Believe it or not, Arizona produces wine. In fact, Southeastern Arizona is home to 19 family-owned vineyards some which have been in business for over 25 years. As a true wine-lover I must admit I was a bit skeptical about Arizona wines. But an afternoon spent wine tasting in lovely Sonoita proved my early convictions wrong. Not only is this straw-colored, rugged landscape lovely, the mix of quirky to elegant vineyards are definitely worth a visit.
Day trip to the Yarra Valley: A wine lover’s paradise
Wine and me are like long lost friends. We have a love/hate relationship. I adore wine so much that I must have at least a glass or two each and every night. Yet sometimes I adore it too much and find myself creeping up to three or four or five glasses and then ouch….the next day sucks!
I’ve often heard it is part of the so-called Mediterranean diet. That the French, Italians and Greeks consume wine with passion and vigor as part of their healthy lifestyles and diets. Whether or not this is fully medically proven I do not know or quite frankly, even care (I am sure there is much debate as there seems to be an awful lot of debate about anything these days related to health and diet!) . Basically, I love wine. Period.
Of course I didn’t grow up on wine like the French or Italians do. It was an acquired taste that took time, maturity and well, taste! I first began drinking wine for occasional family meals during my college years, normally for special occasions like birthdays, holidays or dining out. However, I really learned and grew to love wine during my eight months living abroad in France back in my twenties.
Being a student living off my parents and having relatively no extra money, my good amie and I went for the down and dirty stuff. The infamous Côtes du Rhône….the cheapest wine you could buy for 5 francs a bottle (about US$1 at the time). It was nasty, thick, acidic stuff that literally slide down your throat but did the job. An instantaneous buzz would arise after sucking down two or three glasses.
Mon amie and I even got so hooked on it (we were silly, immature and cheap) that we would fill an empty Evian water bottle with cheap, red Côtes du Rhône and bring it as a “roadie”. Our Evian bottle filled with cheap wine followed us all over Paris at night where we drank it sitting beneath the Tour Eiffel, Le Sacre Coeur and la Seine. We were cheap, pathetic and young. But it was so much fun and still remains to be one of my fondest memories of life as a student in Paris. Drinking cheap Côtes du Rhône in an Evian bottle under the Parisian stars! What could be better than that?
Fast forward the years to my trip to Australia in 2003, and I was still as much as ever in love with wine. My passion for wine has always been attended to while traveling, especially in countries that produce brilliant wines such as Australia. Thus, it made perfect sense that we spent our last day in Australia touring the lovely Yarra Valley, located 40 miles/61 km east of Melbourne. In my opinion, there was no better way to leave a fabulous vacation in a truly wonderful country than by visiting its nearby vineyards. Of course, I was not disappointed!
We took a tour (there was no way we were going to drive!) leaving Melbourne in the morning and spent the day tasting at four idyllic vineyards in the Yarra Valley. There were only a few of us on the small van which was perfect. There is nothing I detest more than being stuck on a huge obnoxious tour bus loaded with drunk wine tasters!
The Yarra Valley is a beautiful, peaceful setting that hosts over 70 award-winning vineyards as well as picturesque villages, gardens and shops along the way. The Yarra Valley is famous for their Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and Cabernet Sauvignons, which flourish in the valley’s cool climate. We were fortunate to try many delicious, savory wines thus breezed lightly through the day, enjoying ourselves immensely.
Here are some photos along the way….
It was the perfect way to end a wonderful trip. Thankfully we had some time to “sleep it off” before catching our insanely long flight back to the United States the following morning.
Unfortunately, the flight home ended up being perhaps the craziest flight of my life as we made an emergency landing at two in the morning at the Honolulu airport in Hawaii. There was no warning, no information or comments to the passengers about what was going on. All we knew was that the lights suddenly went on, the pilot said “Flight attendants, prepare for landing” and our Qantas 747 plunged down faster than my stomach could handle.
Still left in the dark, we landed at a previously unopened airport to police lights and ambulances. Only after the police apparently boarded the plane (we were sitting at the total end of the bus so couldn’t see or hear what was going on) and left, did the captain come on to announce to the passengers what had happened.
Apparently a mad man/presumed terrorist (I have doubts) was on board making irrational comments about 9/11 and bringing the plane down. (Remember this trip was made in 2003….after 9/11 and the crazy heightened security that has made traveling never the same). Some fellow passengers tackled the guy down, and he was hand-cuffed and sedated while we were in the middle of no where out in the ocean. Honolulu was the closest place we could land.
Ok, I was pretty freaked out at that point wondering what in the hell just happened. It took two hours to unload every single piece of luggage from our 747 jumbo jet and them more time for the police to find this crazy guy’s baggage. We were not allowed to get off the plane and were all extremely tired and stressed out by that point.
Two hours later, we took off again making our landing in LA late. I raced through security, sweating bullets and caught my connecting four-hour flight within five minutes before departure. It was a crazy way to end a trip, that’s for sure! But it is certainly one I’ll never forget.
Stay tuned…next post I’m headed back to Argentina where I visited San Carlos de Bariloche and Buenos Aires a few years back.
The Southern Cape: A Wine Lovers Paradise
With an ideal, temperate, Mediterranean climate full of sunshine, adequate rain and fertile, unspoiled land, the Southern tip of South Africa has a long 300-year-old tradition and history of creating fabulous wines. Just like the immense diversity of South Africa’s people, the Rainbow Nation also produces some of the most exciting, diverse wines in the world. The Southern Cape in particular is one of the great wine capitals of the world, home to over 800 wineries not a far drive away from Cape Town.
There are 13 designated wine routes comprising the Winelands area of South Africa (the most popular include Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, and Somerset West). A true wine lover could spend weeks exloring the many beautiful estates and vine-covered rolling hills. Unfortunately, I only had one afternoon. But a few hours in South Africa’s wineland convinced me that the wines are delicious, the scenary is magnificent and I would love to come back!
Here are some photos of my afternoon exploring the wineyards of the Southern Cape. Hope it makes you thirsty for more! 🙂
Drive from Cape Town to nearby Wine Country. Stellenbosch is only a mere 46k/29 miles away!
Stop for a liquid lunch in lovely, charming Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch is primarily a university town with a relaxed, carefree attitude and tons of fantastic outdoor cafes. The primary beauty of Stellenbosch is its vast display of Colonial Dutch architecture; arguably some of the oldest in South Africa. Stellenbosch was founded in 1679 by Governor Simon van der Stel who founded one of the best vineyards in the Cape, Groot Constantia and also planted hundreds of oak trees making the city informally known as the “city of oaks”.
Gorgeous Dutch Colonial architecture:
Sensational purple flowered jacaranda trees in full bloom:
Checking out the options for lunch. Way too many delightful ones to choose from!
Me, enjoying a fabulous lunch of course with an excellent bottle of local Sav Blanc—what could be better than this?
Drive to Seidelberg Wine Estate:
The wine line-up at Seidelberg Wine Estate
The gorgeous grounds of the Seidelberg Vineyard….I could live here!
The lush vineyards coating the hillside….I could smell the fragrant wines inside my head.
A bench with a view (and incredible wine):
For more information on South Africa’s wine country, here is a great site: Vineyard Varieties, which gives the historical background of the wines of the Southern Cape: http://www.vineyardvarieties.com/vineyard-variety-wines/history-of-south-african-wine/
Stay tuned….next stop is at the heart of South Africa’s Big Game…my first visit to a game reserve and a safari of a lifetime!
Note about photos in this post: All these pictures from my South Africa trip are over 7 years old. It is amazing to see the difference that seven years can make in technology! Most of these pictures are from my first digital camera. If you compare these photos with the quality of my more recent ones from my trips to Nepal and Morocco, the difference is astounding! Thank goodness for modern technology! I’ve also had to scan a few of the photos in as I took them with my other camera at the time. This explains the grainy quality. I felt it was more important to “show” all of South Africa even if some of the pictures weren’t the best quality. Hope you enjoy!