Down Around the Yarra

Un-oaked and Uncut

Today we went for a spin in the country, ostensibly to do some wine tasting. I'd never been wine tasting before, and given how wild last night was I didn't have a great deal of faith that we would actually pull it off as I rolled out of bed just shy of noon to find things rather quite. The same thing happened to me a couple of years ago in Kingston, where it was as if the excitement of drinking wine all day drove us to devastating excess the night before only to have us wake with the day escaping and the last car out of town thoroughly leased to someone else.

In this case, fortune smiled upon us in the form of the heroic little car that pulled into the back lane this afternoon. The sun was shining, the hills were waiting, and a glass of Brut is always an acceptable breakfast drink.

Our first stop in our unplanned sampling of the Yarra Valley was Chandon, where we opted to skip the tasting line and just drink smooth bubbly in the sun. The vineyards stretched out before us down the slope, each row capped with overflowing rosebushes. Better than a kick in the head.

After some lounging we decided that it might be wise to eat some food, so we swung through the town of Healesville for some unexceptional pies and atrocious coffee. The coffee here is universally appalling, despite the prevalence of fancy coffee bars and drive-through espresso joints. I get the distinct impression that this might be one of those grand national delusions, a form of collective hysteria like New York pizza or haggis.

Across the parking lot from the bakery was another winery, absent the actual vines, and we thought it would be a travesty to pass up such a ready opportunity. Giant Steps winery is painfully modern and charming. The staff oscillate from gregarious servers with a contagious enthusiasm for food and wine to vaguely asocial robots that seem troubled by your presence. They tend to rotate between tastes, as if none can bear to wait for you to finish a mouthful. The wines were good though and they certainly didn't skimp on the pours. We stumbled on, out past the dangling sign that read: "Unattended children will be fed double espressos and told outrageous stories about what Santa is bringing them."

The next stop was Tarrawarra, where the building was actually more interesting than the wines. In fact, at this point, with the afternoon heating up, we decided to abandon the wine tour altogether and head off into the mountains for a walk in the woods. We drove up some winding roads, with the trees seeming to grow taller as we climbed. I focused on the scenery as the vintages of many estates did battle in my gut. Finally we arrive at Sherbrooke Forest, a slightly neglected little park in the Dandenong Ranges.

The rosellas were already out in force when we arrived, flocking to perch on the arms of the two men with sunflower seeds who were feeding them. It seems that the park authority has only really made a token gesture of removing the seed machines from the park. To break the cycle of domestication of these colourful parrots is obviously a lost cause. They are tamer than city pigeons, more than happy to perch on a head or shoulder as they wait for more food to become available. Pirating it up with a couple of these lovelies on my shoulder was definitely the high point of my day; they put the "yarrr!" in Yarra.

The rosellas lost all interest in us when the seed ran out, so we started off down the trail to some kind of waterfall. Again, waterfall is a bit of an exaggeration, but there was technically some water dropping at a more or less vertical angle from a higher point of origin, so we'll leave it at that. More breathtaking were the towering gum trees, the scale of which it is difficult to capture on film. The smaller trees that grow at their feet look like shrubs until you stand next to them and realize that they themselves are as tall as a house. It was interesting to see how oblivious the natives seem to these giants, which to them must be the most mundane sight. It felt like the kind of place where you might sneak off and live in a tree-fort, undisturbed and anonymous. I will put it on the list.

As the shadows grew longer and the mosquitos came out, we returned to the city to the suburb of Box Hill. The Chinese New Year celebrations in Melbourne take place in rotation between the different areas with significant Chinese populations so that none of the parades conflict. Box Hill had theirs this weekend, and we took full advantage of the chance for tasty noodles and my favourite iced tea-coffee.

The suburban sprawl of the city is rather disorienting. I've found that much of it looks the same and I tend to lose my bearings after a few minutes driving. I suppose this is true of most "planned" cities," and as in most cases, I'm sure that once I get my bike up and running it will all make itself intelligible. Tomorrow's project: patching tires.