Saturday, 28 April 2012

Heathcote Winery Tour

I love wine and there is no wine I love more than Shiraz. To me, a Shiraz can be the perfect addition to a hearty meal or a wonderful tipple to be tasted and savoured all on its own. It is full, warm and pounds the taste buds like Tarzan pounds his chest. It makes me feel alive & energised and cosy & comforted all at the same time.

Yes, I do love wine.

As a surprise birthday present, Dan organised a weekend away in Heathcote - an area famous for producing premium Shiraz. You can imagine my excitement. Not only did I get a weekend away with my man, I was surrounded by wine!

After a reasonably quick drive (appox an hour and a half) after work on the Friday, we arrived at our abode for the weekend - Bungalow on Lewis. Right in the middle of viticultural and agricultural properties. We settled in for the night making sure to get plenty of rest before hitting up wineries the next day - and there isn't much to do in Heathcote at night anyway.

We rose much earlier than we'd hoped. Sleep-ins seem so indulgent and romantic, but that body clock just has no snooze button. So we checked out our neighbours (sheep) and made breakfast with the supplies in the Bungalow.

Dan went for the ol' raisin bread and plum jam for breakfast, nice but a little boring. I decided to try something different... pear, plum jam and brie cheese. Yum! A tasty combination of sweet and savoury, crispy and soft.

Being the thoughtful young man he is, Dan had organised a winery tour for us. (Isn't he wonderful?) It is so much easier to enjoy yourself and relax when you don't have to drive. Having a driver with some local knowledge can be handy too. So right on 10am our tour bus arrived and Joe, our driver, Dan and I ventured into the main area of Heathcote.

Our first stop: Heathcote Winery. Right on Heathcote's Main Street, I couldn't believe a winery would have such a central location. And it wasn't just a cellar door either. We were taken out the back to taste the fresh grapes that had recently been picked - so juicy.

But before that, as we stepped into Heathcote Winery, Dan seemed confused. To me it was very clear that a dining area was to our right and the wine tasting display to our left. I had completely forgotten that Dan had never been on a winery tour before. (Shocking, I know.) I herded him toward the bench with wine and tasting notes on it and away we began.

We skipped the wines that had been sourced from other areas (e.g., Yarra Valley and Rutherglen) and focused most intently on Shiraz. As we tried each wine, we were taught about the different soils in the Heathcote area and the Cambrian rocks in the area, which are over 500 million years old. It was an educational experience, though it felt a little rushed, and we left with a bottle of Mail Coach Shiraz in hand.

Time to head south and we made our way to McIvor Estate, with Joe telling us about his 'tree change' and the local area on the way. The granite boulders increased in numbers and size the closer we got and it made a truly remarkable landscape.

The first thing that grabbed my attention as I jumped out of the minibus was a large, brick, wood-fire oven. Ooh, my mind started thinking about food again... but back to wine.

Now I've been to a fair few cellar doors, I'm certainly no wine expert, but I've visited more wineries than I can count on my fingers and toes. So when I saw the layout of the McIvor Estate cellar door, I was surprised. It felt more like I was in someone's kitchen/dining area - I loved it. And the glass wall gave us a wonderful view of the countryside in the rain. Ah the magic. I could have stayed there all day. But alas, there was work to be done, well wine to be tasted.

McIvor Estate's wine range has heavy Italian influences and there were a few varietals I had never heard of before. We tried a Marsanne Rousanne, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Merlot and of course, Shiraz. For most, we tried both the 2008 and 2009 vintage, which were remarkably different. I would love to tell you more about each wine but we didn't take notes, which we should have and this post could easily become a thesis if I give you too much detail. But trust me, it was all good!

Throughout the entire tasting, Cynthia (owner of McIvor Estate with husband Gary), was enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Repeatedly recommending food that could be paired with the wine we were tasting. Obviously, she completely won us over. (Hmm how did she know we were so into food?)

Not only were we trying wines, but olives, olive oils and balsamic vinegars too. It was just what we needed to line the stomach and keep our energy levels up - and it was delicious! So we left with a 2008 Nebbiolo, 2008 Shiraz, olive oil (Nevadillo blanco) and Caramelised balsamic vinegar. And we'll be ordering more.

We started to feel the effects of the wine - I felt warmer and cheery. But our next stop wasn't far away and it included lunch!

Shelmerdine was the first winery we arrived at that felt somewhat busy. Being one of the few wineries offering lunch though, I shouldn't have been surprised. We decided to taste the wine before lunch, so we could pick a wine to match our food.

After having such an intimate and personalised experience at McIvor Estate, which really addressed the things Dan and I are interested in, the service at Shelmerdine felt rehearsed. In no way was anything wrong, it just wasn't outstanding. The bar had clearly been set high after our first two stops.

Lunch at Shelmerdine was delicious though. Our tour included lunch and a glass of wine, so we got to choose a meal from the 'tour menu' and a glass of wine.

We were given a platter of crackers and breads with dips and oil to begin with. The pesto was phenomenal. Probably the best pesto I've ever eaten. I really should have asked them if they sold it.

For my main, I ordered the Chunky Beef and Black Pepper Pie with the recommended wine (2008 Cabernet Sauvignon). It was divine and so perfect in that moment. Pie, glass of red wine, sitting inside, snug away from the rain but able to take in the beauty of the vineyard - heaven.

The rain drops hanging off all the greenery made the moment feel even more magical - if that was even possible. Though nothing beat the view of the wonderful man sitting across from me who'd put the whole thing together. (He looked very cute/preppy in his shirt and jumper.)

Dan ordered the Merindoc Lamb with the recommended wine (2008 Shiraz). Surprisingly, it was a salad, which neither of us expected. Feeling a little sorry for him, I made sure to share my pie. It still tasted great, it just wasn't as hearty or as filling as we were expecting. Luckily we'd made the most of the starting platter.

We hopped back on the bus feeling warm and sleepy, but so happy and loved up. As we reached the main road Joe noticed  McIvor Farm Foods - which Cynthia had raved about. So we decided to detour from our 'wine tour' to check out some pig. Yes, McIvor Farm specialises in quality pork.

After dragging the Belinda and Jason out of the warmth of their home, we were taken to the 'shop' to see what they had in stock. Bacon. Ham. Pork. All produced from free range Berkshire pigs. It looked amazing and we could only drool thinking about how it might taste. Dan wanted to get everything.

We left with ham, bacon rashers and a small pork rack. What a success! Looks like you can find more than wine in Heathcote.

(We've since eaten all those products at home and they tasted heavenly. We will definitely be heading to the butcher in Carlton that stocks McIvor Farm meats to get more.)

Our sleepiness completely evaporated after our quick trip to McIvor Farm Foods and we arrived at Idavue feeling alert and enthusiastic again. Dashing through the rain and over puddles didn't dampen our spirits either. Unfortunately, the folk at Idavue weren't feeling so chipper, having hosted a wedding the night before. But we tried their range of wines and appreciated their enthusiasm to combine wine and blues music, and left with a bottle of... Shiraz of course.

Having a bit of time up our sleeve, Joe decided to add an extra winery to the itinerary, and so we headed to Milvine Estate.

We were greeted by some entertaining posters about the owners' dog, Buster, who was there to meet us once we jumped out of the bus.

Milvine's cellar door is in a small building separate to the house, next to the most picturesque view of a small lake and the walls inside are covered with old newspapers, some dating back a hundred years - it was the most bizarre cellar doors I have ever seen.

Once again we tried all they had to offer and were particularly impressed by the Sparkling Shiraz. Though I will admit I now have a few bottles of sparkling Shiraz in my collection and I have no idea when I'll drink them.

The day was drawing to a close and we headed to our final stop, Flynn's Winery. It was literally just down the street from where we were staying, so it seemed to be the perfect last stop - and it didn't disappoint.

We tried every wine, admired the oak barrels and learnt about the entire wine making process. We even got to taste the "wine juice", which was still very sweet but about 6% alcohol - so not ready just yet. Although, I think it is definitely a product that could be marketed to younger alcohol consumers, especially those with a sweet tooth. Not that I'm encouraging under-age drinking.

The entire experience was captivating and we wanted more. So we booked ourselves in to have lunch at Flynn's Heathcotean Bistro the next day.

As the sky dimmed, Joe dropped us off at our Bungalow. We unloaded the many, many goodies we'd collected along the way and accepted our bodies' yearning for a nana nap.

I had the most blissful day and Dan had truly outdone himself. I'm going to have to get onto some seriously thoughtful and creative ideas before his birthday. (Suggestions welcome.)

- Dani

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