This post is a rare one for me, as it discusses something that I seldom do – take a tour. Yes, a tour, as in an organized excursion complete with vehicle, tour guide and a scheduled pick-up time.
Ever since I began traveling, as far as I can remember, I’ve only participated in two fully-organized tours. And oddly enough, it wasn’t even two different tours, but actually the exact same tour that I happened to go on twice, with some 13 years elapsing in between the two experiences. Even odder is that this tour is not exactly one that anyone would ever guess, as it has nothing to do with any world-famous sight and it surely doesn’t take place in a region that most people tend to visit during their lifetime.
WAY BACK IN 1998
I hopped off the bus in the center of Adelaide, Australia, as inexperienced a traveler as the world has ever seen, ready to start a 6-week celebratory adventure now that my semester abroad studies had ended in Melbourne.
With no guidebook and no clue where to go, I began trekking across the central business district until I finally came upon a hostel. It was quite a shabby place, but one with a friendly Swedish girl working behind the reception desk, and not wanting to roam the streets any longer, I decided to throw down my backpack for a few nights. After checking into a dorm room, the girl at the desk started asking me what my plans were for my stay in Adelaide. I had none and so she quickly recommended I join a tour to the Barossa Valley wine region the following day. Even without any independent travel experience, I was still somewhat weary about organized tours in those early days, but the truth is, when an attractive Swedish hostel worker is trying to convince you to do something, you’re going to end up doing it, no matter what the price or itinerary.
So just like that, five minutes after arriving at the hostel, I was signed up for the Groovy Grape Wine Tour. It was probably the easiest commission that girl had ever pocketed.
Interestingly, I loved every minute of that tour and even to this day can remember the exact details of almost everything that took place. The guide’s name was Dallas, the other participants included two Dutch girls, three Brits, an Indian couple and a Canadian guy, one of the family-owned wineries we visited was located inside of a barn, we ate a BBQ lunch at a location overlooking the valley and we were over an hour late returning to Adelaide because we were all having too much of a good time tasting port wines at the final winery we visited.
When I returned to the hostel that evening, slurring my speech and probably smiling a little too widely at the Swedish girl, I thanked her for the recommendation, blabbered something about the $50 tour price being money well spent and then proceeded to pass out in my bed until the next morning.
Fast forward to two days ago. I arrived back in Adelaide, this time via a flight, and chose to stay at the (slightly) more upscale Wright Lodge, a most pleasant budget establishment where I was greeted by Simon, the very polite receptionist. (I’ll admit that I had hoped the Swedish girl from 1998 was now not only employed at the Wright Lodge but that she hadn’t aged at all either.)
Simon didn’t even attempt to pressure me into booking any tours, and even if he had, I’m not so sure I would have agreed to anything so easily. Also, there really was nothing to pressure me into as I had already booked my Groovy Grape Wine Tour before arriving.
That’s right, on my first full day back in Adelaide, you can imagine my excitement as the Groovy Grape mini-bus pulled up in front of the Wright Lodge at 7:45am, just as scheduled.
I stepped on board, greeted the guide and the two other passengers that had already been picked up, took my seat and prepared to relive “wine tasting 1998”.
GROOVY GRAPE TAKE 2
Well, this time around, the day was nice.
The guide, whose name I’ve already forgotten, barely even spoke to us passengers, the wineries were completely different and clearly used to endless tour groups stampeding through their halls, many of the wines we tasted ended up being dumped in the spittoons instead of being finished and the BBQ lunch took place in a car park.
However, the other participants were friendly, the guides in each winery did provide some interesting information, some of the wines were enjoyable and despite taking place in a car park, the BBQ involved quite an impressive feast.
And, just as it did back in 1998, the tour ended with a visit to a winery that specializes in port wines (or ‘tawny port’ wines as they’re now known), which happen to be my personal favorite variety of wine.
So luckily, the enjoyment factor of this tour increased a great deal during our lengthy stay at Seppeltsfield Winery, allowing me to achieve a level of happiness that was admittedly quite close to that experienced back in 1998.
THE TAWNY PORT WINES OF SEPPELTSFIELD
While standing around the tasting bar, we began by first sampling a fruity Rosé and a most interesting sparkling Shiraz before we moved on to the good stuff – a 3-year old, 5-year old, 10-year old and 15-year old tawny. The combination of wine and brandy, stored in oak barrels, produces such a delightfully warm flavor as it ages, and given that I rarely find myself in a part of the world where tawny port is readily available, I soon found myself finishing the glasses of those around me who surprisingly did not enjoy the taste.
And then, only seconds after taking my final sip of that 15-year old perfection, the kind woman behind the tasting bar unlocked a special drawer and suddenly pulled out the mother of all tawny port wines. Right there before me, bottled with such exquisite style and practically pulsating with sweetness (I have no idea what that means), sat the famous Seppeltsfield 100-year old tawny. Since 1878, Seppeltsfield Winery has stored away one barrel of every year’s vintage, which is only to be opened 100 years later. As a result, since 1978, this winery has had a 100-year old tawny to sell every single year, making it the only winery in the world to achieve this feat.
Sure enough, and thanks in part to the seventh tasting of tawny that I convinced the woman behind the counter to pour into my glass, I soon found myself seriously contemplating purchasing that bottle of 1910 Tawny. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it and even went so far as to lightly trace the number ‘100’ embedded into the label with the tip of my finger.
The fact that the bottle was only 375 ml (the size of a soda can) and that it cost a cool $975, actually seemed appealing at the time. And when I compared this bottle to the 131-year old tawny that was on sale for $1500, the 100-year old version seemed like quite a bargain.
However, as I sit here writing this post today, that $975 is still safely stored in my bank account as I decided not to make the purchase after all. And who do I have to thank for convincing me not to purchase that bottle?
A big thank you to budget airline Tiger Airways and more specifically, their strict baggage restrictions! Considering that I am flying back to Melbourne today, that bottle of tawny would not be allowed on board my flight and surprisingly, despite all of the wine I drank during the tour, I was able to remember that before pulling out my credit card.
So, back to Melbourne I go, without that bottle of prized tawny, but quite possibly as the only person on the planet who has taken a Groovy Grape day tour to the Barossa Valley twice.
Has anyone else been to the Barossa? Or to Adelaide? Any other tawny lovers out there?
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