Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Off The Rock: Yarra Valley

From Party Pooper to Yarra de Puta...

Despite having tied the knot more than thirty years ago, my parents' marriage is a rather young one. After subtracting sleep and his weekly business trips from the equation, Mr. Flog estimates he has actually spent a total of four or five years with Mrs. Broken Record. If he had had a regular office job that required no travel, he assures us the marriage would have rushed down the gutter faster than confetti in a monsoon. My father proudly attributes his relationship's success to his frequent absences. What's also assured given the matrimony's youth is a vivacious back-and-forth banter, which admittedly sometimes skids across what would be considered a liberal outtake on marital life to land as confidently as a clumsy trapeze artist on the safety net of the dysfunctional. As my little brother likes to regurgitate every time the now eight of us meet: "If the outside world actually heard us, it'd think we're crazy." This makes for fascinating holidays and provides the family's cultural anthropologist with the unique opportunity to study lunacy at its infancy.

Once I managed to detach my parents from their Australian-Ecuadorian grandson, I suggested a day trip to the Yarra Valley, only an hour or so east of Melbourne and home to several excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers. The fine chap at King & Godfree, who I had engaged on the virtues of Tasmanian reds, also suggested a good itinerary for a short tour of the valley, chock-full of art perusal (Tarrawarra Estate and the Tarrawarra Museum of Art), wine tasting (Oakridge Winery) and fancy lunching (Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander). We loaded our rented (atrocious) pastel green Mitsubishi Lancer and sped eastbound on the Maroondah Highway towards Healesville, the Yarra Valley's capital of sorts.

My Stairway to Heaven, Oakridge Winery
For the first forty minutes, the drive was not what one would expect of wine country. All we saw were housing developments, strip malls, warehouses, department stores and gas stations. Suburban America at its worst. Only once did I catch a glimpse of a brown panel signalling left for a winery, a road that led into a residential neighborhood safely guarded by traffic lights. However, after a short uphill and downhill turn, the concrete disappeared to be replaced by tracts of rolling green pastures and the trunks of bare grapevines lined up and extending beyond our eyesight. The gloomy scenery was evocative of several regiments marching towards battle under a winter drizzle. A few minutes later, we reached the Yarra Glen-Healesville Y and turned right towards Oakridge Winery, first stop in our magical winery tour.

2010 Oakridge Chard
Oakridge's grounds are stunning. Hills covered in grapevines run throughout, while monumental trees and a small lake interrupt the beautiful monotony of the place. The winery is equipped with a large tasting room and restaurant that overlooks their plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon. I sampled six wines and was amazed at the presence of earth and minerals in all of them, maybe a clear reflection of their respect for terroir. My one caveat was that the servings were tiny—hardly a sip considering The Wife, Ph.D., stubbornly wanted to taste from my own glass—so it was challenging to judge each wine. I must say, though, that I loved the 2010 Oakridge Chardonnay and brought back a bottle for a special occasion involving me, myself and not Irene.

Applejack Vineyard Pinot
We then drove up to Innocent Bystander/Giant Steps for lunch at their highly recommended bistro. Unfortunately, that fickle saboteur known as inclement weather knocked down an old tree onto the power lines and ruined our carefully laid-out plans. No lights, no cooked foods. When Mrs. Broken Record, cradling a French baguette in her arms, asked whether she could at least buy some regional cheese, the woman behind the counter informed her she had strict orders to dispose of it all. Here's hoping a few kangaroos out in the fields got treated to lukewarm gourmet dairy. In any case, I tasted a few wines and this time The Wife, Ph.D., asked for her own glass. It's surprising how past noon, she metamorphoses into a drinkaholic.

Tarrawarra Museum
Given the mishap in Healesville, we headed to Tarrawarra Estate for the artsy-fartsy cultural component of the tour and a well-deserved (replacement) lunch, highlighted by my vegetarian eggplant in chickpea batter with cardamom honey, quinoa and cauliflower salad, and almond skordalia. However, the museum alone is worth a visit. Here we enjoyed Sandra Levesson's Paintings of Poise and Passion, abstract color-packed canvasses that jump out at you and flow like ocean waves, and James Morrison's The Great Tasmanian Wars, fifty-five panels depicting, in my opinion, a surreal and exotic meeting between man and nature.

Of course, all of this brought us to back to the banter. My father—I don't know if it's a sign of aging or a symptom of repeated cabin depressurization syndrome (yes, I made that up) caught from all his takeoffs and landings—is partially deaf in one ear. Compounded to this, prior to our Australian vacation, my mother suffered from an unidentified ear infection that had reduced hearing in one ear by a little more than seventy-five percent. Given such elevated level of auditory impairment, messages during our  journey were often misconstrued. At some point over lunch, my guess is my hungover father refused to have a glass of wine or my health-obsessed mother enjoy the pleasures of fried food, one called the other a "party pooper." Obviously, the injured party heard differently and fumed. It's still a mystery to both The Wife, Ph.D., and me how the exchange went from "party pooper" to "cara de puta." You heard right—bitch-face.

And then, in the Zen-like moment of the trip, Mr. Flog, who employs an outdated version of English (with a healthy tinge of Hispanic heat) that includes "shucks" and "golly" as favorite idioms, lectured us on finance, relationships and health. Concerning my mother's constant threat to leave him, he said: "Before we were married, I could run away with all of my money. After we got married, I could still run away but empty-handed. Soon enough, however, I won't even be able to run." God knows what will happen once Mr. Flog and Mrs. Broken Record hit the dreaded "Seven Year Itch" come 2023. One thing's for sure: I will be running as far away as possible.

0==(yarRA vaLLeY)

2006 Oakridge Shiraz - Dark fruit, leather, brown sugar and cinnamon, black pepper on the nose. Sour cherries on the finish. Tons of finesse in this well-made cool-climate Shiraz. 89/100.

2009 Tarrawarra Estate J-Block Shiraz - Dark forest fruits, black pepper, dark chocolate on the finish. Not impressed. Had it with my vegetarian dish at Tarrawarra Estate. 85/100.

2009 Mule Shiraz Gateway Vineyard - Very spicy, plummy, some coffee on this wine by Innocent Bystander. Not as refined as the Oakridge. 88/100.

2010 Innocent Bystander Cordon Cut Viognier - Peach, quince, banana, dried apricots and white chocolate on the nose. Full bodied, luscious, too heavy and syrupy for my taste. Shared one night with The Wife, Ph.D., and My Zolpidem Supplier upon returning to The Rock. 86/100.

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