Sunday, January 30, 2011

Marsupials, Wine & Friends in Yarra Valley

I had mentioned to the Webbers, owners of De Bortoli Wine, that I was interested in going to the Healesville Animal Sanctuary and the next thing I knew Leann was on the phone making arrangements for my visit!  I didn’t mind taking a little wine break to play with some of Australia’s native animals.

The Steve and Leanne picked me up first thing in the morning from Chateau Yering.  I had enjoyed my stay there but was excited to see Australia's animals. Along the way they told me about the local produce market, led by apples and cherries, and pointed out some of the 70 local wineries in this area.  We also drove straight through the town of Healesville, full of cafes, small hotels, a brewery, stores and restaurants.

At the Healesville Animal Sanctuary, my day was planned and guided by John and John, who are among the 65 staff and 260 volunteer guides at this massive zoo.  Between the two of them they knew everything there was to know about the sanctuary and the animals and birds native to Australia – all that they have there.  Over 300,000 people pass through each year and they had quite a day planned for me. I was glad I had my walking shoes (actually, my favorite FitFlops) on.

I started off at the platypus section where I got to pet a platypus (as much as he let me, they are squiggly creatures!).   From there it was off to the koalas. I didn’t realize before that these marsupials sleep 21 hours a day and though they were awake, they didn’t want to get down from the tree!  I did some gentle petting and watched them in awe before we took off for the kangaroos. There was no sleeping for these adorable creatures, who love to eat off your hands, rub against your legs and don’t mind being pet!  (All of the experiences I had are available to the general public too under their Magic Moments program.)

After I left the kangaroos, we went to catch the Spirits of the Sky show.  This cannot be missed as some of the world’s most beautiful birds (all native to Australia) fly around the audience under their instructor’s guidance.  I took a break from the animals for lunch at the Harvest Restaurant, which is far from your average zoo cafeteria.  The food here is closer to gourmet, with a huge menu, as well as wine and cappuccino.  I had a delicious Lamb Souvlaki and a latte, before John came back to take me on a tour of some of the animals I missed.

I actually didn’t know there was really an animal called a Tasmanian Devil (I thought it was just a cartoon character) and I was even more surprised that they are nearing extinction because of a virus that veterinarians are having trouble identifying and curing. I also saw my first Dingo, a member of the wolf family that dates back 20,000 years.

In addition to housing and showcasing the animals, the Healesville Animal Sanctuary has the Australian Wildlife Center hospital to care for rescued animals and help breeds like the Tasmanian devil survive. Unlike any zoo I have ever seen, the examining rooms, operating area and even autopsy section are open for the public to see.  There is also a large project at Healesville to breed rare and endangered species.

Steve Webber picked me up at the animal sanctuary and we were off to check out some more Yarra Valley vineyards.  We stopped by Tarrawarra Estate, which offers breathtaking views of the valley, as well as contemporary art exhibits and, of course, wine. We drove through the sections of the valleys and Steve explained about the sub valleys, which face the east and get great morning sun, producing some of the best wine in the valley.  He also told me that I should check out Toolangi for great chardonnay, before we headed over to De Bortoli.

De Bortoli is the second largest wine producer in the area and they make wine under 20 different labels.  Their property includes a restaurant, winery, tasting bar and cheese shop, where they make their own cheeses.  It would have been impossible to taste all of their wines, many of which are blended with an unusual mixture of grapes, like the La Boheme line, which contains Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Rolle in Act One; Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in the Act Two Rose; and Riesling and Gew├╝rztraminer in Act Three.  All three are definitely worth trying and going to be released in the U.S. in the near future.

The grapes De Bortoli uses in their wine are the best they can find from their vineyards around the valley and down in the Mornington Peninsula. The De Bortoli Reserve Riesling was handpicked at Dixon’s Creek and was developed by a German winemaker with a very light nose and a strong grapefruit presence. The Estate Grown Chardonnay comes from four different vineyards and picked up its oak and spice from 9-10 months in oak casks.  The PHI Chardonnay is from a 2008 single vineyard and is very smoky, with lots of tobacco and the mineral it picks up from the higher altitude, making an excellent Chardonnay.  De Bortoli also makes some sparkling wines, including the Rococo Blanc de Blanc, but their prize is the De Bortoli Yarra Valley Syrah and the PHI Pinot.

The Webbers hospitality went into the evening as they took me to dinner at Innocent Bystander, a restaurant/winery/coffee brewery that has pizza with think and flaky crust that reminds me of New York, and let me stay in their beautiful cottage over looking one of their vineyards.  In the morning it was back to Melbourne, where I finished up my Australian Open coverage before heading to South Australia for more wine, marsupials, and hopefully friends even half as hospitable as the Webbers of De Bortoli!


horse riding yarra valley said...

These photos are really amazing, I think yarra villey is really wonderful place to visit. I haven't been there before, I would like to visit it specially for horse riding.

Marcia said...

I'm not sure how I missed your comment before, but thanks. I hope you had a chance to look through some of the other Australia photos. I got lots of fantastic ones!

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