Wine-tasting in Tasmania
With sweeping landscapes of verdant rolling hills, beautiful mist-laced valleys and fragrant forests, Northeast Tasmania is a setting worthy of its own fairytale. And with the nearby Tamar Valley dotted with a host of stellar wineries, not to mention epicurean fare worthy of any high-end restaurant, the region is a must for any gourmet traveller.
I awaken to the sound of birds chirping merrily and the patter of raindrops over leaves. Somewhere in the distance a cow moos a morning greeting and a gentle breeze rustles through the treetops. The fresh country air sneaks in through the slightly ajar window and tickles my nose, willing me to snuggle further into the layers of blankets that form my warm cocoon.
My cosy haven is an old washhouse converted into an intimate bed & breakfast cottage, located in the garden of a 100-year-old homestead known as Cloverlea. Perched upon a verdant hill, watching majestically over the tiny northeastern Tasmanian town of Branxholm, Cloverlea was built at the beginning of the 20th century by farmer Percy Edwards for his wife Olive and their twelve children, and the house has since been home to four generations of the Edwards family.
Surrounded by rolling hills and emerald valleys, Cloverlea’s extensive gardens were once known as amongst the best in the region. For almost a century, generations of the family’s children spent their days climbing the embracing arms of chestnut trees and gleefully picking the fruits to later roast them over a warm evening’s fire. Now, the home is known as Cloverlea Gardens, and new owners occupy the homestead and maintain the washhouse cottage as a charming B&B.
Having managed to summon the will to emerge from under the covers, I leave my little cottage to explore the winding paths and leafy nooks of the property’s gardens. The refreshing scent of damp foliage invigorates my senses and shakes the last remnants of slumber from my mind. I wander the garden paths blanketed with autumn leaves and duck through archways formed by the garden’s hundred-year-old canopy. I imagine all the generations of children who have grown up with this garden as their playground – the dreams that began in imaginations given such a beautiful, nature-laden playground to explore. My heart leaps as tiny bunny rabbits with powder-puff tails bound across my path, disappearing into burrows that appear from nowhere. Sparrows leap about delicately with the grace of ballerinas, cocking their heads in concerned interest.
I feel like I’ve a stepped into a fairytale – that, at any moment, I might stumble upon a hidden door that will take me to a fanciful world. What strikes me most about this place is the peaceful silence, interrupted only by the welcome sounds of nature. The clarity and space to think that come with country life is a true joy.
My plan for the day ostensibly revolves around my tastebuds, and I set off in my rental car to explore the wine country in the nearby Pipers River region of the Tamar Valley wine route. The morning mist weaves itself around the tree branches of fragrant forests, as I navigate the winding roads of the northern Tasmanian valleys. My leisurely journey takes me through tiny villages of charming old farm cottages, their woodfire chimneys puffing merrily with the homely scent of an open log fire.
I arrive at my first destination, Pipers Brook Vineyard, just in time to escape the cold and tuck into a delicious lunch (a delicious Spicy Red Lentil and Tomato Soup with a side of crusty olive bread, prosciutto and blue cheese, and a glass of the 2004 Pipers Brook Vineyard Tamar). After lunch, having sampled some wines, I drive along the dirt roads that wind between the Pipers Brook and Janz wineries, and I’m stopped by a gaggle of geese frolicking about amongst the grapevines. Later, I’m told a story of how these geese almost met an untimely demise at the hands of a merrily drunk French cellar hand staying at Pipers Brook, who had a hankering for freshly roasted goose one night.
I travel onwards on my gustatory pilgrimage and soon reach the prim white gates of Bay of Fires Winery. As I wander the grounds before visiting the cellar door, the magnificent scenery takes my breath away. Bay of Fires Winery is home to Australia’s best sparkling, Arras, as well as a range of other stellar vintages well worth sampling as you gaze out the cellar door window across the sweeping valleys.
After stopping by a series of other wineries along the wine route, including Delamere, Dalrymple and Providence, I decide it’s time for some afternoon tea. And if there’s any place outside of England where it’s almost rude not to indulge in a Devonshire Tea, it’s in Tasmania. With a stop by the tiny town of Lilydale, my day of gourmet adventures peaks with a serving of soft scones fresh from the oven, heaped with luscious whipped cream and homemade jam.
Preparing for my drive back to Cloverlea, I stop at a local petrol station, where a rosy-cheeked woman greets me enthusiastically as I emerge from the car. My city-slicker roots reveal themselves when it becomes clear to her that she’s dealing with someone who’s never had a person actually ‘serve’ them at a service station. Unsure of exactly what I’m supposed to do while someone else puts petrol in my car, I strike up a conversation. She responds amiably, her kind eyes reflecting the shine of a life joyfully lived. “You’ve brought the rain with you,” she grins, in reference to the downpours the region is experiencing. It’s a crime I’ve been already been laden with several times today by locals, but it’s a guilt I’m willing to assume, for this glorious wintery weather has made my stay feel entirely magical. As I set back on the road, the sun peeks out from behind the clouds as if to assure me that it does exist around these parts.
Arriving back at Cloverlea as night falls, I settle back into a rocking chair on the porch of my tiny cottage. Wrapped in a cosy blanket with a hot cup of tea between my palms, I watch as the steam dances a fascinating routine in the chilly air. As I gaze out into the beautiful garden, the fresh botanical scents merge in the night air and I feel cleansed. The moonlight caresses the rain-polished leaves, the wind rustles through foliage, and I close my eyes and breathe in the magic of the fairytale.