Living in a Marsupial World
 
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While we were wallowing in self-pity and rainwater in Waikerie, we managed to sneak over to the famous Barossa Valley for a day of vineyard hopping and free wine tasting…and not much else! The Barossa Valley is most well known for its reds – it’s the reason why anyone associates Shiraz with Australia. Apparently the hot, dry days and cool nights in this region of South Australia produce some excellent grapes. Needless to say, Mar and I were looking forward to sampling a few glasses from arguably the best wine-producing region of Australia.


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Unlike our whirlwind tour of randomness in the Margaret River region, we actually had a shortlist of wineries to go by, that way we’d make the most of our time in the valley and avoid any lemons. Our first stop was at Turkey Flat, a long-standing winery that boasted some of the oldest Shiraz vines in the country. I knew we had stopped at a quality winery because joining us at the tasting bar was a highfalutin tour group lead by a guy with an amazing moustache. It was a combination of Friedrich Nietzsche and Otto von Bismarck with a dash of Rollie Fingers. You know it’s a good one when you feel like less of a man just by standing in its presence. But I digress. While Turkey Flat’s rosé was pretty tasty, we were especially impressed with their Shiraz. You could tell this one was their baby, and it hurt to know that we would not be taking a bottle home with us, due to the $50 price tag.


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Our next stop was Rockford Winery, a classic Barossa establishment that apparently is one of the few wineries left in Australia that produces its wines using traditional, old-timey methods. The winery and cellar door utilize several stone buildings dating back to the original European settlement of the area back in the mid 1800s. These relics of frontier Australia encircled a paved courtyard that really set the mood once you stepped inside the space. The style of carefully laid stone and thick, hewed timber of the structures was a reminder of the German roots of South Australia’s settler history. 


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While tasting the many quality wines at Rockford’s cellar door (awesome sparkling Shiraz!), we were pleasantly surprised to meet two Americans tasting next to us. This was a shock because finding an American in Australia is slightly more common than finding a spotted quoll or an albino wallaby in the wild. We’ve seen more echidnas than we’ve seen Americans. Daryl and Sara Mae were co-owners of an organic winery based in Humboldt County, California called Vinatura. Anticipating our chuckles at the choice of location, Daryl explained that the conditions in Humboldt, which provide for good weed growing, are coincidentally perfect for growing wine grapes as well. I couldn’t help but imagine how much fun their local farmers markets must be.


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We ended up bumping into these Americans again down the road at Charles Melton Wines, where they invited us to join them in demolishing a hefty cheese platter. While we traded travel stories we were treated to some excellent red wine. Charles Melton is exclusively a red wine producer, and they do not mess around. While everything we tried was delicious, the standouts for us were their “Nine Popes” Grenache, “Father in Law” Shiraz and “Voices of Angels” Shiraz. Hanging out with these winemakers made tasting far more engaging, as they brought about some excellent conversations with the Aussie winemakers about the trade as well as the craft. One question of note that Daryl raised was why Australia did not seem to have much exposure in the American wine scene. With such excellent wine being produced in this country, it was tragic to think that Yellow Tail was pretty much the only Aussie wine widely available in the States. In so many words, the server at Rockford explained that Australian winemakers just aren’t that interested, or it’s simply not affordable to distribute their wine so far away when they have a decent enough local market. Some small scale wineries in Australia do distribute to the States, but usually the small shipments are snatched up by those in the know - international wine clubs and boutique dealers, as well as aficionados.


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Before we headed back to Waikerie, we stopped in the small town of Tanunda to catch their Christmas parade. The whole scene made me nostalgic of being a little kid in my hometown in Massachusetts, where we would have parades during the summertime. The local Lutheran church had a bake sale and a BBQ sausage stand selling the classic Aussie combo of sausage on white bread with a squirt of tomato sauce (read ketchup). While the local businesses drove their floats down the main street, old Aussies in Santa hats, stubbies and cold beer in coozies looked on as their little grandkids ran around like tiny crazy people, waving around ribbons and glowsticks while shrieking with delight. Mar and I couldn’t help but crack up when Santa showed up in the back of a bright green El Camino-style vehicle. So freakin Australian.


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Ha.
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I couldn't help but imagine I was about to witness a JFK style muppet assassination
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Apparently Bugs Bunny and Dorothy met at Lutheran camp.
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Fast forward a week and a half, just as Mar and I were becoming seasoned orange pickers, it was time to head east to Melbourne for Mar’s mom’s arrival. Instead of taking the shortest route straight across, we decided to stop back in Adelaide for one last evening in the city. My parents had bestowed us with some precious Christmas money, so we made sure to hit up an excellent restaurant, per their suggestion. We had some very gourmet fare at a small, swanky place called Decant, including some local scallops, lamb and beef! Yum. We also had to hit up Elephant Walk one last time, the Vienna coffee called to us from afar like a creamy, caffeinated siren song. It may have been a mistake on our part, because I ended up drinking all of mine and half of Marielle’s. At bedtime I was so uber-caffeinated I probably counted about 3 million sheep before I finally crashed. 


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Beautiful Jacaranda trees in North Adelaide. In the sun they really glow.
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Tropical plant hut at the Botanic Gardens
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Palms Green House
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Washing off the carnage post-drive in Melbourne
The next day was spent driving the long haul to Melbourne, almost 800 km in one go. The drive would have been a pleasant one had we not been traveling during the Great Locust Migration of 2010. Every few minutes a thick cloud of locusts would fly in the path of our car, resulting in mass bug-splosions. I’m not usually squeamish around this kind of thing, but when your windshield is literally plastered with insect gore and there are horrifically maimed and dismembered locusts dragging their broken body parts along the wiper blades like a tiny reenactment of Saving Private Ryan…well it’s super gross. Not to mention the fact that it’s a bit unnerving to look a flying locust in the eye before it slams into your windshield and pops 6 inches in front of your face at 110 k/hr, over and over again. For eight hours. Not a fun drive.


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