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She Becomes a Wine Wizard in Oz

Article published by Evelyn Hannon
Editor of

One of the reasons I was so excited about visiting Australia was the opportunity to do some local wine tasting. Before flying Downunder I'd sampled and enjoyed many of their wines and read about how very well Aussie wine producers were doing in the world market. My holiday game plan included finding out more about viticulture (how Australian grapes are cultivated), how their wine is produced as well as how to best evaluate a wine's bouquet, taste and colour.

She does her research...

Pre-trip internet research showed me that being headquartered in Sydney would easily allow for a visit to the Hunter Valley -- Australia's oldest winemaking region, an area about two hours and 81 miles away. Home to over 65 small wineries, this area seemed like the perfect spot for my education to begin. I couldn't believe my good fortune when I learned that Hunter Resort Country Estate ran a program called, The Hunter Valley Wine School (Fees: A$25.00 per person). Their two-hour very informal "total wine experience" promised not only to be great fun but to better prepare me to sample wines at cellar doors (wineries) in the area. And, for this solo traveller there was yet another bonus -- I could look forward to meeting up with other like-minded visitors from all over the world.

Seven others join her at Wine School...

When I arrived at the resort and checked-in for the course, there were seven other casually dressed tourists already assembled -- a young backpacking couple from Hong Kong, an older couple from Europe, two men from Chicago and a single woman from New York City. We chatted about being able to learn about the winemaking process at a winery reputed to be one of the most advanced in the area. At Hunter Resort Country Estate they crush in the vicinity of 6,500 tonnes of grapes each year and their facility has a stainless steel storage capacity for an incredible six million litres of wine.


Bright sun and clear blue sky...

Under an extremely powerful Aussie sun, classes started in the vineyard promptly at 9:00 AM. (Prospective students would be wise to carry bottled water, a wide-brimmed sun hat and lots of sunscreen). We learned about growing conditions in the region and that grapes were cultivated there for the first time in 1824. Our instructor informed us that vines can live and produce for up to 146 years and he showed us examples of some of his "elders." (Considering my wine preference, I took extra special note of the 35-year-old Shiraz-producing vine). I remember noticing the bright blue sky that day and thinking how interesting the information being offered was. Those facts along with the image of a sun-drenched vineyard remain indelibly etched in my collection of wonderful travel memories.

She wears a bright yellow hard hat...

For the next part of the tour students were asked to don bright yellow hard hats and we were directed to the interior area where giant machines roared -- de-stemming truckloads of grapes and splitting the fruit to release the juices. Next came the enormous vats, the Potter Tanks, the infiltration equipment and the Cask Hall where the final maturation process takes place. Each step was carefully explained and all our questions about the industry (no matter how elementary) were respectfully answered. I learned that red wine production is more expensive than white because of the longer, slower process it undergoes, that wine bottle corks are made from Portugal's cork trees, and that wines are best stored at a consistent temperature of 18-21 degrees Celsius.

She sniffs, swirls and laughs...

The final hour of the class led by an experienced Cellarmaster was devoted to a wine tutorial in the school's private panelled tasting room. What fun! We, in our informal tourist attire, sat on high-backed tapestry-upholstered chairs arranged around circular wooden tables -- each tabletop laden with assorted wine bottles and a spittoon. A handsome grandfather clock hung on the wall and the kitsch design of the light fixtures (all wine industry-related), made us grin. No doubt, the room's red cement floor had been conceived to deal with any and all spills.

Students were shown what to look for in terms of the wine's colour, bouquet and palette. In order to best judge hue, we learned how to hold our wine glass against a white sheet of paper at a 45-degree angle. We were told to sniff the wine before tasting because 70% of taste is smell. My classmates and I learned to roll the wine around on our tongues before swallowing and gradually, shyly began to use the spittoons on the table, as is the tradition in wine-tasting situations. We swirled, sniffed and spit. The wine decreased our inhibitions -- we laughed, joked and told stories. Too soon the tutorial was over and we were receiving our Wine Appreciation certificates and bidding farewell to each other -- new acquaintances, all international travellers that had shared this unique learning experience.

Hunter Resort Pty Ltd (ACN 003 384 307) - ABN 89 003 384 307 - Cnr Hermitage Road & Mistletoe Lane, Pokolbin NSW 2320 Hunter Valley, Australia
Phone +61 (02) 4998 7777 Fax +61 (02) 4998 7787 Email 
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