15 June 2009

The Winter Winelander

Hi everyone...I'm back in one piece after a riotuous 48 hour weekend away. Helen and I boarded the Winelander at the Transit Centre in Roma Street. As we made our way out throught the suburbs, the tour manager, Ray, welcomed us on the trip and told us a little of what we would be doing. First off was a glass of complimentary champagne...at 7.30 in the morning. He then ended with the message "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." Ok, I thought, it's going to be that kind of a weekend...it was, with bells on. Our steward came around with champagne or orange juice. I didn't want any healthy stuff to spoil my day so I had champagne, took a sip and shuddered. However, after that first rough taste, it went down very nicely and I had another glass...Helen had another two. We got chatting with a couple of ladies sitting across the aisle from us...Sandy and Trish...and the four of us teamed up for the weekend.

There was one tiny fly in the ointment and that was three 40-something women sitting in front of us who were rather rude and arrogant...Helen christened them "The Princesses" and the name stuck all weekend. However, we didn't let them spoil our fun and ignored them for the rest of the weekend. As they didn't want to mix with others, it was easy to do.

We passed through the outer suburbs of Brisbane, across the Lockyer Valley, over the Little Liverpool Range and on up into the Toowoomba Range. As we did last year on the Carnival of the Flowers steam train trip, we took a couple of hours to ascend the Range, we had two diesel engines this time rather than steam...much cleaner. We stopped in Toowoomba for 10 minutes for a brief leg stretch then on board and off again.

Next came wine tasting. Our carriage and seat numbers were called in batches and we sampled three different white wines from the local wineyards around Stanthorpe, our final destination. I hadn't had any breakfast as I can't eat at 5 am, the time I woke up, you can imagine the effect these had on top of two glasses of champagne. I was having a great time. It wasn't just one sampling from each bottle...it was two or three, and they weren't small samples, either. However, I thought I'd better eat something so had a couple of ham, cheese, tomato and pickle sandwiches with a cup of coffee. That helped tremendously and I was ready for the next round.

We were called for lunch in the same way, in batches by car and seat number. Lunch was a lovely cold collation of ham off the bone and several different salads, plus fresh luncheon rolls. Very nice indeed. After lunch, while we sped on over the Darling Downs, kilometres of endless flat plain, I had a nana nap and felt quite revived after that. We had another brief stop at Warwick then started the final leg of our journey through the Granite Belt to Stanthorpe, where we arrived at 3.30 pm. We were immediately herded onto coaches and were off to the wineries and more wine tasting (it's called the Winelander, after all).

Our first winery was Ballandean. The history of the name is quite interesting. It was originally a large cattle station named after the owners, Ball and Dean...Ballandean, with the "a" in the first part of the name pronounced short as in "cat"...Ball'n'dean. I found a lovely wine there I'd never heard of before, Viognier, pronounced "vee onyay". It's a relatively dry white with a lovely after taste. Apparently it's going to replace Chardonnay as the "must have" wine. I only tried a couple of whites there.

After about 30 minutes we moved on to the next winery, Harrington Glen. They had a special wine tasting area set up through the back and we were seated with our glasses while each wine sampled was given a brief description before we sampled it. There were about 12 wines sampled and we were given a set of tasting notes each. They had a Viognier, too, which tasted quite different to the Ballandean one, but still very pleasant and again with a lovely after taste.
I don't really drink red wine. I like it very much, but unfortunately it doesn't like me and I get a migraine if I drink more than half a glass. However, I did try a sip of the reds and there were a couple of lovely ones, but what I really like about the samples was the Ruby Port. Oh boy, that was easy to drink...so mellow it could be dangerous. There was also a white port called Toy Boy Trop, which amusingly was named after the winemaker, quite a nice looking young man...or so we were told.

Our last winery was Whiskey Valley Winery and again, we picked out the wines to try. I tried a dry white called Vin Doux, which I quite liked, but that was all. I was all sampled out after the last place. However, while we were at this winery, we noticed a huge place situated high up a small mountain overlooking the valley. This place was lit up like a battleship and is a restaurant. Apparently that's where the Summer Winelander tour will be having dinner in February. I bet the views are magnificent.

We were finally dropped off at our motels around 6 pm, which give us about an hour to relax before meeting for dinner at Anna's Italian Restaurant, just down the road from our motel, The Granite Court Motel. It was bliss walking into our motel unit, which had the heating turned on. After the cold air outside, it was beautifully warm. We had pay TV, so flicked through some channels there to see what was to offer. By the time we freshened up and changed for dinner, it was time to meet outside for the walk down the hill to the restauran. We had our jackets, gloves and scarves on as it was rather chilly and promising to get colder.

Anna's is situated in a beautifully renovated old Queenslander. We were greeted by the proprietor a very charming 30 something Italian. It's the first time I've been greeted with a hug at a restaurant...very nice. There were 120 of us on this trip plus local diners so the place was packed. The dinner was buffet style, all Italian food...which I absolutely adore...and was soooo tasty and delicious. I had one rachelli (a potato croquet type of thing), stuffed mushrooms (yum), stuffed capsicum (divine), a small piece of Italian style chicken, a couple of prawn cutlets and for salad, pickled vegetables, tomatoes and a small helping of Caesar salad. I have never tasted such a delicious meal. There was dessert too. Fresh fruit as well as various Italian delicacies. I'm not sure what I had but whatever it was, I enjoyed it. Helen and I finished off with coffee for me and tea for her. We were going to have a glass of wine but were all wined out by that time so decided to forego it.

Now I must say here, that the service at Anna's was excellent. The restaurant was jammed packed with people coming in as others left. Yet, it was run efficiently with very pleasant staff. Most impressive. I even spotted Il Padrone carrying a large armful of plates out to the kitchen.
I was dreading the walk back to the motel, uphill after that meal, but it needed walking off. By the time we left it was very cold. Helen and I had our scarves over our heads to keep our ears warm and puffed our way back to the motel. It was good to crawl into bed and watch a bit of the History Channel on TV. We slept like logs, in snuggly warm and comfortable beds, waking at 6 am on the Sunday to a very frosty day.

Here are a few photos...

Our heated carriage or car, as it was called.
The pressed metal ceiling from the old refreshment rooms at Toowoomba.

The buffet car.

A patch of green on the Downs, probably sorghum.

Miles of dry land, with cattle in the distance.

The facade of the old Warwick Railway Station.

Big old wine barrels at Ballandean Winery.
To be continued...


Flip Flop Floozie said...

Thanks for stopping by!! Yes, I know the wolf wins but not really. This has been going on for some time and the wolf will get his in the end!! This is my dad and mother's church in Illinois.
Boy, I read about all those drinks. I don't drink so i would have been just out probably!! sounds like you had a great time though..Sandy

Margaret Cloud said...

This sounded like a fun trip, but I would of been tipsy from all that wine, I don't tolerate drinks very well, they go to my head. You probably get a migraine from red wine because you may be allergic to it. The photos were very nice, glad you enjoyed yourself, thank you for coming by.

Remiman said...

After all those tastes you'd of had to carry me on a stretcher to the motel and I probably would have missed dinner. Two glasses of red is my limit.

srp said...

It sounds like a great trip... btw... we are sweltering here and it isn't even the hottest time of the year yet. I love winter the best.

Merle said...

Hi Robyn ~~ What a great day you had.
Thanks for sharing the photos and the story of your wine-tasting.
It all sounded like fun.

Glad you liked the Tailgater joke and you remember the list, and so do I. Sorry Irena didn't get the Nobel Peace Prize. Her story was so good and true.

I will be glad when the days draw out a bit. It gets dark too early of an evening and again in the morning. Take care, Hugs, Merle.

Jeanette said...

Gday Robyn..Now thats wine tasting tour i would like to go on and not worry about driving or the driver.Now I dont think I could handle champagne for breakfast.but then not a lover of champagne..
Great pics, sounds like you and Helen had a great relaxing time...

Peter said...

Nice to hear that you didn't freeze in Queensland's coldest spot, sounds like a good trip but the summer edition sounds better.

Jack K. said...

Glad to know the weekend was worth it. I must say I am a tad bit envious. Maryann and I like to visit wineries. We did so when visiting our daughter and her husband in Oregon last month.

Those tastings can do you in if you are driving from winery to winery. We tasted some very fine wines, both whites and reds. We even bought a few.

The photos are very nice. I may have to google map those places to get a better idea of the geography.

Liz said...

Oh my!

PEA said...

You're making me wish I liked wine! lol Sounds like you had a fabulous time and I so enjoyed hearing all about it and seeing the photos. I've never been on a train trip before so that's something else I would love to experience one day! Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your weekend trip:-) xoxo

Angelo said...

Hi Robyn! Happy Winter Solstice. Our summer is not starting out very good, it's always raining.

Looks like a fun trip, especially the wine part. I like this one Australian wine, the one with the Aborigine style kagaroo drawing on it? I forgot the name, but I like it and I'm not really into wine.

Hope your winter doesn't get too cold!