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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Short cycle round the Hunter Valley

in: Pokolbin NSW 2320, Australia

View Hunter Vineyards in a larger map

A weekend stolen from my family and a rented car headed North to not really my favourite wine area.

North on a slow road, beer in the passenger seat, sarcasm and cynicism driving. Uncle Len used to take my passenger to Bobbin head, as did his mum. Peels of malicious laughter. A stop at the halfway service station for a drink and a pee.

We'd left late after a guzzled pizza, hurried beers in a bar slowly filling with the sloppy overdressed inebriates of a Friday night in Manly.



As fast as I dare in a small rental; "you'll love it, great little car, cruises at 70 in third and purrs". He'd already loaned it to me, he didn't need to sell the car or the service. Red light or green I'm going, we make it just before 11 after 2 very English phonecalls making sure we've got a key to get in.

Bottles in the fridge, beer in the car still cold. More nonsense and alcohol at the cheap glass table at the rear. It could have included unintended confessions and a black card with just a phone number on it none remembered the following day, but naturally it didn't.

Early up for coffee, toast, bacon and the arrival of the bikes. $30 for two mountain bikes to rove the gently rolling countryside. Not so gentle when you're on the blessed thing trying to power yourself to the top of first hill. We wouldn't have made it but there was a champagne house at the bottom. We coasted down on the worst stretch of road we'd encounter all day, bumps and potholes at car-like speed without the suspension. Coasted into Peterson's with rattled teeth and rising breakfasts.

10am, sweaty and halfway through the morning's ride. Some dozen fizzy wines to be tasted, my tongue tastes only acid in the first five but down they go. The serving wench knows her stuff. It's early but never too early for fizz, we are far from alone in the tasting room. The next five slide past apace and it becomes apparent that today is going to be messy. The final two are flavour bombs that wake me up and make the prospect of climbing back on a bike feasible, even appealing. We resolve to come back on our way past, banishing the thought of going up the hill we've just come down to a more anaesthetised future. It's warming up to 30 Celsius outside.

Across the main road and a flat kilometre and a half further on. Capercaille give us another six or seven wines to try. We mark up the tasting sheet appropriately and will come back if we have the time. I have a clipboard, a map and a 4 colour ballpoint; I have decided that this means I am embracing middle-age. Their next door neighbour we nearly cycle past, I stood at the bottom of their drive bellowing, "Jason!! Jason, come back we're going to this one!". The slope up to the next winery is a reminder that we're in a valley and that the day is just beginning. Another 8 or 9 wines, I'm starting to have trouble counting past 7, another marked-up tasting sheet and we decide we'll come back to this one if we can be bothered on our way home.

Long hill, tight corners, under the trees the road is atrocious. Minibuses give us a wide berth. Many are filled with the sound of drunken singing, it's not quite midday. Tatlers winery, they've all come here. There is one  decent wine on the list and a hypnotically unpleasant barman. "Have you ever seen Caddyshack?" I nod and smile in grim recognition. "You know who I mean, right?".


By the time we leave I'm ready to set about the guy with an axe, a specially blunted one. We get the hell out of there and resolve never to return, ever. Over the road Adina give us another session in gloriously cool air-conditioning. They have nice wine, we stay longer than we should, have probably have 2 more glasses than we should. Jason's been chomping on antacid since before Tatlers.

Onwards round the corner, and under the trees to Gartelmans. More air-conditioning, beautiful wine and really nice people. Probably 7 wines here, almost all of which I'd buy immediately if I had a better way to carry them than on my back. There's a restaurant with a table outside in the shade. A bottle, pie and mash and some relaxation. Slowly we remember that you have to drink water as well as wine so we give that a try, but it doesn't taste of much.

Round the corner we've turned for home but make one more stop before we head for the main road. It's of little consequence, the wine isn't great and they know it. All we're doing is refuelling before we have to tackle the main road, and it's obvious.

Back on the road in the knowledge that we're homeward bound and, at least to start with, heading mostly down hill. Without knowing where to look we plough straight on past our next planned stop which means we have to continue on to the champagne house. Shame.

A splash and dash at Peterson's grabbing a couple of bottles. Outside my equilibrium disappears and cimbing the hill on the grass I'm off sideways sprawling in the grass. A pause at the top each hill and we're home around half past five; slaughtered and slobbering.

We aren't drunk enough! One more bottle from the vineyard we're staying at and off to cook a BBQ - but that's where my senses checked out...