Monday, February 1, 2016

Yarra Valley

We picked up our rental car in downtown Melbourne, and headed east to wine country!  First, getting acclimated with driving on the 'other' side of everything!  

He only hit one curb getting out of downtown...and I don't blame him at all, it was trying to do one of Melbourne's insane 'hook turns.' As if being on the other side of the road and the car wasn't bad enough, Melbourne has created these crazy hook turns - according to google, "a hook turn is a right turn from the left-hand lane. A hook turn is required to be made at most intersections in central Melbourne where trams operate." 

He did great!  The worst part was that not only are you sitting on the right, but the windshield whippers and turn signal are on opposite sides of the steering wheel, too.  I have to admit, I got quite a kick out of every time he hit the wrong one!  But was very grateful I didn't have to drive, I could just navigate.

Ahhh, wine country.  Our first stop was Coldstream Hills.   It was a beautiful spot with lovely views.  Famous Australian winemaker and connoisseur James Halliday started Coldstream Hills back in 1985.

After our first tasting, we stopped at St. Hubert's cellar door (tasting room).  We found several there we liked, including one we picked up for dinner - The Stag.  

Next stop - lunch!  Meletos Cafe was in a beautiful setting with gorgeous views for lunch.  

We ate a lot of pizza on this felt as though it was on every menu!  We also had this delicious grilled asparagus, and maybe my favorite dish of the trip: gnocchi with chopped scallops, chorizo, mozzarella and basil in a tomato sauce - omg it was delicious!

After lunch, we walked over to the Napoleone Brewery, which is inside of Meletos.  We had a great time trying several beers and chatting for a long time with the head brewer and some of the other guys who worked there.  We shared lots of US beer stories, and got some good recommendations for the rest of our trip. 

The afternoon was beautiful, so we grabbed a pint and headed outside to enjoy the scenery.

After the big lunch, we weren't too hungry for dinner, so we stopped by the Yarra Valley Dairy for some cheeses and meats for dinner. 

My friend who I mentioned in the previous post about Melbourne, is the GM of the Eastern Golf Club in Yarra Valley.  The just opened the new clubhouse in the second half of 2015.  It's beautiful and huge - we got the full tour!  On the back part of the property is where the Yering Gorge Cottages are - a quiet, lovely setting. 

The property is just beautiful!  The rolling hills of the golf course were green and lush!  AND there were kangaroos!!  I told Ben I better see one...and he delivered!  See them in the photo above, just to the left of the natural area!  More on that later...

The cottage was just fantastic.  The setting was perfect, and the cottage was exactly what we needed. 

That night, after a long day at the club, Ben came over for a little while to share the cheeses, meats, and wine that we'd collected throughout the day.  

The next morning we were supposed to go on a hot air balloon ride that M had given me for my birthday.  Unfortunately, the evening before, we got a call that said the weather was "too unstable" for us to fly.  So bummed!  However, instead of having to be up and at the launch site at 4:30AM (!!), we were able to sleep in and enjoy breakfast on the deck.  

Time for wine!

Our first stop was Sticks, or so we thought!  Apparently, Sticks had just recently closed their cellar door, and Greenstone Vineyards had taken over.  So, we enjoyed tasting their wines!  Their Shiraz's were really good, we enjoyed all of them.  The tasting room manager was very sweet, and was so excited to talk to Americans.  Her favorite topic was the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, and how she'd always wanted to make pumpkin pie.  I told her about Southern Living, and promised that would be the perfect spot to find a good recipe.  Hope she had some luck!

Next up - time for lunch.  Since the BAC level is much lower, and you know, that whole 'driving on the other side of the road' thing was still uncomfortable, we were very selective in the wineries we visited.  Also, with any traffic stop in Australia, a breathalyzer test is required.  There was no messing around!

We wanted to try Innocent Bystander winery, and they're actually in one big facility with Giant Steps, Mea Culpa, and a wonderful restaurant.  Since we'd wanted to try all 3 wineries, we were in luck!  So we did a bit of a tasting, then had a delicious lunch!  Guess what we!  Everything - the food, wine, and coffee - was so good.  Giant Steps and Innocent Bystander had some of our favorites of the whole trip!

After we left there, it really started to rain... and all we had heard for two days was "have you been to the new gin distillery?"  Since we aren't big gin fans, we originally hadn't planned to stop by...but so many people asked about it, and it was right around the corner, we thought we should stop and and see what the fuss was about.  

Four Pillars Distillery opened in 2013, but just opened their distillery door in 2015.  While I neglected to take a single photo, the place was lovely.  The girl at the counter was very knowledgeable and helpful educating us on gin, the distilling and tasting process, and really just super nice and cute.  Definitely glad we ducked in - plus, the rain stopped while we were there!

The skies were still quite ominous on our trip to the last stop for the day. 

The final stop of the day was De Bortoli Wines.  They make a TON of different things - like 4 different roses alone!  We tried a few of theirs, and they just weren't our favorites.  We did really enjoy one of their sweeter wines, which happens to be probably their most famous one - Noble One - which we had to bring a bottle home with us.  

While the wines weren't our favorites, the views were just beautiful - especially with the storm clouds moving around the valley. 

Back at the cottage, we enjoyed a quiet afternoon sitting on the deck and looking out at the view while we waited for 'the big event' of the weekend!  My other friend Barb, who is the GM of a club just across the street, and Ben came up to the cottage for a fabulous dinner.  Ben brought all the delicious food - cheese and charcuterie plate, big steaks and a lovely salad.  He wanted us to have a 'proper Aussie barbecue!'  We helped supply the wine from our few days around the valley, and had just the best night sitting on the deck, talking and laughing all night!  

I hadn't seen them in over 3 years, and it was truly one of the highlights of the entire trip!

We said goodbye that evening, as M and I were headed back to Melbourne for an early morning flight - next stop, Sydney!

Ben and Barb, thanks for your fabulous hospitality and all the laughs - now come to the US to visit us!

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