Tuesday 22 March 2011

Back home...

...with a suitcase full of goodies from Eureka Miniatures that I will write about in a couple of days, as soon as I have finished some research on AWI cavalry uniforms and gathered my photos together. I also have some photos from the Auckland Museum and the recreated gold-rush town of Sovereign Hill in Victoria, Australia, to post and write up. I hope readers will forgive these holiday excursions while I finish off the units I am currently working on. Posted here are a few pics of Antipodean scenery (in fact all are of Victoria), a couple of which feature the 15-month old scamp who, when he feels like it, answers to the name of Hugo. We spent a week in New Zealand, a few days in Auckland and then a trip down the west coast of North Island to Wellington; then flew to Melbourne for a week in the city suburbs with my sister-in-law and family, before driving out west to the Pyrenees and Grampians wine regions, then finishing up east of Melbourne with 2 days in the beautiful Yarra Valley.

Little Hugo did his best on the long journey there and back (26 hours in the air and up to 7 hours in transit in each direction) but he hates being cooped up and finally had a complete meltdown on the last flights on the way home, refusing to sleep or take a bottle and simply wailing for long periods. This prompted several "dirty looks" from our fellow passengers and at least one then complained to the cabin crew on the final Dubai to London leg. I'll happily admit that a crying baby is never a pleasant experience, but I've found that recently I've become rather millitant and unforgiving towards those people who find children an irritation and who object to their presence. Until airlines take a policy decision to ban children from their flights (which will never happen) or create special "family" cabins (which might), infants and kids of all ages have just as much right to be on a plane as anyone else and all passengers play the same lottery of whether they have to end up sitting near a child. We also had to deal with the idea, which is a hot debate in the UK at the moment, that it's somehow wrong to bring a child into the Business Class cabin. We dug into our savings to fly Business largely in order to enable Hugo to sleep on us in a fully reclined position and have at least a bit of space to move around and play in. I appreciate that others in the cabin would have been on their way to work meetings and wanted to sleep and relax in a peaceful environment, but the lottery point still stands - if you don't want to be around children then stay at home. Moreover, I'm sure many of our fellow passengers didn't actually have to pay for their own tickets......Anyway, rant over and, if I'm honest, I wouldn't recommend travelling from one end of the world to the other with a 1-year old.

As usual with our holidays we spent a decent amount of time as wine tourists. We had learnt our lessons from last year's trip and ensured that we planned winery touring routes that accommodated Hugo's 50-minute naps at 10am and 3pm. One common feature of Australasian cellar doors is that they are spacious and usually have a fenced outdoor deck, sometimes even children's play areas, which helps entertain little ones. We didn't visit any wineries in New Zealand, but drank a fair few wines while we were there. The new kid on the Kiwi block is sparkling sauvignon blanc.; it's an interesting drop and obviously a great way to use up all those surplus sauvignon blanc grapes. After our stay in Melbourne we headed west to the Pyrenees, Macedon Ranges and Grampians regions in Victoria. These areas contained many acclaimed wineries that I have read about but whose wines are unavailable in the UK. Initially I felt it was difficult to get a feel for these regions, as the vineyards are very spread out and the range of wines made differed from winery to winery. However, it is clear that shiraz/syrah and chardonnay rule in these cooler climate regions, with cabernet doing respectably too and pinot noir enabling the production of some decent sparklers. The sauvignon blancs and rieslings I found a bit hit and miss. We then drove back through Melbourne to Yarra Valley, a more well-known Victoria wine region and home to some of the country's best pinot noir and chardonnay. That region's Big New Thing appears to be sangiovese, barbera and other "Italian" varieties, to give customers something a bit different. All these regions have had a tough time recently due to a combination of above-average rainfall and high humidity. The Pyrenees seemed hardest hit - one producer told us that 90% of their crop would be lost to mildew and rot. Incidentally, another Pyranees winery-owner incurred our wrath by proudly proclaiming that "New Zealand is far too cold to produce decent wine" - a truly bizarre statement, taking protectionism too far I think. I also squeezed in an afternoon visiting 3 wineries in the beautiful Mornington Peninsular, in the company of Melbourne wargamer (and ace painter) John Baxter. In total I managed to visit 28 wineries this holiday.

So for those who are interested in such matters, wine highlights were as follows. In New Zealand: Seifried Gewurtztraminer 2010; Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2010; Stonyridge "Larose" 1999; Te Kairanga "Runholder" Pinot Noir 2007; Jules Taylor Rose 2010; Hunter's Chardonnay 2009; Man O'War Chardonnay 2008; anything by Villa Maria. In Australia: Witchmount Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2003; Tahbilk Riesling 2009; Granite Hills Knight Riesling 2010; Guilford Reserve Shiraz 2008; Mount Avoca Shiraz 2008; Warrenmang Estate Chardonnay 2008; Blue Pyranees "Richardson" Cabernet Sauvignon 2004; Seppelt Drumborg Chardonnay 2008; Redbank "Sally's Paddock" 2007.