Christmas in the middle of summer-the Aussies got it right! We have been here since early November, typically the start of the Christmas rush back in the States. Downtown Sydney, a week before Christmas, and there is no more “rush” than is typical in the middle of a city of 3.something million people. Sure, there is the typical holiday hype and decoration, but the Aussies take Christmas, and life for that matter, a bit less seriously. The outdoor lunchtime cafes fill from 1pm to 3pm, the dinner restaurants from 9 to midnight. Long, liquid meals are customary. No worries, mate this is life “down under.”
Cate has been working for a few weeks now on a business analysis project for an e-commerce company and I have been chipping away at the “to do” list. This is a document found on most cruising yachts in one form or another, which has the annoying ability to grow from both ends faster than items can be crossed off from the middle. It’s Christmas Eve and time to get away!
Our original plans to visit friends and family in New Zealand were interrupted by some technicalities with New Zealand Immigration relating to my residency visa there. Plan B is to get away from Sydney and see some of the New South Wales countryside. We decide to further our viticultural education and study some of New South Wales’ wine industry.
First stop was the Tizzana Winery and Bed and Breakfast along the lower Hawkesbury River to the North of Sydney. This Tuscan style winery, built in 1887 of sandstone into the side of a hill, has been lovingly restored by the Peter and Carolyn Auld, and includes two beautiful and spacious guest rooms. I suppose any room more than four feet by eight feet is spacious to someone who lives on a yacht, but these rooms are huge. The Auld family are keen winemakers, extraordinary chefs and superb hosts. We enjoyed a fantastic Christmas Eve meal, accompanied by their wines and port, in their dining room overlooking a nearby lake and surrounding bush lands,. The next morning we were included us in their Christmas day brunch where we met some local family and friends. We enjoyed a delightful spread of food and warm company in the cool of the rustic wine cellar.
Their neighbors, Al and Tizzy invited us over for some wine and conversation around the spa that afternoon. That evolved into a lovely shrimp dinner with their family and more great Aussie wine and hospitality. Al and Tizzy have a lovely sprawling home on a beautiful 25-acre ranch with their own lake, their own mountain, lots of privacy, cows, sheep, ducks and plans to plant a vineyard. All this, and less an hour commute to Sydney. Al came over from L.A. on business about 12 years ago, met Tizzy and decided to stay. There’s no way you could find a place like this near L.A. and get change back from your ten million. He now speaks with a distinctive Austramerican accent.
We did a bit of touring around and visited some of the old hotels along the Hawkesbury. River. We lunched at the old hotel at Wiseman’s Ferry under its shady trees overlooking the winding Hawkesbury. It boasts accommodation, a pub, gaming, and a bistro and seems to be the local hangout for the Harley-Davidson set. The Hotel at St. Albans was really a classic, with, thick sandstone walls and low doorways. Everything was rough-hewn, including the patrons. The weather and hospitality were both warm Aussie. This is one of the oldest areas of New South Wales, developed because it was close to Sydney and could support the agriculture necessary to feed it’s booming population. The Hawkesbury provided the necessary artery to get the produce to market.
Next it was on to the Hunter Valley wine region. We stayed at a modest B&B, but anyplace where we can take long showers, sleep on a stationary bed and not have to pump the toilets is just fine with us.
The Hunter Valley seems to shrug off development. With nowhere near the hype and traffic, it conjures up visions of what the Napa Valley must have been like fifty years ago.
Wine tasting is always free, and tasting rooms aren’t cluttered with tacky wine accessories, food and books. It’s all about the wine. As is should be!
For some reason, the road maps of the area are inaccurate. We got lost in little towns with names like Cessnock, Pokolbin and Broke. . Next time I will bring along the hand-held GPS. The valley has a quiet and remote feel about it, and at sunset we saw kangaroos lurking in the bush surrounding the vineyards.
The Hunter Valley produces some of Australia’s finest wines and sells a significant percentage right out of the cellar doors. Some of the big wineries like Lindemanns, McGuigan’s and Rosemount Estate produce enough to achieve worldwide distribution, but the real primo drop, hand crafted by some of the smaller vintners, is snatched up right here. We found some superb Semillon that had ten years of bottle age selling for less than US $10, and some lovely five year old Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon for under $15. Our visit there was an excellent opportunity to replenish some of Moonshadow’s “drinkable ballast,” and we returned to Sydney with the boot of the Holden absolutely chokker. That’s Australian for “the trunk of the Chevy was completely full.”