Monday 25 February 2013

Yarra Valley: wineries, plants & chocolate

This is the 3rd in a series of blogs based on my recent visits to Singapore and Australia.

Dry and big sky, good for vines
Yarra Valley: from De Bortoli winery

A visit to Melbourne isn't really complete without a visit to the Yarra Valley, in my opinion. The Yarra Valley is about 50 kms / 31 miles from the CBD (Central Business District) of Melbourne. It is a key area for growing wine in Victoria, and has the benefit of being beautiful to travel around and not too far from the city to be able to do so. 

As anyone who knows me, or followed my twitter complaints when I was in Melbourne, it was bloody hot whilst I was there (28th December 2012 to 12th January 2013), and I don't do well in the heat. So I'm not interested in going on 150 mile long trips out to the bush. 30 miles was fine, and when suggested as a trip by my friends Kerri and Sharon, and their friend Ann, and it was only 25 degrees (coz this was an important part of the decision-making process!), I jumped at the chance to visit again for the first time in 15 or so years.

Our first stop was for lunch at the Yarra Valley Dairy. The dairy makes a variety of soft cheeses and you can enjoy a lunch of a choice of fresh cheeses, bread and other nibbles in the old milking barn, now a shop and cafe, and enjoy views over the valley. We did exactly that and gosh, was the cheese good. Probably the nicest soft white cheeses I've ever had and sadly couldn't bring any back with me. So you'll just have to take my word for it and go yourself when you are next in the area.

Yerring Station Winery was our first winery stop. I should point out the irony in me touring wineries (and the rhyming?!). I don't drink alcohol. I used to, and I love Aussie wines when in my late teens and early 20's, but sadly when I hit 30 I started getting migraines from alcohol. First red wine, then white wine, then almost all alcohol. It was a sad day making the decision to give up drinking gorgeous Aussie wines, but I decided stopping the pain was more important!

So why on earth would I enjoy touring around wineries when I cannot partake of the victuals?! Well it's much more than just about the wine. There are dairies, cafes and restaurants throughout the region, an it is well known for it's good food. Furthermore, wineries a generally beautifully presented, with flowers and trees as well as the vineyards, so there is plenty to see and do even if you don't drink.

Entrance to Yerring Station Winery, with a line of the ubiquitous Agapanthus

As you can see from the above and below, there is no difficulty in growing Agapanthus in Victoria and some other parts of Australia. It is just everywhere and though the blue flowers looked delightful to my 'just from British winter' eyes, it is actually causing a significant environmental problem.

In Victoria, Agapanthus is considered a weed. A British persons tender perennial is a Victorian persons invasive species. 

Agapanthus, freely growing by the roadside in the town of Yarra Glen.

Back to Yerring Station... Although I didn't try any wines, I did enjoy the views...

And some of the art exhibited in the wine tasting room... 

grape vine wreaths

'Nest' by Emma Blake. Grape, wisteria and clematis vines

'Canoe' by Emma Blake & Sally Adams, made with grape vines.

I loved the idea of the grape vine having use beyond the wine. And there was of course time for playing silly buggers...

Kerri, Ann, Sharon and I

At Yerring Station and other wineries there was mass plantings of the lovely 'wild iris'. Though called a native, it is in fact Dietes grandiflora South African.

Dietes grandiflora

Our next stop was Mandala winery. It is a newer winery and has lovely grape vines growing at it's drive in entrance. It's garden is young, but the contrast against the blue sky is lovely.

Front garden at Mandala winery

Following this we visited De Bortoli Winery, a long established vineyard in the Yarra Valley. It was extremely fortunate to just avoid being burnt to the ground during the awful Black Saturday bush fires in February 2009.

In the photos above and below, the tops of the trees at the top of the photos mark just how close the fire got to the winery before the wind changed. Although this winery was saved, over 173 people lost their lives and almost the whole town of Marysville was destroyed. It's a strong reminder of how tenuous life can be and and how it can change in a flash.

De Bortoli, from the car park.

As you can see, I'm rather enamoured of the iris Dietes grandiflora. Given it likes dry gravel, I don't have much hope for being able to grow it in Oxford/Sheffield!

Our final visit was to the CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Emphasised because, well, it was a chocolate factory! Actually it was the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice creamery. EVEN BETTER. 

View from the Chocolaterie, with its funky logo

Kerri & I enjoyed the most amazing tripple layered chocolate mousse EVER. I dream about this chocolate mousse and have been wondering when they are going to open an UK outlet - preferably next to my house...

Chocolate making. And being Australia - chocolate snakes!

By the end of the day I was full from chocolate, plants and lovely views. 

One last picture of that wonderful iris...

The wonderful lovely Kerri, and I

And from enjoying a great day with friends. Friends, plants & food, what more could you want?

Previous blogs in the series...

Sunday 17 February 2013

Early Spring at Kingston Bagpuize gardens

Today was the (almost) annual visit to Kingston Bagpuize gardens in Oxfordshire. They have wonderful drifts of snowdrops, aconites, crocuses. A visit always lifts the spirit at the cold end of winter.
A carpet of snowdrops at Church Copse

Aconites and crocuses in the Garden Park

Kate and J-P get in closer

Before we arrived, my friend Kate thought snowdrops were just snowdrops. She didn't realise there were so many varieties! Different ones were described as 'short and upright' or 'short and chubby'...
Galanthus short and upright

Galanthus short and chubby

There are many lovely paths to wander around and enjoy drifts of snowdrops.
near the main gate

Within the Woodland Garden

Entrance to Church Copse

Near the Woodland Garden

There were also other early Spring delights.

Hamamelis (no label so unknown variety)

Iris Katharine Hodgkin

There was also time for fun!
Kevin wonders if Kate will make it without falling and
squashing snowdrops. Church Copse.

And a time for snuggles.
Kate and J-P at the building (summer house?) beside the old wall.

It was a beautiful late winter day and as ever, we enjoyed our visit to Kingston Bagpuize gardens.
J-P, moi and Kate by Church Copse

The last snowdrop open day is Sunday 24th February. The house and gardens is also open on weekends from March to September.

And extra snowdrop pic by @oxkev.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Galanthus Bagpuize Virginia (2013)

I blogged about this Snowdrop in 2011, so rather than go into the same detail, you can read about it here, and enjoy the pictures below.

I'll be taking a few of these to Sheffield with me.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

The first goodbye: Oxford WDM

The first goodbye in Oxford, as the house sale and move to Sheffield gets closer, was to the wonderful Oxford World Development Movement Group. On Tuesday evening we attended our last meeting before going to the pub for a goodbye drink. We chatted about some of the things we got up to over the last 12 years....

Campaign stall on Broad Street, Oxford, September 2003. I'm on the left holding the banner, with other OxWDM members (L-R) Martin, Dona, Sarah and Ruth.

Marching down Cowley Road Oxford with the GATS monster. March and rally during the period of the WTO trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, September 2003.

Kevin and Wendy on the stall at the People and Planet Shared Planet conference, November 2005. Campaign: Dirty Aid, Dirty Water, on the privatisation of water in developing countries.

Street theatre - G8 Olympics, Cornmarket, Oxford, July 2006. Drawing attention to the fact that the promises made at the previous years G8 Summit by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, had not been kept.

Climate Chaos march & rally November 2006, London. First photo: Jenny, Jo and Sam just behind Jo's shoulder. Second photo: Kelvin, prop-maker maestro.

Climate change street theatre/stunt February 2007 on Cornmarket. We were trying to make a point about the relative impact different nations emissions have on climate change: UK a big bucket of water, Bangladesh a eye-dropper amount of water. First photo: Sam, Jo, Karl (Oxford FOE), Martin, Roger & Jenny. Second photo: Sam gets drenched by the UK emissions by a member of the public. BTW, it snowed the day before and was about 0 degrees. What we do for WDM campaigns and justice!

In April 2008 we joined with Oxford Friends of the Earth with a stunt at Carfax tower, asking politicians to stop ignoring aviation in the upcoming Climate Change Bill. Photo: Glynn (Oxford FOE), Andrew as 'Gordon Brown hiding from the truth' and me to the right.

We even got on BBC South Today! Short video - 40 seconds.

The planes in our climate change/aviation campaigning stunts got rather large... At the Cowley Road Carnival in July 2008, we had a rather large prop to attract attention to the fact that climate change can kill. It was pouring with rain when we were trying to pump the plane up and Kevin nearly got electrocuted. Then we nearly knocked some babies out of arms with the large wing span as we flew down Cowley Road. We went back to smaller props after this one!

Back in Cornmarket, this time we were netting 'fat cats' in October 2008. This was a stunt on the way the EU trade rules were robbing the poor in developing countries to feed the rich in the global North. Left photo: EU trader (Kelvin) tries to steal food out of the hands of a poor person (Chris). Right photo top: WDM campaigner (Sam) takes action and captures the trader. Right photo bottom: Susanna Pressel captures the evil trader.

And on this occasion, we got on Radio 4 - Broadcasting House (Sunday mornings). They were in town to interview people re the Bullingdon Club and came across our stunt. Ended up interviewing us too, and town Mayor Susanna Pressel who was supporting our action, and voila - Oxford WDM become national radio stars.

The disproportionate effects of climate change on people in developing countries also looked at the Royal Bank of Scotland's investment in blood oil in April 2010. Photo: Tina, Roger, Kelvin, Andrew, Martin, and Sam on the ground with the dirty oil footprints.

Then in April 2011, it was Barclays turn; highlighting the part they play in creating hunger by pushing up the price of key staple foods via food speculation. Photo: Chris trying to sell food at inflated prices (bread £200), Barclays eagle and Andrew.

And a short video of the stunt with Adam Ramsay of People and Planet.

We did another food speculation stunt outside Tesco on Cowley Road in March 2012, getting nearly 100 campaign cards signed, along with attracting attention with the particularly fetching props. Photo: Kelvin & Sam.

The group also frequently gets in great speakers for public meetings. In November 2012 Sabina Alkire, director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI). for talk on the measurements of poverty at the Oxford Town Hall.

Though we are moving to Sheffield, I'll still be flying the flag for WDM. I am now on national WDM council, and am looking forward to joining the Sheffield WDM Group once we have settled in.

I want to say thanks to the Oxford WDM Group, for such great campaigning and friendships. You have been an inspiring group of campaigners to work with, putting your values into practical action and campaigning for justice for the world's poor. It's also been a lot of fun! It's been a privilege and pleasure to campaign with you all over the last 12 years.

thanks for the lovely gift too!