Thoughts, scribbles, travels and photos
Don't worry. We didn't actually shoot any koalas (but there is a tragic story to tell, if you ask us nicely). Scroll down and eventually you'll see a photograph we shot of a koala, in Dave Bowley's back garden in Adelaide.
First night in Adelaide was eventful. More than 24 hours after leaving London, and a whole series of Victoria later, we arrived to find our Air B&B didn't have any power because the host hadn't paid their bill (a warning if ever one was needed that Air B&B is not like booking a hotel room). We'd been met off the plane by Akira, Dave Bowley's right-hand man at Vinteloper, so the situation was defused (sorry) by whisking us off for an 11pm dinner at Chinatown institution Ying Chow. Highly recommended, right down to the Cooper's sparkling ale and the actual Chinese people eating there.
We ended up being put up in a dive of a motel in the city centre next to the casino. The less said about that the better, so let's move on to our next massive recommendation in Adelaide, the Flinders Street Project (above). Having been up since 3.00am with jet-lag, it was a welcome reminder that coffee really is a Big Thing in this part of the world. Awesome food, and really awesome staff.
Aldinga beach, and another look at the new vintage of Vinteloper Park Wine. Here's the white, a super aromatic, dry Gewürztraminer. Wild ferment, skins for 21 days, unfiltered. No fussing, just great juice for drinking in the park. Or on the beach.
Next day we began among Dave's Touriga Nacional vines in Langhorne Creek, with viticulturalist Sam Bowman (above). We had an awesome time with Sam and learned a huge amount about growing grapes in South Australia - indeed about growing grapes full stop. The vines look unkempt, but that's the way of things here: known as 'lazy VSP' or 'Aussie sprawl', if done correctly it shades berries from sunburn and still allows free air flow, especially important in this relatively humid, low-lying area.
This is what you don't want! Snip.
Now for something completely different... one of the most immaculately managed little vineyards you'll find. Owned by former Yalumba winemaker Robb Cootes, his 'off-the-grid' house is behind you looking down this steep east-facing red clay slope in Lenswood, one of the higher elevations in the Adelaide Hills (altitude here is 454 metres). Planted to Pinot Noir with wide 2-metre row spacing, it provides the fruit for Dave's top wine, Odeon Pinot Noir.
From there to Trevor Desmond's cherry farm near Willunga, on the Fleurieu peninsula. Trevor also farms grapes, and it's one of the sources of Dave's Pinot Gris, which we'll soon be re-introducing to the UK. There are 5 acres of Pinot Gris, mostly planted a decade ago.
As well as cherries and contract grapes, the Desmonds have their own wines under the name Fleurieu Hills Vineyards. There's some fizz, and Pinot Gris of course, plus this quirky 'cherry Moscato' called Delizia. It's carbonated, pink, sweet with a strong fizz, with nice acid to balance the 40 grams of residual. Utterly, unashamedly smashable...
This is a graft of the first Refosco in the Adelaide Hills. Those with keen memories might recall the 2015 Vinteloper Park Red was a Refosco, obtained from the Chalmers family vineyards, and it's from there that Dave and Sam have sourced this: the first Refosco planted in the Adelaide Hills. We're all pretty excited about its potential, though if it comes up trumps you won't be seeing any of it for a few years.
In Glengrove vineyard in the Kangarilla Hills, we saw a kangaroo chilling out among the vines. This is where Dave sources his Adelaide Hills Shiraz. Traditionally thought of as a white wine region - if indeed a wine region at all, being pretty young - the relatively cool Adelaide Hills have in recent years become increasingly renowned for a fresher style of Shiraz.
Over some supper at Dave's after a long day in the vineyards, we explored some odds and sods like this: the very first Urban Winery Project red, a 2012 Grenache from McLaren Vale, complete with Sharon's typically fabulous artwork. It was great. But there's basically none left, sorry...
Here's the second instalment, actually called Urban Winery Project Red #1 because the first outing didn't get given a number. A 2013 vintage blend of Graciano, Aglianico, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Barbera (keep up!). As you can see only a couple of thousand bottles were made but... actually no, we won't ruin the surprise.
To the Vinteloper winery at Revenir in the Adelaide Hills, trying new kit out of tank and barrel, like 2016 Odeon Riesling, 2016 Urban Winery White, 2016 Adelaide Hills and Odeon Pinot Noirs, 2016 Touriga Nacional and plenty of different casks of 2016 Shiraz (that final blend is going to be a stunner).
A bit of fun comparing the 2011 and 2016 Watervale Rieslings. Something we've noticed with the Vinteloper Riesling is it gets more and more approachable in youth with every vintage without losing its soaring acidity, something Dave describes as "those small adjustments yielding tangible improvements from previous releases, it's that last 2% that is the hardest to achieve".
The 2011 has a really developed kerosene aroma. It's round and hugely expressive, big lime fruit and still enormous acidity. It's got plenty to go yet. 2016 is the style we've become used to loving, and once again Dave's totally nailed it. Searing, intense, unfined, a classic. 450 dozen made, there'll be plenty on its way over here once the 2015 is done.
Lovely lunch at the impressive Crafers Hotel (above). Food's very good, French-leaning, and they've got big ambitions as a wine destination. Their sommelier Liinaa gave us a tour of the wine room, which as well as being a roster of the great and good in the Australian wine firmament (traditional and new wave) has some pretty serious gear from the Old World too.
On top of all this, the hotel has its own drive-through bottle shop (see earlier post).
Took in the view from Mount Lofty, 15km east of Adelaide (see in the distance) and 727 metres above sea level. It's the place you're most likely to find snow in South Australia.
A four-hour monotonous drive from Adelaide via a coffee-stop in Keith and we were in Coonawarra, at the historic Glen Roy Shearing Shed now home to the Bellwether winery.
It's here that Sue Bell (above) collects grapes and juice from all over Australia to make the small-scale, stunning Bellwether wines. Sue has an illustrious background at some of Australia's biggest producers and struck out on her own with Bellwether in 2008. In 2014 she was named Australia's winemaker of the year. There are old classics such as Coonawarra Cabernet from just up the ground, new classics such as very fine Tasmanian Chardonnay, and alternative varieties like Tempranillo, Bianco d'Alessano and Malbec. Cool climates and alternative grapes are the front line in Australia's battle against climate change, depicted in Sue's Ant Series range of wines (ants being canaries in the mines of shifting climates).
It's not just a winery. The shed serves up some top notch food too, thanks to the appropriately named chef Kirby Shearing. Wild kangaroo, corn purée, coastal saltbush, coastal parsley, dukkah and puffed rice (above left) greeted us for lunch, as well as some new wines like this 2015 Riverland Bianco d'Alessano (above right), part of Sue's Ant Series.
A Puglian white variety, it therefore doesn't mind hot and arid conditions. Only one block planted in Australia, which was going to be grubbed up due to its perceived lack of commercial appeal. But there's a few people doing it now. This is the best and most striking. Very pale lemon colour, aroma of hay, grass and fresh corn tortilla. Savoury herbs, floral honey, dry and smooth at the same time. A mineral salty finish. So, so cool. The grape is thick-skinned and slow ripening. Those skins give it grip here, and as Sue says, "I've never seen tannins like this in a white variety."
Some more interiors of the Glen Roy shed, including on the right a roster of the Bellwether growers. Unusually for an Australian winery (though Vinteloper do this too), the contract growers are given full prominence as part of the overall story.
Sue took us on a sweeping tour of the world heritage listed Limestone Coast, including an overnight stay in the seaside town of Robe, where we had an excellent meal at Gather cooked by bright young chef Tom Tilbury. Breakfast the following morning at No.4 was also brilliant (Aussies breakfast like champions, healthily).
The coastline scenery here is as you'd expect totally breathtaking. This was on the drive back north from Robe. It's a pretty flat landscape but occasionally you'd go over a small ridge, which we learned would've been a former coastline. Coonawarra itself is barely 50 metres above sea level. Nearby Wrattonbully has a monumental additional 10 metres on it!
You learn so much walking around vineyards with Sue. Above are photographs of a cutting in the famous terra rossa soils of Coonawarra (the large winery in the background of the left-hand photo is Wynn's). Notice on the right the vine's roots snaking their way down through the ferrous red clay then hitting the bright white limestone below.
We headed into Wynn's cellar door, where they had these 1950s bottles on display. Spot the old school 'claret', which as far as we can tell is pretty kosher with the French (isn't it?!), unlike the Prosecco grapes you'll see if you keep scrolling...
Coonawarra is the big draw around here (insofar as a village of just a few hundred people can be a 'draw'), and the fabulously named Wrattonbully is too often overlooked. Sue reckons this higher altitude (another 10 metres!) vineyard area has masses of potential. Traditionally a source of contract-grown grapes for big corporates with few independent producers, Sue with her background at the likes of Hardys knows Wrattonbully offers top-drawer fruit, and it's here she finds Tempranillo for her Ant Series range. And just in case people think visiting producers abroad is one big jolly, here's a photo of Nik hard at work.
Wrattonbully used to be the coastline so the bedrock is limestone but aside from a few rare pockets it doesn't have the ferrous terra rossa of Coonawarra. There's still some cooling ocean influence, and there's that precipitous altitude again (!), meaning all in all it is quite a lot cooler than most Australian climates. So that good acidity and freshness in wines we look for, without sacrificing loveable Aussie ripeness. And that's why Tempranillo - which adores the cooler climate and limestone soils of Rioja - is such a charmer here, probably more so than in the hotter areas it tends to be grown in Australia.
We had a wonderful, eye-opening couple of days with Sue in this sparsely populated but fascinating and endearing corner of South Australia. If one word sums it up it's 'space'. And another two would be 'untapped potential'. Another might be 'historic', after visiting the world heritage listed Naracoorte caves. On that note, we'll leave you with a 500-year-old gum tree and head to Victoria.
Christian Dal Zotto met us off the aeroplane in Melbourne and we drove the few hours north to his family's home in the King Valley. It's a truly beautiful spot, and a total contrast to other places we'd been over the previous ten days. It was settled by many Italians in the decades after the Second World War, including Christian's father Otto who moved here from Valdobbiadene in 1967. He met Elena, from another incoming Italian family called Pizzini, now also notable winegrowers. And he's very much stayed, though still retains strong links to family and friends in Valdobbiadene.
Like most others he farmed tobacco for many years, but turned to grapes in the 1980s and particularly those of his homeland. In 1999, he truly returned to his Venetian routes and became the first person to plant Prosecco grapes in Australia. In 2004, he produced the first Prosecco sparkling wine, examples of which are below: 2016 vintage Pucino Prosecco (left), and the 2014 Pucino Col Fondo (right).
Australian Prosecco, you're wondering? It's true that five years after Otto produced his first sparkling Prosecco, the Italian authorities moved to protect an increasingly popular product and renamed the grape 'Glera'; yet nearly a decade later and having won two court cases, the Dal Zottos (and other Australian Prosecco producers) are still allowed to refer to the grape by its true, traditional name. But due to the 2009 name change, not in the EU.
We'll leave the ins-and-outs of all that to lawyers and politicians. For the moment suffice to say the wines are bloody delicious.
This is a single vineyard of particularly special Prosecco that goes into the Dal Zotto vintage bottling. It's steep, good exposure, and even on a hot day like this there was a good breeze coming down the valley.
Michael (left) is in charge of making the booze, and younger brother Christian (right) is in charge of selling it. Otto still runs the roost in the vineyard. Sempre la famiglia. Prosecco might be their big thing in Australia, followed by (excellent) Pinot Grigio, but the Dal Zotto family have also pioneered and promoted many other Italian grapes, and landing this week we have some really brilliant examples of Arneis, Garganega, Barbera and Sangiovese.
A view of the King Valley from Powers Lookout, location for the final capture of Ned Kelly's teacher, the 'gentleman bushranger' Harry Powers. You can see not just how hilly the area is, but also how green even in the height of summer. It's a truly beautiful wine region.
To Melbourne to stay with an old friend and former colleague Alban. After a final lunch with Christian at the brilliant Lau's, we had a coffee at St Kilda beach before heading into the city to take a Frenchman to his first cricket match...
The MCG half-full under floodlights isn't a bad place to start. Brisbane won a low-scoring game despite former England international Luke Wright's batting through the Melbourne innings with an unbeaten fifty. Kevin Pietersen lasted one ball, and wasn't seen again except every five minutes plugging an advert on the big screens. One of the highlights? Seat cup-holders (above right). Australian cricket fans have their priorities sorted.
KP might have been out of nick at the cricket, but Australia continued its fine form on the breakfast front at Industry Beans in Fitzroy, sort of Melbourne's very own of Shoreditch (or perhaps it's the other way around). Roastery-cum-café, they take their coffee very seriously and present it smartly (above). Many in our trade could take note of how they put together their coffee menu, containing multiple origins, styles and flavour profiles. The food is inspired too.
We walked around Melbourne and in name of research visited an Australian wine temple: Jimmy Watson's. The late man's trophy is still the most prestigious award for Australian red wines, and his son Alan - taking pity on two Poms and a Frenchman escaping from the midday heat - took us on a tour of his homebrews, including the Palomino above right (Alan has his own solera system out the back), as well as 'port', 'sauternes', 'madeira' and a really bloody good sparkling Shiraz.
Our final night in Australia saw one of the most memorable of dinners at Attica in Ripponlea, thirty-third best restaurant in the world and the best in Australasia. It's worth a trip.
The title of this photo-diary is about shooting koalas, so fitting to end with one. This is in Dave Bowley's back garden in Adelaide just before we caught our flight home. Koalas are jolly hard to spot, and a bit like going leopard-spotting in Africa, I spent most of my fortnight in Australia looking up trees. At the eleventh hour, sweltering in 38 degrees, we found one.