I have been experiencing a slight writer’s block these past couple of weeks. I think the initial cause of my run-in with lacking motivation was the fact that as soon as I arrived at Twisted River Wines-my second WWOOF adventure-my schedule was completely consumed with festivals, amateur attempts at wine making, vineyard maintenance, and hanging out with Mick the fabulous Bushman and my new friend Cassandra, a fellow American WWOOFer who happened to be there at the same time as I was. During the time that I was at Twisted River (in total just a few days short of a month), Cassandra and I worked seven days a week; even when we weren’t technically doing work, our schedules were tightly controlled, which as you can imagine, allowed for very limited personal time or space. Not to mention that our internet access was severely restricted as well because we were locked out of the house during the day while the hosts were at work…but all of that is another facet of what has now, due to my delay in posting, turned into a very long story. I suppose I could conquer the daunting task of telling my tale in a conventional “start at the beginning fashion”, but I happened to have caught an episode of Family Guy earlier this evening that had a Star Wars theme, and luckily for all of you I can’t deny the chance to give my dad a shout-out and go with this unexpected inspiration.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Twisted River Wines
It is a period of civil war. Rebel WWOOFers, striking from a hidden base known as the Mudbrick-have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Lesbians. During the battle, Rebel spies Courtney and Cassandra managed to steal chook eggs and a couple of diet cokes to sustain their existence, but steered clear of the Empire’s ultimate weapon, The 2011 Twisted River Viognier, a wine which, when heavily consumed, could destroy an entire planet…
Ahem. On second thought, maybe I should just start at the beginning, then? Right.
My first weekend at Twisted River was spent mostly in Orange, which is a small-ish country town in central NSW. While not exactly big enough to be considered a city, it is the largest town in the immediate area, and attracts quite a bit of visitors due to the fact that Orange is a pretty well known G.I. (wine region) in Australia. On this particular weekend, Orange was kicking off their annual Food & Wine Festival-a two week affair that has an impressive turn-out, both from local vineyards and cafes as well as visitors, a large number of whom had made the four hour drive from Sydney for one of the two weekends that the event was being held. I spent the whole day in the kitchen on Friday, helping Michelle (one of my hosts) to prepare an impressive amount of sticky date pudding and vegetarian nachos, both of which were to be served at the Orange Night Market in the town center later that evening. Cassandra and Helen (my other host and Michelle’s partner) met us at our designated booth, and while they served wine, Cassandra and I served food to the growing crowd. Saturday was a repeat of the night before, except this time the event was centered around a hot air balloon race. I didn’t get to see the actual race, but when the sun went down and the balloons had all returned, they blew them back up and kept them grounded while they put on a really impressive light show that was set to music. I would like to tell you that was the last time in my life that I had to see sticky date pudding and vegetarian nachos, but that simply wouldn’t be true…we had been signed up to volunteer for many, many more events in the coming weeks that would center around these two indispensable items, the supply of which was apparently limitless.
After such a busy weekend, Sunday came quickly and with it an awesome event that Helen and Michelle were scheduled to showcase their wine at, and had arranged for Cassandra and I to attend. After doing a bit of work with the irrigation around the vineyard during the day, we all piled into the car and made our way to another vineyard for a tour and a guided wine tasting that evening. The event was being held especially for a small group; all of them were young professionals in the wine industry whose positions ranged from head sommeliers at esteemed restaurants to pub owners to wine writers to a couple of guys who ran the wine tasting association at Oxford. Each individual in the group had won or been sponsored for the trip, which consisted of a guided tour around Australia’s wine regions. During their tour, they were invited to different vineyards and wineries, where they partook in the sort of event that we attended that night.
The tour began with the vineyard owner taking us out into the vines to showcase and explain the soil, elevation, and special terroir of the Orange Wine Region. Orange is a relatively young Region-the first vines were planted in the early 80’s-that produces cool-climate, high altitude wines, and is particularly revered for their Sauvignon Blanc (although I much preferred the Viognier that I tried, but that could also be personal tastes as Viognier is one of my favorite white varietals). The Region extends around Mt. Canobolas (an extinct volcano which is 1395m at its highest elevation; the highest vineyards are found around 600m), and down in the valleys surrounding the mountain, so there is quite a range of temperatures and grape-growing soils in the Region. The vineyard that we were at that evening was mostly limestone covered by sandstone-the difference of which was clear when pointed out. After the walking tour, we all piled inside the Cellar Door to commence the tasting. Prior to our glasses being filled, however, we had the opportunity to try some grapes. Laid out on a table at the front of the room were whole, fresh bunches of the main varietals that we would be sampling that evening. The Sauvignon Blanc grape was crisp, tart and citrusy, which was a stark contrast to the sweet squishiness of the Riesling. The Viognier had a tougher, waxy skin, which was unlike any of the other grapes. The Cabernet Sauvignon was juicy and spicy, while the Tempranillo was smoky with more condensed and understated flavors. It was the first time that I had had an opportunity to try the actual grape outside of the wine, and it was seriously fascinating.
After a great introduction, the drinking began. We must’ve gone through about 10 flights of four; each time a new wine was introduced either the winemaker or the vineyard owner would step up and take the time to explain what his vision was for the particular varietal, or perhaps what hardships he faced with growing and producing that vintage. And, in typical Aussie fashion, the event ended with throwing a few snags (sausages) on the barbie and finishing up the opened bottles. It was a great night that I was truly privileged to have been a part of, but I have to be honest and admit that, out of forty or so wines, I was only really impressed with about three of them. The oddest part about it was that (with the exception of Cassandra), everyone else seemed to really enjoy the majority of what was being poured. Maybe you’ve heard people mention the different palates of wine drinkers around the world? Well that night in Orange, I witnessed the extent of that difference first hand. Because I obviously have been drinking wines that are typically imported into and produced in the States, I had created my own specific palate…a fact of which I don’t really even think I was aware of. It was this predetermined palate that left me unimpressed with the wines that night-and, as it would turn out, Orange wines in general. I began to contemplate the fact that it would be incredibly difficult to create a market for a wine that people hadn’t developed a palate for yet, or perhaps a wine that greatly differed from what was usually consumed somewhere. I was even told that South Australians produce and consume different wines than what they export around the world, because they know what Americans and Europeans expect of wines out of Barossa and Yarra, but that’s not necessarily what they themselves prefer to drink. This was exactly the sort of information, experience and exposure that I was hoping to gain by traveling the world and drinking wine.
Me and my palate…a lot to learn, we have.