Glovebox Guide to Wine Touring by Greg Duncan Powell

Join a wine expert as he tours some of Australia's wine regions

By Robyn Lewis
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Glovebox Guide to Wine Touring by Greg Duncan Powell

Glovebox Guide to Wine Touring by Greg Duncan Powell [©Murdoch Books]

 

It’s well known that Australians invented the Esky, the wine cask and the stubby holder – all to make drinking more pleasurable – and behind the scenes, many advances in winemaking, brewing and viticulture as well.

But Greg Duncan Powell asserts that cellar door tastings, which we now take for granted as a national pastime, are another Australian addition to the list of inventions.

Sure, people have been buying wine direct from makers for centuries, but in Australia anyone can travel to a wine region and enjoy a day’s outing of tastings, without incurring wrath, scorn or just plain incredulity, as may happen in parts of Europe, or (in most cases) significant tasting fees as in many parts of the USA.

South Africans may disagree – their ‘wine farm’ visits date well back into the 1970s – but one thing’s for sure, the early days in Australia of bringing your own flagons, filling them cheaply, getting inebriated and driving home are long over. Drink driving laws saw to that.

Things have changed, and for the better. Pine benches, cheap glasses and sawdust floors have been replaced by elegant furniture, and some of the best architecture in the land is to be enjoyed at ‘cellar doors’, along with expansive views, great food and extensive wine selections, from sparkling through to fortified.

It’s a great way to enjoy regional Australia – you travel with a purpose, often in the company of friends or visitors from interstate or overseas, and get to sample (and show off) some of the best that our wine and food makers can produce. Stay overnight and repeat the next day, or enjoy a spa, a round of golf or a walk before another tasting or two, a leisurely lunch and the trek back to the city…. I want to hop in the car right now!

For even though I work in the industry, and read and write about wine and food almost every day, there is always something new to discover: a new taste to enjoy, new winemakers to meet, new grape varieties to savour, a dinner matching the latest seasonal produce with the region’s wines…. and especially the unexpected.

But where to start? Being online, of course we at VisitVineyards.com favour the web and mobile, but if you’re into print, then the Glovebox Guide to Wine Touring is as good a place as any currently available. The author gives us a quick intro of do’s and don’ts, including to ‘beware of morningitis’, an affliction of less experienced tasters who often find that wines tasted before lunch all taste a bit sour. His advice? Avoid toothpaste when (or if!) you clean your teeth that morning.

The state of Victoria has the largest number of cellar doors in Australia (well over a third as many as NSW and SA) and in some regions close to Melbourne, especially the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, and Geelong, they are located within fairly close proximity to each other, making these regions ideal for a day's exploration.

The north-east around Rutherglen, the King and Alpine Valleys and Glenrowan all form similar nuclei, as do the Macedon Ranges – heart of spa country – Heathcote, and to the west, the Pyrenees, Bendigo and the Grampians. Mildura, Gippsland and Henty (the latter not covered in the book) are outliers, but still worthy of a visit, albeit by a longer road trip.

Each of the 48 wine regions in the book (of a total of 60 in Australia) has a map with anywhere from three to fifteen featured vineyards and wineries on it, often of a total of over 100. So, it’s very selective.

Addresses and phone numbers are given, and if you dig through the text, usually the web address. A range of places to eat, ranging from good cafés to fine dining (but with no obvious classification) are also shown.

Presumably both choices are based on the author’s preferences, and the principle that you can probably only visit about four or five in a day, but the omission of national award winning establishments like Montalto and Port Phillip Estate, to name but two on the Mornington Peninsula, are oversights to me.

But then the book would never fit in a glovebox if it included everyone. Each region has a snapshot of (some of) what’s good, a brief background, the wines, the prices and the layout. Greg’s suggested routes are good (but only include the properties on his maps). It makes me think that perhaps a better title might have been 101 Wine Drives in Australia?

On page 88 we move to South Australia, covering fifteen wineries/vineyards in the Barossa (of a total of 152); another notable omission is Jacob’s Creek, which suggests to me that this book is not aimed at international visitors, who often wish to make a pilgrimage to the home of the first and perhaps only Aussie wine they may have tried.

Mid-sized to smaller regions like the Clare Valley fare better, less so the Eden Valley, and to me, the coverage of Coonawarra is minimalist in the extreme. Not even a restaurant gets a mention, which is a pity as Hollicks have run a very good one for years, and there are some fabulous newcomers making waves on the Coonawarra food scene.

Western Australia seems to be the author’s favourite, described as ‘arguably Australia’s most marketable wine state’. It has a problem though, he thinks, in that ‘Margaret River is just too good, too scenic, too tasty and too damn enjoyable… that is overshadows everything else’. Perhaps, although personally I have found many gems in Denmark, Manjimup, Pemberton and the Perth Hills too, and being a pinot noir lover I’ve been very pleasantly surprised outside Margaret River. But yes, its climate seems perfect for Bordeaux-style wine production, and there are few other regions in Australia that can rate the last five successive vintages as excellent.

This must be one of the very few wine books that puts Tasmania ahead of New South Wales. The cool climate wines of Tasmania may be lovely, but don’t use the book’s map for navigation – it places Hobart firmly inland, the Huon Valley to its northwest (it’s south) and the Tamar Valley just about in Bass Strait. Such inaccuracies don’t do the book any favours, as the recommended routes are otherwise quite good.

But don’t expect the hidden gems, or to eat at Daniel Alp’s former restaurant at Strathlynn, which was closed well before the book went to print (although it has now reopened for private functions as Strathlynn Restaurant). MONA, the most amazing winery destination in the country, doesn’t rate a mention, despite its opening to international acclaim in January 2011.

And so to New South Wales, where the most famous wine region in the country, the Hunter Valley, scores eleven wineries and four restaurants. Sure, this is only a taste, but it’s a scant one indeed, and I can only feel sorry for the many gems omitted. Even the Canberra district scores nine, and Orange eight.

The cartographer had surely had a few more drinks by the time he or she got to Queensland, with Brisbane located somewhere west of the Darling Downs and South Burnett even further inland. The opening line ‘The words Queensland and wine don’t really go together’ is not a promising start, either, but the author does at least say that ‘The Queensland wine business is on the move’.

Perhaps it might come as a surprise to the reader therefore that Queensland has almost equal the number of wineries and vineyards as Tasmania (235 at last count), which are also to be found in Mt Tamborine, the Noosa Hinterlands and as far north as the Cairns region (where VisitVineyards.com lists seventeen). I can't see many copies of this book selling in the Sunshine State.

Perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much if the rear dust jacket (actually a red spill-proof plastic cover) didn’t say this: ‘Greg has done the hard yards for us and has travelled across Australia to hand-pick the best wineries to visit, which varieties to try and where to grab a bite to eat. With this guide you’ll never drive by a cellar-door experience again’.

I’m sorry, but I think that’s exactly what I think you will do. Certainly, what is good is subjective, but the very notable omissions and scant coverage some states receive at the expense of others I find astonishing.

Another serious omission is the lack of an index – in the age of computers, this is press-button easy, and does little for user-friendliness. I get the feeling that this book was simply commissioned to meet a perceived market need, and somewhat hastily produced as a companion to Greg Duncan Powell’s significantly better beer book.

This guide may well suit a beginner, however, and if it encourages more people to visit Australia’s wonderful wine regions, and to learn to appreciate wine at its source, then that’s a good outcome.

 

Glovebox Guide to Wine Touring by Greg Duncan Powell is published by Murdoch Press (Sydney, NSW, 2011; sc, 240 pp) and retails in Australia for A$34.99, or in eBook form for A$19.99

Both the book and eBook can be purchased via Booko.com.au here »

 

 

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June 22nd, 2012
 
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