Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Datapoints Perth 10.

Subject: Swan Valley. Perth log Day 09.

My travel companions are much more sophisticated wine drinkers than I am. My preferences run to chilled vodka straight. Or even cold beer rather than wine. Wine makes me lightheaded and dizzy. At least with vodka or beer, you know when you are drunk when your body refuses to cooperate with the instructions from your brain. With too much wine, everything works fine - but your mind sinks into in a blur haze cumulating in a big headache. Naturally I volunteered to be the designated driver.

Yesterday we headed to Swan Valley (about 45mins up the Swan river from Perth) in search of sweet white dessert wines. And to tour the valley to sample wines. The scenic winery tour route was 32km. We made approximately 1.5km of that 32km before my passengers collasped in a merry red-faced drunken heap.

Lilac Hill Estate was the culprit. They made a fruity and sweet dessert wine which was very easy to drink. It went down so well that each of them had about 4 standard drinks before the alcohol hit them. The Irish lady behind the counter was also very entertaining with her tales of travelling in Thailand on elephant-back. Eventually they picked up an entire case which I have been nominated to carry back (since I have the least luggage). Should be an interesting experience to have to go through Singapore customs and having to declare and pay taxes on it.

We visited couple of other winery before lunch but none were as memorable. After everybody sobered up after lunch, we visited a few more wineries. My travel companions were sampling more judiciously this time around.

Sandalford Estate has won Western Australia's "Wine Tourism" awards. However we were not very impressed when we visited. The facilities are impressive but the service was impersonal and cold. And they wanted to slap a wine-sampling fee (rebatable against wine purchases). We hightailed out of there really quickly. Coming from a big city environment, I suppose we were looking for the more cozy experiences from the smaller wineries.

The chocolate factory was also a bit of a disappointment. Coming from Singapore where tourism is a centrally planned function of government, we can smell a sterile "tourist trap" from a long distance. However it was not a total loss. I got a good taste of a small handful of dark chocolate chips which was quite passable.

Fortunately we found Lancaster Wines. Imagine a young clean-cut, laid-back, good-looking Aussie surfer dude working the sales counter modified from a storage shed. The sales staff were relaxed and bantering with visitors like they were old friends. The wine was on the expensive side but good enough for my travel companions to pick up a couple bottles.

The other place I liked was the Windy Creek Estate. It is a cozy third-generation boutique winery which has been there since the 1930s. They sell incredibly cheap wines at A$12 or under per bottle. According to the owner they also bottle for the bigger wineries and sell the excess grapes they cannot bottle so they are not totally dependent on counter sales. There were pictures of their kids plastered all over the wall. And pithy witticisms about the wine industry and wine drinking. When asked about her kids, there was a tone of sadness and resignation. I get the sense that the winery may not exist independently much longer if the next generation does not wish to continue running it.

I did not touch a single drop of wine. The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is 0.05 in Western Australia. Two standard drinks within an hour would easily put me beyond the limit, even with my high metabolism rate. But I did taste a grape. One grape. Straight off the vine when we stopped by a deserted road to take photos. It was the freshest and sweetest green grape I every tasted. Was really tempted to pick an entire bunch but I do not suppose the vineyard owner would be very pleased if I did that.

One of the advantages of living in this land is cheap good wines purchased direct by the case from the wineries. A simple calculation adding in freight, alcohol tax, GST, storage cost, retailer markup will easily double the price of Australia wine in Singapore.


We head back and show two of our travel mates (who arrived later) the usual touristy sights in the city. The Swan Bells, the ferry terminal, the sculptures of the swans, the sculptures of the kangaroos and all that. Before dropping them off at the domestic airport for them to continue their holiday in Sydney.


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