Wine Ink: Time for a trip to wine country – overseas | SierraSun.com

Wine Ink: Time for a trip to wine country – overseas

Kelly J. Hayes
Wine Ink

It's still early winter here in the Northern Hemisphere. The vines are fallow, rain is falling on Northern California (thankfully) and there is snow on some of the high vineyards in Washington State.

With the earth tilting to the south, January is not the ideal time for a wine sojourn on the upper half of the globe. Ah, but if you could use a hint of heat, long to see some green and would love to take a walk amongst the vines, there is another world just below the equator that is in the middle of its summer season.

In the early 1990s, Australian and New Zealand winemakers realized something that ski instructors already knew. The end of a season in one place on earth means the beginning of another season in another place on earth.

These Aussies boarded jet planes and headed to France where they could work a second vintage in a calendar year. They became known as the "Flying Winemakers." And not only did they double their experience in their craft, they also brought back skills and techniques that changed the Australian wine industry forever.

Today there is constant back and forth movement amongst winemakers and consultants who ply their trade year round, moving from south to north and north to south as the earth starts its inevitable leans, to and fro, toward and away, from the sun.

Of course, this also means that tourists with time, money and wanderlust can likewise move between the hemispheres and live an "endless summer," as it were. Twelve months a year one can find a vineyard in full. Adventure, and great wine, is a plane ticket away.

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My suggestion is a trip to the wine lands of Australia and New Zealand. The Hunter Valley and the Barossa in Australia, along with the Kiwi region of Marlborough, may be the best-known wine destinations for Americans. But there are some other regions you may never have heard of that offer outstanding wine tourism as well.

Here are three areas, widely acknowledged as being amongst the most beautiful wine regions on earth, to keep on your wine travel radar. We'll move from east to west across the world's southern face.

Australia — Margaret River

On the west coast of Australia lies a wine and surf paradise called Margaret River. A 3 1/2 hour drive down the coast from Perth, this relatively new region (grapes were first planted in the late 1960s) has boomed and become a hot spot for great chardonnay and cabernet.

Over 100 wineries in the region are in close proximity and make for an easy and picturesque wine holiday. Plus, the beaches and the surfing are outrageous. Warm water and huge rollers traverse the Great Southern Ocean, crashing on rocky reefs and bone crunching beach breaks.

The white sand beaches are magnificent and back right up to karri and jarrah treed forests filled with koalas and kangaroos that spill into the vineyards on the other side. A gem of a place.

Visit leeuwinestate.com.au/image-gallery to learn more and see plenty of photos.

Australia — The Mornington Peninsula

Across the Australian continent, an hour's drive from bustling Melbourne, is a region that is quietly becoming known as a cradle for great pinot noir.

The Mornington Peninsula juts into the sea and is surrounded on three sides by ocean waters that provide fog and near constant cooling breezes before warm sunshine nurtures the grapes during the day.

There are a number of "cellar doors," as the Aussies call their tasting rooms, and a trip to the architecturally magnificent Port Phillip Estate and the welcoming Yabby Lake are worth the long journey.

New Zealand — Central Otago

Our next destination would be what many believe to be the most beautiful wine region on earth. Central Otago, or "Central" as the locals call it, has become ground zero for Pinot-philes.

In the last decade it has become one of the most talked about regions on the planet, thanks largely to its ideal climate. Rippon, Mt. Difficulty, and Felton Road may be the most well known makers in the valley, but there are a number of other ventures gaining traction, including Kalex, owned by Aspen local Alex Kaufman.

The vineyards sit at 45 degrees south. If one turns the world upside down that is roughly the same distance from the equator as Bordeaux, and the Willamette Valley, which straddle the same line in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a sweet spot in global grape growing. And did I mention that it is drop-dead gorgeous?

Actually all three regions are worth a trip. Can I come along?

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass, Colo., with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@aol.com.

Under the influence

2012 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay: Long one of my favorite chardonnays, this vintage, made under the tutelage of winemaker Paul Atwood, is one of the best in recent memory. The straw color, the basket of tropical fruits and the lemon notes take a taster to warmer, more southerly clime. What could be a better outcome for a wine?

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Three More Wine Destinations

Prefer to head to someplace a little closer? Think South America. Here, with their signature grapes, are a few other suggestions:

Argentina

Mendoza-Malbec: Catena Zapata Malbec Mendoza 2013

Chile

The Colchagua Valley-Carmenère: PUNTO NINO 2011 Carménère Reserva, Colchagua Valley

Uruguay

Canelones-Tannat: Artesana Canelones Tannat 2013