The jolly service-station proprietor with a grin like a split melon laughed collegiately as we told him our plans to walk amongst the Tamar River wineries over the next couple of days.
“Reminds me of the time...” and he went on to tell us a yarn about he and his mate who received conditional domestic permission to go boating on the Tamar; the condition being that they brought home fish for dinner. One particular day, after visiting plenty of their usual haunts (“We were rotten...”) they called into the place where the fish were obtained and, being largely unconscious of detail, acquired some fish which they placed in a bucket in the boat and took home to present as the day’s catch. Our man beamed with pride when he revealed that the fish was pre-battered and their ruse had been discovered. He wished us all the best with our excursion.
Rob and I got back in the car, looked at each other and both said, “Well, that’s wine-walking!”
We imposed ourselves with an early morning arrival at our selected accommodation, so early that we roused our host Kris out of his morning shower. Kris, with generosity and hospitality of which we discovered he possessed great reserves, conveyed us to Beaconsfield from where, with the cooperation of the local bus service, we negotiated our way to the driveway of the Velo winery at Legana. We donned our packs and ascended the driveway. On arrival someone asked, ‘How far have you walked?” to which we replied, “About 130 metres so far.”
We brunched at Velo on a bacon, cheese and vegetable muffin which was served with a spectacular apricot chutney. We then got down to business and sampled ten of their wines and a cider. The highlight of the tasting was, for Rob, a tie between the 2012 Velo Riesling and the 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir. My attention was taken by the 2008 Velo Cabernet Sauvignon, so much so that I had to re-calibrate my scoring scale!
We shouldered our packs and headed north on the West Tamar Highway, past the river-side Rosevears Drive. This was a mistake. The most direct route to Tamar Ridge Cellar Door was the one we took, but negotiating the shoulder of a busy highway for 5km was no fun. We attempted to mitigate this by walking along a parallel side road for a while which we thought re-joined the highway. It did not. It took us into the vines of Strathlyn Winery and eventually to a point where we climbed up the side of a highway underpass and back into the traffic.
Tamar Ridge Cellar Door is an impressive edifice with beautiful views back out onto the Tamar. We cooled ourselves on the shady deck and then tasted ten of their best. We were both impressed with the Pirie Sparkling NV and both found it hard to split the 2012 Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir from the 2012 Tamar Ridge Reserve Pinot Noir. The former being $35 cheaper, is probably where I would go first. Also particularly impressive was the 2006 Tamar Ridge Botrytis Riesling. Our mate Stickman cruised into the vineyard in his 1974 Chrysler Galant coupe which is the first car he ever bought and which he has lovingly restored to a state of idiosyncratic enigma. We then formulated a plan which involved Stickman driving to the proposed endpoint for the day, and then walking back to meet Rob and I.
The foot patrol headed down Craythorn Road and along Rosevears Drive to the Rosevears Tavern. The “Rosevears” dates back to 1831 and I had always considered it to be a beer trap. It was disheartening to find it modernised at the cost of its soul, and I was further disappointed to find that Rob and I were the only clients at 3pm on a sunny summer Friday afternoon. I did not feel the least bit trapped and we continued downstream.
We were reunited with Stickman near the northern end of Rosevears Drive. We realised that our arrival at the Stoney Rise Wine Company at Gravelly Beach was going to occur perilously close to the 5pm closure of the cellar door. We headed off in the spirit of meeting a challenge. Rob and Stickman met it with 5 minutes to spare. I arrived about 8 minutes later, sore of foot and completely confident in Rob’s ability to suss out a good wine. He emerged with a bottle of the 2013 Holyman Pinot Noir which he swore perfectly fitted the palate of the hot, sweaty, exhausted trekker and he hoped to find equally agreeable in more rested circumstances.
By far the most challenging event of the day was yet to occur. Imagine, if you would, a tired, hot, cramping 52 year old man folding himself into the limited rear passenger area of a 1974 coupe. Imagine further, Dear Reader, the frenetic repositioning that occurred in that confined space with each subsequent contraction of that passenger’s calf muscles.
We returned to our B&B where, in a miracle of modern medicine and dexterity, I unfolded myself and was extracted from the back of the sardine can with the assistance of all present adult persons and a medium sized construction crane. We spent a very pleasant evening with Kris and Anne at Yorktown Manor, the latter part of which involved sitting around a splendid campfire on the edge of the Tamar.
The following morning Stickman deposited us in the main street of Beaconsfield before driving south to return to his domestic responsibilities. Rob and I turned to the east and strode the six-and-a-bit kilometres to Goaty Hill vineyard, a most pleasing property with a beautiful outlook over Kayena and Rowella. We arrived to the welcome of other patrons who had passed us on the road. After we had berated them significantly for not picking us up, we turned to the business at hand. We tasted eight of Goaty Hill’s excellent wines of which Rob was most taken by the 2014 Goaty Hill Riesling. I (and something of a theme is developing here) favoured the 2012 Goaty Hill Pinot Noir. Goaty Hill then tempted us to stay for a couple of excellent platters of local food - and a bottle of the Pinot. Then, in a further attempt to trap us, they provided some live entertainment in the form of a guitar and keyboards duo. To have whiled away the afternoon would have been a simple trap to fall into and, with great will-power and internal strength, we departed the vineyard mid-set and headed out onto the Rowella peninsula.
After another 7km we arrived at Chartley Estate vineyard. Whilst they do not operate a cellar door, I had spoken on the phone to the co-owner, Lorraine, who had invited us to stop in for a tasting. Thus, we spent a very pleasant hour or so in the shade at Lorraine’s house talking and tasting wine. Chartley Estate vineyard was built from scratch, starting fifteen years ago. For the majority of that period, and even now, Peter and Lorraine cannot be certain that a giant pulp mill will not be established immediately across the river from their property. This spectre has, understandably, affected the decisions they have made and postponed regarding the development of the estate. Nevertheless, in a decade and a half, Chartley Estate has built a catalogue of very impressive wines, the present stars of which are the 2013 Chartley Estate Pinot Noir and the 2010 Chartley Estate Sparkling Rose which is the palest Turkish Delight in colour and of exceptional flavour.
Just down the road we arrived at Iron Pot Bay Vineyard which was acquired in 2013 by the delightful and enthusiastic Julianne who proudly showed off her range of wines. Rob and I concurred that the pick of the present bunch is the 2011 Iron Pot Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. We remained at Iron Pot Bay with Julianne and her parents until the cellar door was closed and Julieanne, in a most welcome spirit of generosity, offered us a lift back to Beaconsfield which was most gratefully received.
We rounded out our evening by partaking of the Mystery Banquet at the Red Ruby Restaurant in Beaconsfield. Lolita (front of house) and Allen (chef) have years of experience at Melbourne’s Flowerdrum Restaurant and the dishes we were presented with featured local ingredients prepared with skill and pride by Allen. The staff at the restaurant were young local people who did the business proud, and the wine list was full of the wines we had been tasting for the past two days. At the end of a spectacular and most reasonably priced meal, Rob managed to convince Lolita to share with us in tasting the Holyman Pinot Noir only previously tasted in a fit of short-breathed exhaustion. We all agreed that it is a very worthy wine.
All in all it was an excellent couple of days of fellowship and wine with Rob and Stickman; hospitality, peace and generosity from Anne and Kris at Yorktown Manor; and pride, skill generosity and kindness from all of the wineries. And sore feet - but that’s wine-walking!
To nominate the wine of the trip is a very tough call. I suspect, for Rob, he would find it hard to go past the Holyman Pinot Noir from Stoney Rise Wine Company. I have been tempted by the late offerings, particularly those of Chartley Estate, but I am going to stay firm to my first impression and nominate the Velo 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.