Now, after a quick stop at the side of the road for the next to last peanut butter sandwich of the trip (I swear; I'm so over peanut butter sandwiches), we headed towards Naracoorte, and rather stupidly followed the signs to the caves. Believe it or not, the local council actually had the chutzpah to put up signs that purportedly lead you to the caves, but which instead wind through the whole God damned town, past every last two bit tourist attraction (The Snakepit? Please, not unless it's Slash's), and then back to the main road you left six kilometers back - and now you're only 200m to the south, and virtually no closer to the caves themselves, which are several k's south of town. The bastards!
So, we went to the caves. They sucked. Not very decorated, and mobbed with screaming kids (yay for school holidays) hell-bent on touching every last speleothem they could get anywhere near). Bleah. And it cost A$32. This gets my vote as one of the least compelling cave complexes in Australia. Yes, they're World Heritage listed, but that's because of the fossil finds that were made there, not because they're beautiful by any stretch of the imagination.
Driving back towards the main road, Orlando's Russet Ridge has a gigantic new showroom suspiciously located at the main turnoff to the caves. How... predictable. Then again, the makers of Australia's most popular wines (Jacob's Creek) sure do know how to market their stuff. I was actually looking forward to seeing the building, which was predictably fairly swell, but the wines I tasted there really left me cold. The Jacob's Creek reserve riesling was bad - I think it was a problem with the bottle of itself, but I didn't want to force the issue with the bored pouring staff (a vacuous blonde with big hooters and very little knowledge of what she was pouring). I also tried... oh, hell, I don't know what it was... well, I definitely tried the Russet Ridge cab shiraz (?), which was fine considering the price but dull dull dull, and also the St. someone-or-other high end cabernet sauvignon, from Coonawarra fruit I think, which was just fine, A$30 a bottle or so, and also very boring. It's all very well to make a well-made wine that everyone will like, but... So, we left.
Next stop down the road was Wynns Connawarra Estate, which has a very distinctive old building. Inside, the tasting room was kind of dark and unfriendly - I think they were going for the 'authentic cellar' look, but who wants to actually taste wine in a cold dark room? Anyhow, the guy pouring the wines was nice enough but tended towards marketing drone when I asked "So, what's your most popular wine?" (His answer was basically "Everything! They're all super!". Yeah, right.
I started with the Wynns riesling, which was about as fun as drinking Riesling flavored Hi-C. It was OK, but why bother? There are so many good ones out there, I really do wonder who would buy that one. Still, I suppose I had to try a Coonawarra riesling. Next up was their Coonawarra Estate shiraz, which tended to the raspberry-gasoline Aussie shiraz style so loathed by Randall Grahm. The estate cab shiraz was marginally better, but the estate cab was the first one that I thought I might like. It had kind of a funny nose, with a vague hint of bell pepper, and a very smooth, almost slick mouth feel that I came to kind of understand as "that Coonawarra thing". I like this wine fine, but it kind of left me wanting something more. More what, I don't know, but it just seemed lacking. Still, the very smooth nature of it might be very popular with some people. Finally, I got to try the John Riddoch cab, which is their most expensive wine (more or less). It tasted about the same, but somehow less interesting. At double the price (A$70, believe it or not), I almost got the giggles. I've tasted a fair number of expensive (and for me that's A$40 or more) wines at this point, and $70 just seemed outrageous given this wine, which was not extraordinarily interesting or even in groovy enough packaging to make, I'd think, anyone want to spend that much money on it. I'd feel ripped off if I'd spent $70 on it.
Just down the road, I decided on a whim to stop at Katnook Estate, which is now owned by Spain's Freixenet, although they apparently have no input into winemaking, sales, or marketing at the shop. The woman in the (tiny) tasting room was great fun to taste with, and I felt very bad that I didn't like their wine styles. Dan did, and got the address of their US importer. So, what did we taste? First was their Katnook Riesling, which I found generally uninspired, tired, and lame. Must be something about Coonawarra and whites - it just didn't work for me. Both the Katnook shiraz and cabernet were OK, obviously very high quality, but again with that weird slick Coonawarra feel that might well be elegant, but which I just didn't like. We also tried their low end portfolio, the Riddoch label, which was perfectly OK but in no way outstanding. If I had to buy anything from these guys, it would be the Katnook cabernet, but I'd feel like I'd made a bad purchase.
Next stop: Leconfield, which I had to ask the woman running the tasting room how to pronounce. She was a real hoot, displaying a real love of her company's product without any pretence whatsoever. We started with their petit verdot, which was easily the best one I'd tasted yet, although once again the varietal characteristics of the petit verdot, which I'm only just now beginning to grok, were relatively subdued, being a little overwhelmed by the smooth something or other I've come to associated with the region. The shiraz was okay, nothing special, but the two cabernets we tasted were the bomb. The 2000 seemed very different than the 1999, but both were extraordinary, velvety and smooth but not boring like the other wines we'd tried in the area. After a lot of debate, I decided to go with a bottle of the '99, although frankly I wish I'd bought some of each to take home. (This is of course ridiculous at this point, because I've bought about twice as much as I could possibly take home with me.)
Finally, it was off to Yalumba to see if we could sneak in the door before closing (at 4.30). Frankly, I was just hoping for another free taste of their nebbiolo, dolcetto, or sienna, all of which (as it turns out) are grown up at Wrattonbully, just east of Naracoorte. I lucked out and got a taste of the nebbiolo, which was every bit as sublime as it was the first time I tried it. I also got to try their Mawson cab shiraz merlot, which I liked very much (Dan didn't), and finally 'The Menzies' cabernet, grown just outside their new tasting room door down there. At A$40 a bottle, it's not cheap, but I thought it was wonderfully elegant and overall very fabulous considering the price. It's not like other Aussie cabs I've had, and it definitely had that same weird Coonawarra feel to it, but this time in a good way. I also bought a bottle of the dolcetto, just because I love the packaging and hope I'll have an excuse to drink it in Sydney next month.
That was it for the day. We slept at the Best Western in Mount Gambier, where it got so cold I broke the bathroom mirror in the morning by accidentally letting the electric kettle get some steam on the glass. Ooops! At least they were nice enough not to charge me for it!
[The rest of this post is the original post.]
We visited Orlando Russet Ridge (Wrattonbully), Southcorp Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Freixenet Katnook Estate (Coonawarra), Leconfield (Coonawarra), and Yalumba (Wrattonbully and Coonawarra).
In short: Russet bad, Wynns okay, Katnook good but not my kind of thing, Leconfield very, very good, Yalumba incredibly good. Wines purchased: 1999 Leconfield cab sauv, Yalumba 'The Menzies' cab sauv, Yalumba Dolcetto (Wrattonbully).
Also went to see the center of Australia's first saint, but they close at 4. We couldn't get in the door.