The Melbourne Open and the Yarra Valley

Having been two years since our last visit to Melbourne, we thought it long overdue that we visit again.  And what better time to go, apart perhaps than for the Formula 1 grand prix in March, but at the end of January for the Australian Open, which is exactly what we did last time.  It has to be said our previous semi final lasted longer than this one proved to be, but more on that later.

Leaving a day later than our previous visit, this time flying on Australia Day (January 26th), coinciding with my first anniversary of being an Australian citizen, we set our alarms and made sure there were no hiccups as we negotiated first the big yellow bus, then train, to Sydney Domestic airport for our 7.55am flight.  Flying with JetStar, the antipodean equivalent of Ryanair, you are never quite sure what to expect.  On this occasion our short flight, under 2 hours, was on time and very painless.  However, unlike last time when we flew into Tullamarine, today’s flight on the big orange airline had us landing at Avalon, some 60kms from Melbourne CBD.

From the big orange plane, onto the big red Skybus (I’m sensing a colour theme), and for $42 each for a round trip, we were transported the 45 minutes in to town.  Transferring to a cab by Southern Cross Station, I was glad the ride was short, as we had Walter Mitty driving us.  Not only did he provide free advice on how much I had been ripped off by the Skybus, but also regaled us with tales of him being very senior in the Israeli military, how he was the most senior person, and therefore in charge, of the planes he flies on, and also that he was a life saving paramedic.  I tried telling him I was an agent of Mossad, but this cut no ice with Walter.

View from the apartment

Our accommodation, in South Melbourne, was a fantastic apartment booked via Airbnb.  Twelve floors up, a few wines were drunk on the balcony that had sweeping city views.  The Eureka building dominates the city skyline in the CBD, and across to the right, the magnificent Melbourne Cricket Ground dominates.  If I had to gripe about one thing, it would be advertising a coffee “pod” machine, as a prominent selling point on your Airbnb listing, then only providing 2 pods. 2 pods! For 4 people, for 2 nights.  Are we on rations?  If any landlord, in any city knew how important coffee is, surely a landlord from Melbourne would know more than most.

We were lucky that the weather improved from the cold, grey skies that greeted us on arrival. In fact, there was a bit of a heatwave whilst we were there, and judging by colour of some people’s skin, present company included, more sunscreen would have been a good idea.

Unlike Sydney, Melbourne really knows how to put on a sporting event.  The Open is so well organised, you could easily spend a full day just soaking up the atmosphere, and enjoying the entertainment outside the actual stadiums. With hindsight, maybe we should have done that.  From the off it was obvious that it was going to be a routine win for Federer.  From entering the big blue, very blue, court, there is that colour theme again, the speed with which he dispatched the first set was pure Roger.  What we, or the rest of the Rod Laver arena, didn’t expect was the match to be over before all the sets were played. When Chung pulled up, and retired, there were audible gasps all around the stadium.  Gasps were replaced by expletives by one of our party. Understandably upset, the booing wasn’t appreciated by the lady in the row in front.  Oops.

We resolved to make up for the disappointment by getting suitably inebriated on the wine tour of the Yarra Valley the day after.  If you fancy doing something similar I would highly recommend Chill Out Wine Tours.  Starting the day with a typical Melbourne breakfast, well, one of us did, at Bowery to Williamsburg, we then met the bus at 9.25am, by the side of St Paul’s cathedral, opposite Federation Square in the city.  A quick roll call and we were soon on our way for the short 1 hour trip to the valley.  As always with these trips, the driver does a great job in getting everybody talking.  At the start of a wine tasting day, most people are very quiet.  They either haven’t woken up yet, the caffeine hasn’t kicked in, or are displaying natural shy tendencies. I fall firmly into the second camp.  Or maybe the third!  No such issue on the way home, when everybody was best friends forever, and were getting invited to a pool party!  Yes, you had a very “interesting” job, of designing door handles.  In fact, you were probably the first designer of door handles that I had met.  But do I want to sit in your hot tub with you, in your bathers?  That’s another question.

Our first stop on the trip was at Domaine Chandon, which turns out to be a sister vineyard of Moët (yes, it is pronounced with a hard t, with name being of Dutch origin, and not French), one of several around the world.  Part of the global holding company LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy).  The famous Moët is not made here.  As you know champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of France.  What they do produce at Domaine Chandon is some very good sparkling wines.  The vineyard, as you would expect, is somewhat of a commercial behemoth, so it was refreshing to move onto Soumah wines.

Named as a derivative of South of the Maroondah highway, this is a boutique winery, one of those that seem to produce a full range of excellent wines.  The question that always makes me smile when wine tasting is “so, what wines do you like?”  My answer is the same every time.  All of them.  Which is 97% true. Soumah was one of those special wineries where I enjoyed every wine on the testing menu.  White, red, and dessert wines.  All excellent.  It is these type of tastings that I blame for me having more wine at home than I have books. Yeah, I know, hard to believe right?

After an excellent lunch at Soumah, a pasta dish that is possibly in my top 5 ever, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy, we moved on to Di Bertoli for another great tasting.  The day was finished at Yering Farm, probably my least favorite wines of the day.  It is not often I meet a wine list that I wouldn’t buy from.  I did that day.  A very pleasant tasting, with a very knowledgeable lovely old mature lady, but the wines did not match my palate.  As rare as that it, it happens.

Skipping the pool party, we had our final night in Melbourne, starting with drinks at Pony Fish Island.  A great little bar, in the Yarra River, that was first discovered by us on Instagram.  Don’t all the best bar / brunch / dinner recommendations come from your Insta feed?  Drinking as the sun set, we weren’t in the mood to explore much further afield, so we had a very good dinner at Teatro, on the river, eating, drinking, and chatting about the great weekend we had.

We were a little blue, to be leaving on the red bus, to catch the orange airplane. A red wine on the plane, and a commitment to return capped off a great weekend.