Author: Mr A
Location: Penola, South East South Australia
We cruised into the Coonawarra wine region with some excitement, it was the only wine region in Australia we are aware of that we haven’t visited. Fortified with a brunch stop just outside of the small town of Penola, we decided to have a look at Balnaves Winery as I had remembered drinking a number of their high end Cab Savs. Checking first they had enough space for us to bring the caravan in, we found ourselves parked up next to a fabulous rose garden, that of course our little Burmese princess had to explore.
We really enjoyed the wines, although found the person providing the tasting woefully lacking in any knowledge of them. She basically told us what was on the label.
Never mind, we bought a three pack and headed off to our next tasting at Bellwether Winery just up the road. This was also to be our home for the night, as they offered campsites for caravans as well as glamping in their fixed tents. This was a paid-for wine tasting, $20 a head, and we were told that would include “all 14 of our wines, the full experience”, so we were pretty excited. Sue Bell, the winemaker, has built herself a great reputation over the years as the magic sauce at a few different large wineries. She then left that corporate world to do her own thing, buying an old woolshed and converting it to receive the fruits of many different vineyards around Australia, and apply her savvy to produce great wines.
We loved many of her wines, whites and reds, but left feeling very disappointed once again with the tasting presenter. Her explanation of how and what we were going to taste was lacking any passion, structure or insightful content. Several times the four of us at the table were left confused about what we were drinking, what characteristics we were looking for, and what made the wine, in her opinion, special. She didn’t even know information that I had read on the winery’s web site. We have been to hundreds of similar presentations, and this would fall not at the bottom, but no more than half way up the list, which is a shame for the winemaker. We still bought half a case, although when I looked at the bill realised we had been over charged and had to go back and sort that out. Interestingly that was done with Sue herself, who didn’t ask what we thought to the tasting. We only saw the staff get animated when they were talking with each other, laughing and joking, as we mere customers were left sitting there, excluded.
So two wineries producing great wine, but so do thousands of others in Australia. The tasting for us is an opportunity to differentiate themselves, and embed their products in our memory. When I think back to the places we keep buying from repeatedly, it’s places like Ross Hill and Philip Shaw in Orange, Stanton and Killeen in Rutherglen, or Pizzini in the King Valley, all who made sure we remembered their wines with fondness by delivering an educative and passionate tasting experience.
We were going to do some more tastings the next day but had lost the motivation, so headed out to a wetlands (currently dry) nature reserve way out in the sticks – Bool Lagoon. Check out this wall of “tumbleweed” being blown up in the strong winds.
Catherine cooked up a new recipe for lunch – creamed corn and sardine fritters. Now don’t pull that face, they were in fact delicious. Only caravanning would allow us to have such a great lunch in such an isolated spot with the cold wind whipping round (its a “feels like” 7 degrees day) and intermittent heavy rain squalls. A nice cold sparkling water from our on board Soda Stream, chilled from the fridge and as many pots of tea as we can be bothered to brew from our gas stove. If we want to crash on the bed, it‘s there looking all inviting with the odd pool of sunlight coming and going though our panoramic windows. I can certainly understand why caravanning is so popular in Australia. The nearest place to find a decent feed would be around 150km away in Robe, our next destination.
We were so grateful for this isolated spot before heading once again to the more populated coast. A free camp for the night with cows that came and had a good peer at Tassie completed the idyll. Tassie was not quite so impressed.