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This red blend from Sonoma packs a surprise. A white grape is part of the mix. Can you guess which one?

Rodney Strong Upshot - Photo by Dave Nershi
Dance Of The Grapes

Rodney Strong Vineyards began 55 years ago when celebrated American dancer Rodney Strong embarked on a second creative endeavor: winemaking. Through the years Rodney Strong has earned recognition for exceptional single vineyard and reserve wines. Though its portfolio covers the high end quite nicely, Rodney Strong recently debuted a reasonably-priced, fun red blend – Upshot.


By my reckoning, the majority of US red blends are Bordeaux-style blends made mostly with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

The percentages of each will vary and other grapes will be added in too. In California there is a wealth of Zinfandel, the closest thing we have to an “American” grape (although it’s actually an ancient Croatian variety). The upshot of this is, well, wines like Upshot.

And The Mystery Grape Is…

The Zinfandel for Upshot comes from Rodney Strong’s Hubbard Ranch vineyard. It makes up 44% of the blend with 29% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot and 5% Riesling. All the grapes are from Sonoma County, with the majority from Alexander Valley and Knights Valley.


Surprising to us was the addition of Riesling, a white grape. Some of the finest Rhone wines are made with Syrah with a dash of the white Viognier. In this case, the Riesling adds the fun and some floral aromatics. This also contributes to a silky texture.

On the palate Upshot is rich with dark cherry notes and black fruit. There is a bit of spice. Upshot has a healthy 14.5% ABV, which contributes to a full body. The tannins are dialed back and the finish is lingering.

For a $28 SRP, this is a slice of the good life in California’s wine country. Upshot is a tremendous choice to pleasantly surprise guests at the next dinner party – or to pop open for some casual sipping if you can’t wait that long.

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Shrimp and Stoneground Provolone Grits with King Estate Willamette Valley
Pinot Gris at Oregon Electric Station - Photos by Dave Nershi
Planning a trip to Oregon Wine Country? Here's where to stay and eat.

By Dave Nershi, CSW – Publisher

Willamette Valley is a slice of wine heaven nestled 50 miles south of Oregon. Oregon is the fourth largest producer of wine in the US. Most are small, family-run operations that produce less than 5,000 cases yearly.


The lush valley, is 150 miles long and 60 miles wide, and produces some of the best Pinot Noir in the world. Its agricultural bounty includes hazelnuts as well as hops for the burgeoning craft beer industry. Whether you are visiting Oregon Wine Country’s more than 500 wineries or taking in its other many attractions, we’ve got the scoop on where to stay and eat.

The good news is this scenic locale is overflowing with great lodging and dining options. There is something for every budget and every palate. Here are some top picks from our recent visit.

Abbey Road Farm features silo sleeping accommodations
You've Never Stayed Anywhere Like This Before

Abbey Road Farm in Carlton is home to the Silo Suites Bed & Breakfast. The farm has goats, sheep, chickens and ducks and some of the most unique sleeping accommodations you’ll find in the region.


The five suites are in three recommissioned grain silos and feature foam topped beds, Jacuzzi tubs, luxurious bedding and ambient floor heating. Breakfast by innkeepers and chefs Eric Bartle and Sara Kundelius is sumptuous. Enjoy selections such as huckleberry pancakes, Porchetta and breakfast frittata – prepared beautifully in cozy surroundings with a scenic view.

A salmon starter at Subterra in Newberg
Within a short drive from Carlton is Subterra – A Wine Cellar Restaurant in Newberg. Subterra is a noteworthy dining experience in an unruffled, relaxing cellar setting. Service is impeccable and the wine list is award-winning. The menu is a masterful mix of classic and Northwest contemporary cuisines with an emphasis on farm-to-table ingredients.

You can warm up your palates with small plates such as melted brie and maple bourbon fig jam and the devilishly good crispy pork belly confit with ginger pineapple relish.

Entrée choices includes cassoulet, the hearty French white bean stew, and Seafood Zarzuela. The wine list has ample variety to perfectly pair with each dish. Two selections we especially enjoyed were the 2017 Illahe Willamette Valley Gruner Veltliner and the 2014 Coeur de Terre Vineyard Heritage Reserve Pinot Noir, McMinnville.

Dining In Dundee

Dundee is the location for two other standout dining picks. The Babica Hen Café buzzes with activity and serves up breakfast until 2 o’clock, with eight different waffle choices including Banana Chocolate Crunch and Lemon Berry Almond Crumble. Lunch, featuring an assortment of salads and filling sandwiches, and dinner are also served.

Dundee Bistro spaghetti with halibut




The Dundee Bistro is a gourmet delight that is part of the Ponzi family enterprise that includes Ponzi Vineyards. The bistro menu includes superb pasta dishes and acclaimed pizza as well as classic cocktails, microbrews, Italian coffee and an inspired wine list with an emphasis on local Pinot Noir.

Try the oyster of the day with apple and shallot mignonette sauce for starters with the 2017 Ponzi Vineyards Pinot Gris and finish with the Cascade Natural New York Steak and a hearty red. For a glass of wine with friends, try the adjoining FratelliPonzi Food & Wine Bar and browse the selection of artisan foods including the FratelliPonzi extra virgin olive oil from Michel and Rebecca Ponzi's estate in Italy overlooking the Adriatic Sea.

McMinnville Top Lodging Picks

Youngberg Hill is a premier Willamette Valley destination
You can indulge yourself at Youngberg Hill, a wine country inn and vineyard in McMinnville. Perched on a hilltop with sweeping views of rolling vineyards, the inn is part of a 50-acre estate. The on-premises tasting room features award-winning wines from the organically farmed estate vineyards.

The inn features nine luxuriously furnished guest rooms, many with panoramic views. The breakfast room and wrap around deck are ideal for watching the sun rise over the vineyards. Breakfast selections may include savory French toast or their famed salmon hash.

Quality is impressive with the Youngberg Hill wines. Don’t leave without picking up a bottle of the Aspen Chardonnay and Jordan Pinot Noir. The inn is convenient to 100 different wineries and tasting rooms in Willamette Valley.

Luxurious accommodations at the Atticus Hotel
If you prefer to stay in historic McMinnville, consider the Atticus Hotel. This boutique hotel opened in Spring 2018 and provides a luxury option within walking distance to 18 tasting rooms and 35 restaurants in this vibrant small town. The Atticus rooms feature fireplaces with handcrafted mantles, original pieces from local artists and enough panache to make your stay a memorable one.

An attractive dining option in downtown McMinnville is The Barberry. Located on “America’s Favorite Mainstreet,” the restaurant sources 95% of its ingredients locally. Its mission is to become the best restaurant on the West Coast and it’s the place to come whether you dress up or go casual.

Elegant dining at The Barberry in McMinnville
The menu includes fresh seafood and steaks as well as oysters on half-shell year-round. Wine pairing meals are available, and the wine list is award-winning. The Barberry is also known as a Great Bourbon Bar of America. It has a collection of 225 whiskeys and bourbons. Upstairs the 1882 Grille has a rooftop deck and 15 beers on tap.

Eugene? You Bet

Stellar food and lodging make Eugene a must-visit destination at the southern end of Willamette Valley. The Inn at the 5th is a AAA 4 Diamond award winner located within the historic 5th Street Public Market. With complimentary wine upon arrival, a fireplace in your room, and luxurious amenities, you may never want to leave this urban resort. If you do, you are only steps away from a wine tasting room and boutique shops and eateries.

Inn at the 5th is an urban resort in Eugene
A nearby dining favorite is the Oregon Electric Station, located in a 1912 former train station. It’s easy to get on board with their standout seafood, beef and pasta dishes. Try the Shrimp & Stoneground Provolone Grits with a glass of King Estate Pinot Gris for a perfect pairing. Finish up with the Peanut Butter Bar, with layers of ganache, peanut butter and Oreo cookie crust.

A stylish omelette at Marché 
For French-inspired cuisine, Marché is just steps away from the Inn at the 5th. The menu is based on foods you would find at a farmers market, with the emphasis being fresh and local. Get a jump start on your morning with a breakfast of croissant French toast with caramelized bananas, toasted coconut and crème fraîche. With a cup of Coffee Plant Roaster espresso, you’ll be ready to face the day.

Whatever your plans, there’s a bounty of dining and lodging opportunities in Willamette Valley. For additional information, check the resources at the Willamette Valley Visitors Association.
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Blue Rock Vineyard Wines - Photo by Dave Nershi
Blue Rock Vineyard was first settled by Italians who worked at a nearby winery. The winery maintains that Old World character and even the original olive trees, which are now more than 140 years old.

Sonoma Smooth
Over the last oh-so-many years of uncertainty in the world, one thing has remained sure: Baby Blue is a remarkable Sonoma blend. I first discovered this sterling Blue Rock Vineyard wine during a board meeting in Orlando.


As executive director, I was in charge of making dinner arrangements and selecting the wine. Baby Blue, a blend of the five five Bordeaux grapes plus Syrah, caught my eye and was ordered up for the notoriously thirsty board members.

Baby Blue was silky smooth and, at less than $30 (although liberally marked up at the restaurant), was an astounding value. Since then, we’ve enjoyed this wine frequently.

Beyond Baby Blue
We recently had the opportunity to taste three current releases and one was quite a surprise. I like Blue Rock for a number of reasons. Paramount is the great wine and I also dig the minimalistic packaging. Elegant, clean and striking – like the Blue Rock wines.

New Orleans crayfish with Blue Rock Cabernet
Sauvignon and Baby Blue Blanc

Until recently, I’ve thought of Blue Rock mainly as a red wine producer, but they have white wine in their portfolio. For the first time, we tasted a Blue Rock white wine – the 2017 Baby Blue Blanc. This is a blend of 91% Sauvignon Blanc and 9% Viognier.

We popped open the Baby Blue Blanc and the 2015 Cabernet at our Mardi Gras party. Lesson One: Baby Blue Blanc goes quite well with crayfish and other spicy Cajun food!

This is a clean, precise wine. The acidity is softened by the Viognier, which also adds some nice aromatics. Barrel fermentation and whole cluster pressing give a nice complexity.

It’s an appropriate partner for the original Baby Blue – approachable and each glass beckons another. It retails for $24.

Baby Blue’s Big Brother
Blue Rock Cabernet is an impressive wine. Get this. The 2015 Cabernet is 98.9% Cabernet Sauvignon with less than 1% each of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Syrah. I’m not sure what 0.05% of Malbec contributes, but who am I to argue with the delightful final results?


There were 934 cases produced. Grapes all come from the Blue Rock estate vineyards in Alexander Valley.

Blue Rock Cabernet Sauvignon is more substantial that its Baby Blue sibling. There is an emphasis on dark fruit, blackberry and cola. The tannins are silky and so this wine is ready to drink now or age for a few years. SRP is $49.

The 2016 Baby Blue is a blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 6% Syrah, 6% Malbec 5% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. The pieces fit together for a wine that is impressive with rich flavors and a sinfully smooth texture.

Blue Rock Vineyard wines are memorable and the perfect pick for your next special occasion.

Full disclosure: These wines were received as a marketing sample.



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A blind tasting reveals The Mariner as a top pick among red blends.

The Captain Wore A Mask

When it was our turn to host the local wine group’s tasting we decided the theme would be red blends. A fun twist to the tastings is that these are done blind. We usually feature four different wines.

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I selected Tannat blend from Uruguay, a Super Tuscan and a Washington State Merlot blend. For the fourth spot, I rotated three different wines. One was a Bordeaux and the other two were from California. Each wine was snuggled inside a cloth sack with a letter: W, I, N or E.

This was the perfect opportunity to share one of our favorite wines – The Mariner from Dry Creek Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley region of Sonoma.

Navigating Great Flavor

The Mariner is a proprietary blend that Dry Creek Vineyard debuted in 2004. Like a mariner keeping the ship off the dangerous rocks during a billowing storm, so a winemaker has to successfully navigate through the ups and downs of a vintage. In the case of 2014, Sonoma was experiencing the third year of the California drought. Although the grapes ripened at sugar levels lower than normal, the fruit tasted beautiful. In December, well after harvest, the winery had 20 inches of rain in less than two weeks – a welcome relief.

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The 2014 blend for The Mariner is 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot, 9% Merlot, 8% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. That’s the highest percentage of Cab I’ve tasted in a Mariner.

The poor blend from Uruguay and even the Super Tuscan were completely blown out of the water, so to speak, by The Mariner. The Mariner gave a good broadside of complex spice flavors woven with dark, rich fruit.

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The tannins of the 2014 The Mariner give enjoyable structure and the promise of an even more beautiful wine in five to eight years. The Mariner is aged in French and Hungarian oak, 40% of it new, for 19 months.

With an SRP of $50, we consider The Mariner to be a standout value among quality California reds. We suggest laying a few bottles down to age. If you don’t have the patience, that’s fine because it drinks beautifully right now. We suggest decanting for 45 minutes or so.

Tasting blind or with eyes wide open, our tasting party guests are ready to join The Mariner’s crew. One bottle and we think you will be too.

Full disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

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The Daintree Rainforest, on the northeast coast of Queensland, Australia, is part of the oldest continuously surviving rainforest in the world.

Journey Through The Past

The second leg of our recent Australian trip was in Queensland. We had a free day before heading to Adelaide, so we decided to go really “old school” and visit the Daintree Rainforest.

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The rainforest, named for Richard Daintree, an Australian geologist and photographer, covers 460 square miles. It is a beacon of biodiversity, with a dozen families of primitive flowering plants and seven ancient fern families. Within the refuge of the rainforest, many of these plants maintain their ancestors’ primitive characteristics.

We booked our tour with Discovery Tours Australia and our tour guide Warren showed up with another couple in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. This is how we like it. No giant tour buses with megaphones and scads of tourists – just a small group splashing and bumping along the backroads of an ancient forest.

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While rainforests cover only about 2 percent of the world’s surface, they include about 50 percent of the species found on earth. Humans rely on rainforests to produce most of Earth’s oxygen. One tree produces about 260 pounds of oxygen a year. The fresh oxygen during our trip was energizing.

Along The Rainforest Road

Our first stop was an overlook of Barron Falls to observe where the Barron River cascades down craggy rock formations. The viewing point is reached by a short trail that passes by a variety of trees and ferns, including the giant King Ferns, a prehistoric species that grows up to 16 feet tall.

The road we were on ranged from a nice wooded path with a shaded canopy of trees and Emerald Doves flittering to and fro. Occasionally it was reduced to a muddy mess blocked by streams one to two feet deep. As responsible passengers we urged Warren to splash through the creeks and gun it up the steeper slopes.

Our highlight was a hike on the Clohesy River boardwalk to view the soaring strangler fig trees. These trees shoot their roots downward while also growing up toward the top of the forest canopy. They envelop the host tree and sometimes, as in the case of the giant we saw, kill it. This leaves a central cavity. In the case of the Clohesy strangler fig, it is big enough to provide a shelter for sleeping or a campfire. Of course, that’s not encouraged.

It’s easy to see how this tree could be the inspiration for the Tree of Life in the movie Avatar, a tidbit related by Warren. Just off the boardwalk, we could view a large earth mound that serves as a nest for the peculiar looking Australian Brush Turkey that we earlier saw along the road.

A Glimpse Of Prehistory

Sunlight filtered through the towering trees and ferns and exotic bird calls sounded from from somewhere in the foliage. The air was damp and fresh with wisps of mist rising skyward. It is easy to picture this as a prehistoric landscape.

As we emerged from the shade of the rainforest, we stopped at Copperlode Dam, where a scenic lake provides the water supply for Cairns. In the eucalyptus tree the Laughing Kookaburra had a perfect vantage point overlooking a beautiful Australian vista.

Daintree Rainforest is a World Heritage site and an outstanding attraction in the Cairns area of Queensland. It’s inspiring, rejuvenating and a reminder why stewardship of our earth’s resources is increasingly important.

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It’s hard to choose just one favorite sparkling wine, but if pressed, we’d say Cava. Here are two new top Spanish picks.

Sparkling Style

One of the reasons we love Cava is that this sparkling wine is made in the traditional method, just like the famous bubbly from Champagne. Having visited Spain and the famed Cava region of Penedès, we also are fans of the people and the modern style that permeates all aspects of life there.

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The Vilarnau family settled in Penedés in the 12th century and has been producing Cava since 1949. It is a small, artisan operation with a winery interior designed by artist Antonio Miró and the outside displaying clean, modern design.

When we opened the package from Vilarnau Cava, it was a delight for the eyes. The two Cava were special Trencadís editions, with splashy and spectacular labels.

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Trencadís is a mosaic created from tiny fragments of broken ceramic tiles, roof tiles or pottery. It was used in the modernist artistic movement in Catalonia. The Vilarnau Trencadis editions certainly should win an award for their design –  if they haven’t already.

Cava Under Cover

You can’t judge a book by its cover – or wine either. The impressive art did put smiles on our faces even before we popped the corks, though.

We sampled the Vilarnau Rosé Delicat Brut Reserva and the Vilarnau Brut Reserva. The Brut Reserva is made with 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada and 15% Xarel-lo. These are the three classic varieties used in Cava, although others have also been approved for use.

This is a wine with a lovely froth and dry finish. There is a creamy texture with a hint of citrus. Both bottles are Reserva wine, meaning it must be aged for at least 15 months and be no sweeter than Brut. The Brut Reserva retails for $14.99.

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The Rosé Delicat is quite different from the Reserva Brut. It is made with 85% Garnacha (known in other places as Grenache) and 15% Pinot Noir. Upon sipping, this reminded me of the Spanish approach to rosé. The wines are often called rosado and have a deeper color than the light salmon color seen in rosé from France’s Provence region.

Like rosado, this has a more powerful fruit flavor than you might expect. It has an intense strawberry flavor mingled with floral notes. This is mixed with the delightful bubbles that tingle and tease. It was a perfect pour for Valentine’s day and, I would suggest, any other romantic evening.

These bottles are perfect sips of Spanish style. They add good taste and beauty to any occasion.

Full disclosure: We received these bottles as a marketing sample.

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Vino-Sphere by Dave Nershi, Csw - 3w ago

We're out on the road right now, visiting one of the nation's great wine regions: Oregon's Willamette Valley. As if having some of the world's most sensational wines wasn't enough, the area is loaded with great attractions including top flight restaurants, great craft beer, cool towns and even a monastery. We'll give a full report in the near future, but in the meanwhile, you can enjoy these photos. The building is the Abbey Road Farm B&B where we're been staying. Yes, that's snow -- a bit unusual for the area, but quite scenic. The rooms are in refurnished grain silos. 

You'll get the full scoop soon. Meanwhile, I've got to locate my snowshoes!

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The Rothschild family has been associated with the vineyards of Bordeaux since 1868. Best known for wines from their prestigious vineyards, they also produce wines intended for everyday drinking.

From A Legendary Family

On 8 August 1868, Baron James de Rothschild purchased Château Lafite, an estate with a vineyard first planted in the late 1600s. Starting in the 1960s, three more château were purchased (in Pauillac, Sauternes and Pomerol).

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Expansion of the Rothschild wine enterprise moved beyond Bordeaux with wineries in Chile, Southern France and Argentina. Since 2008, Rothschild has been developing a vineyard in the Penglai region of China.

While best known for producing stellar Bordeaux wines with prices that can soar into the thousands, Domaines Barons de Rothschild has also produced a pair of very affordable labels since 1995. We recently tasted a pair of wines from their L’egende range.

Bordeaux Within Reach

I’m often surprised by friends who will plop down $15 to $20 for a middling, mass-produced California wine, while overlooking some great values from Europe and France in particular. France produces wines in all price categories and often the quality is far above an inexpensive domestic wine.

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When you can score a Bordeaux for under $25 produced by the family that produces some of France’s greatest wines, that’s a victory. We sampled the L’egende Bordeaux Rouge 2016, which retails for about $17, and the L’egende Medoc 2016, which lists for about $24.

Actually, I wasn’t expecting much when we opened the Bordeaux. After the first few sips, it was clear that this was an elegant and eminently enjoyable wine. The wine is a 60% Cabernet – 40% Merlot blend and is packed with fresh fruit and well rounded flavors of  raspberry and currants. Forty percent of the wine gets oak aging to lend a touch of toastiness. The finish is long and very smooth.

The Medoc was opened during a wine tasting party at our house. We featured three red blends that we tasted blind. In addition I brought out several special bottles for the group to try, including the L’egende Medoc. The Medoc was a hit with all the guests and one rated it above wines costing much more.

The blend for the Medoc is the same 60% Cab and 40% Merlot. However, there is a noticeable increase in complexity. Fifty percent of the wine gets oak aging and the wine has hints of vanilla and toast. This L’egende is also wonderfully drinkable, with red fruit notes and a touch of spice as well. Both wines are silky smooth.

Bordeaux Blanc, Pauillac and Saint-Emilion are also part of the L’egende range. Each sounds like a good buy.

L’egende is a good glass of Bordeaux – suitable for everyday drinking or a nice dinner. Affordability and charm are no myth as you will discover if you explore the L’egende.

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a media sample

Technorati Tags: Bordeaux blends,wine,France
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Australia’s Queensland is called the Sunshine State. The Great Barrier Reef was a highlight of our recent visit.

A Visit To Paradise

After exploring Melbourne and the Yarra Valley, we embarked on the second leg our Australian adventure. Hopping a flight to Cairns (pronounced Cans by the Australians) we were soon were headed to the beach destination of Palm Cove.

We stayed at Paradise on the Beach, a place we thoroughly enjoyed. This 34-unit hotel is in the heart of Palm Cove, right on the beach front. Our room had a balcony overlooking the pool and some giant Melaleuca trees.

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When we went for a dip in the pool, we heard a peculiar cackling call from a bird in a towering tree. It was a Laughing Kookaburra, an iconic Australian bird that is the largest of the kingfisher family. It serenaded (or laughed at) us during our entire visit.

Not only could we stroll along the beach, but we were close to excellent dining. Each morning we enjoyed eating at Espresso & Co, a great breakfast joint with outdoor seating, a view of the ocean and beautifully prepared food. One unexpected addition to their pancakes is a scoop of ice cream!

We tried a couple of restaurants during our stay most notably Neptune’s. At Neptune’s we sampled a local seafood specialty: Barramundi. Barramundi is native to the waters in northern Australia all the way up to southeast Asia and India. Neptune’s has a nice upscale, funky vibe and is just steps away from the beach – perfect for viewing crashing waves of the Coral Sea.

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Although we didn’t take advantage of it, Paradise on the Beach has a barbecue grill available for guests. That would have been epic (shrimp on the barbie?).

As much as we enjoyed the accommodations, a key reason we chose it was the location as a staging point for some unique excursions.

The Great Barrier Reef

In my early planning for our Australia trip, I did what you might expect: tried to figure out how many different wine regions we could visit. This however didn’t fly with my wife, who has earned her nickname of Green Dragon. She said we weren’t going to Australia without snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. She was right, of course.

Our day on the water was orchestrated by Reef Magic Cruises, and they did a nice job. We boarded a large and fast catamaran heading out to the GBR. Green Dragon took some Dramamine to offset any sea sickness. I’ve never had any problems – but then again, it was mighty rough on the water with the water splashing high on the windows and numerous passengers clutching paper bags and darting to the rest rooms.

The destination was Marine World, a floating platform that serves as the base of operations for snorkeling, SNUBA or even helicopter rides. Upon arrival we had morning tea and then went onboard the semi-submersible. The semi-submersible doesn’t go entirely underwater. Rather, it has a V-shaped hull with windows that goes under the waves. The seating is cramped, as you might expect, but the views are great. It gives you a chance to view the coral and sea life without worrying about swimming against the current.

We also found the submersible superior to the glass bottom boat, which was the next on our agenda. The water was choppy during our visit, and so it was difficult for the ship’s captain to position the boat over items of interest.

Into The Waters

We returned the Marine World to enjoy a buffet lunch. The next step was the most challenging part of the cruise for me – getting into the Lycra dive suit. This is a safety precaution due to marine stingers (AKA stinging jellyfish) in the water. I was first given what appeared to be a child-sized medium suit. After confirming the ridiculousness of the size selection, I wriggled into a new dive suit.

Snorkeling (and other activity) is limited to a cordoned off area, in a step designed to limit damage to the reef. There were several resting stations, tethered floats that you could latch on to if you became tired. There is also a staff member on overwatch, carefully viewing all those in the water.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest structure made by living organisms. It can be seen from space and stretches for 1,400 miles. Unfortunately, it is under siege from pollution and warming ocean temperatures.

Where The Heck Are My Photos?

For our underwater adventure, Green Dragon had purchased an underwater camera. It was the first time using it, but I had taken a few snaps on dry land to make sure it worked properly.

As we snorkeled along, I was snapping like crazy, taking what I felt were epic shots. Angelfish, Butterflyfish, the giant Wrasse, surgeon fish and a slew of other colorful fish darted by. Underwater was a palette of blues and greens accented with the yellows, blues, orange and blacks of the fish. The coral shows great diversity with some very cool brain coral and the occasional staghorn and elkhorn corals. Click, click, click.

When we finally surfaced, I went to the camera to view my works of art. WHAT! There was nothing, nada. I hadn’t realized that the camera had an automatic shutoff. It’s a bit tricky getting a good shot underwater. We were kicking our swim fins against the current, I was hanging on to Green Dragon and then I was trying to catch photos with the camera dangling on my wrist.

I turned around and went back for another dive -- making darn sure  that I could see the shot on the screen clearly before clicking. I wish I had some of my earlier shots, but came away with another great swim and some excellent shots to boot.

Back on Marine World we went up to the sundeck. Around us the waters varied in shades of sapphire blue and lighter aqua where the reefs approached the surface. A nice cooling breeze wafted the Australian flag as we soaked up the sun before boarding the catamaran for our return trip.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Depending on your excursion, it also comes with a buffet lunch! We highly recommend visiting this inspiring location.

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Located in the heart of Australia’s Yarra Valley, Yering Station is Victoria’s first vineyard.

Something Old, Something New

Our last stop on our tour of Yarra Valley wineries was Yering Station. In 1838 Victoria’s first vineyard was planted. Although two grape varieties were planted, the area was primarily used for cattle. In the 1850s the property was developed into the largest vineyard in the area.

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Yering earned honors for best Victoria vineyard in 1861 and then nabbed the prestigious Grand Prix award at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889.

The golden age for Victoria’s wine industry faded, however and in 1973 the first commercial vintage in 50 years was produced in Yarra Valley. The region was ready for a resurgence. After changing hands several times in the early 1990s, Yering Station was purchased by the Rathbone family in 1996. Yering continues to be a family owned and operated winery.

The wine world’s tastes have changed too. Cool climate wines, such as those produced in Yarra Valley, are prized for their subtle flavors and excellence in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Tasting Heritage

In the historic 1859 building, we climbed upstairs to a private tasting room with exposed wooden beams and a view to the eucalyptus trees and rolling hills of Yarra. We were ready to taste the wines of this historic estate.

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Our first wine was unexpected. It was a rosé from 70% Nebbiolo and 30% Sangiovese – a couple of Italian varieties. It’s all estate grown and shows the diversity of grapes in Yarra Valley.

We then moved to some wines for which Yarra Valley is well known: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The 2015 Chardonnay has bright and clean flavors of citrus and peach. It is aged in 20% new French oak which lends a nice toasty flavor without being overdone.

Yering Station produces five different ranges of Pinot Noir – so there is a wine for every palate and budget. The Yering Station 2017 Pinot Noir retails for AU$40 and has earth notes and flavors of black cherry.

Our tasting continued with the 2017 Village Merlot. Village is the entry range for Yering Station wines and this one seemed a simple one. Great for sipping, but not long on complexity.

The 2017 Yering Station Shiraz Viognier was a sophisticated sip.We’ve always enjoyed Shiraz (or Syrah!) when blended with a touch of Viognier. This is a well-used technique in France’s Rhone region. The Viognier adds nice aromatics and a smooth texture. This is velvety with blackberry flavors and a touch of pepper.

Yering Station is also famed for its Yarrabank sparkling wines, made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Alas, we’ll have to sip those on our next visit.

Yering Station is a landmark in Australia’s wine history. While firmly rooted in the past, the wine continues to earn accolades for its innovative cool climate wines. Be sure to pull into the Station on your next visit to Yarra.

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