasn't doing very well until someone came up with the idea of adding the cows.
Now tourists will stop off to take photos and help the local business to keep going. The golden cow known the "rump on a stump", was an artists take on one of the famous wineries Laurence who are known for having a 'chick on a stick' as part of their wine labels.
On arriving at the first winery we were taken into the wine tasting area, the group grew to 13 of us and with the exception of one Aussie we were all Brits. We were also joined by our guide Wayne aka 'Crocodile Dundee' (he was a dead ringer) who was going to be taking the group around the wineries.
The first winery was called Chruchview and we were entertained by a guy called Denis who taught us some of the etiquette of how to taste wine including how to hold glass by the foot/stem and how to swirl the glass in order to release the aromas and flavours in the wine.
He also explained how to determine the age of the wine by its colour. For white wine the lighter it is the younger it is whereas for red wine the lighter the older it is as it deposits sediment as it ages. The idea is to look for the clarity in the wine to check the quality. To get our tastebuds going he suggested we take two sips of each wine. The first one to coat the mouth to prepare it for the second which is where you ll get all the flavour. It was good to get some coaching but we felt he was also a little bit too keen emphasise that we were novices, and it was slightly annoying that he constantly referred to prices but then again this is what a typical salesman would do.
We tried 8 different wines of red and white and including mixtures of Semillion and Sauvignon which are two different types of grapes and depending on which comes first when labelled it represents the higher ratio of grape in the mixture and ultimately the flavour that it contains. We also tried a Chardonnay that Sarah particularly liked, which is not the norm for her. Denis explained that the reason this is better in Margaret river is that French oak barrels are used that cost $2000-3000 dollars each and can be used about 3-4 times. So those bargain wines at Tescos which are given a manufactured oak taste which is quite harsh are the ones to avoid. Of course this basically means Sarah's tastebuds must only enjoy the finest (expensive) Chardonnays one can buy. We enjoyed the wines we tasted and Sarah even liked the Cabernet Sauvignon red which was a complete surprise as she doesn't like reds normally and so we bought a bottle.
A great start and Sarah also made a friend
Moving onto the next winery we stopped at Hayshed Hill and met Bec, our wine expert and Becky the dog...
who was proudly featured as Miss December 2014 for the winery dogs calendar.
Bec was very good at explaining the wine and was an expert fly swatter, literally mid speech she smacked a fly on the table witout a blink. We started off with bubbles before trying more white, pink and red wines.
The added bonus of this stop was that we were going to do some wine blending to make our own glass of Cabernet Shiraz blend to have with our lunch. Like a science class we had our wines and measures and set work to make the best combination.
Some of us concentrated a little too much.
And some basked in the ambience.
I went for recommended 63% Cabernet Sauvignon and 37% Shiraz.
It was during this time were the group got to know each other a little more and let their hair down, making a bit of a mess with the wine pouring. We found out the one of the couples Sarah and Steve lived off Lavender Hill in Clapham only minutes away from our old place. Totally bizarre. They were really friendly and we had a good time gas'ing away whilst devouring the gourmet pizzas the winery had supplied.
Sarah liked this quote on a tea towel..."wine is to women what duct tape is to men, it fixes everything!"
Then we went to our next stop, The Grove, a liquor place with crocs in their pond and drop bears in their trees.
Steve the proprietor, with an impressive moustache, was very funny and gave us all liquor cocktails and was a lot of fun.
There were some delcious mixtures of liquor that everyone enjoyed like Cookies and Creme, using white chocolate and raspberry liquor and creme. Butterscotch and dark chocolate liquors, Turkish delight was a favourite, and in between we would freshen palette with 'vodka' (actually water but at first we weren't sure). By this point we were all well oiled and so the laughter was infectious.
We then went to chocolate factory... Free chocolate!
Sarah got the marzipan delights yum and I tried chi chi chilli and an almond one.. Amazing!
We made a quick stop at a cheese factory where we all sampled some cheese but no one was really interested in buying any so we jumped back in the van to go to the last winery. Its a tough task to keep a group of people entertained as they have all been drinking but the girl did quite well and we sampled some of their mulled wine which was great.
The last stop was at a brewery where Steve and I shared a palette of beers and the two Sarah's chatted and we found out they had gotten engaged on their trip so a toast was in order.
It was such a good day out, and we got picked up by John and he was nice enough to swing by the local golf club so we could get a glimpse of the Kangeroos hanging out on the fairway. Apparently the golfers just play through!
John picked us up and kindly allowed us to drop off our goods back at the campsite and took us back to Margaret River centre where we went for dinner with Sarah and Steve and he joined us as well. We shared some more excellant wine which John got for the table. He was a stand up guy, and really honest about how things work telling us his aspirations for the company and was keen to get our feedback which is quite refreshing if you ever get to meet him. He had some fun stories about the different characters you get on tour and seemed to know everyone in town frequently pausing to say hello to passersby. He told us how the area had changed and where the good places were to hang out, it seems like a fun community to live in. It was a great way to end a perfect day sharing stories with some new friends.
We would definitely recommend the tour to anyone looking for a laid back winery tour!
Stay tuned for more tales