Colonial Wine Tasting

Ten green bottles
Ten green bottles

Talk about four seasons in one day. What began as a fine sunny day in Sydney, had, by mid-afternoon turned into something cold and wet. Cold and wet enough to drag out the possibly fake “North Face” rain jacket I bought in Beijing a few months ago. As the rain tumbled down, I could think of nothing better than an afternoon of wine tasting at Elizabeth Bay House.

And not just any kind of wine tasting. No, it was Colonial Wine Tasting, an event at Elizabeth Bay House put on by the Historic Houses Trust.

Having been to the Colonial Spice Dinner there a couple of years ago, I was intrigued when I saw the listing in the HHT’s semi-regular events calendar. So intrigued, I invited along fellow Blogger-Twitterer etc, Tom who had come with me to the Colonial Spice Dinner in April 2009.

According to the blurb associated with the event…

Like most gentlemen of his day, Alexander Macleay kept an extensive cellar and he produced grapes at his Elizabeth Bay and Camden properties. Colonial wine expert Dr Julie McIntyre will talk about tastes and wine production in the 19th century. Includes tastings in the cellar and light food.

Tasting in the cellar at Elizabeth Bay House
Tasting in the cellar at Elizabeth Bay House

The first part of the afternoon went into quite significant detail about the history of wine in Australia. For example, I learned there were cuttings on the First Fleet and that a “Wine Industry” was part of the vision for the colonial settlement of Australia. The historian, Julie went into a lot of detail locating this, both within temperance ideas about the so-called “civilising effect” of wine consumption (as opposed to other forms of alcohol), as well as lots of economic theories about free trade advanced by the likes of Adam Smith. Though, Julie did ask whether Adam Smith’s theories may have, in part, been influenced by his love of French wine in a period when wine from Portugal was given preferential trade status by Britain. While it was interesting, most of us were probably there more for the second part of the afternoon…

The second part of the afternoon was a series of tastings of Angove’s wines. The idea was to give us an idea of the style of wines which may have been enjoyed during colonial times in Australia. Naturally enough you’d expect sherry and brandy and so on, but there were also lots of varietals and blends. There were some lovely wines and some not so great also. For me, there was a bit of a buzz in re-connecting with Angove’s, since I lived for a couple of years just down the road from their winery at Renmark in South Australia. “It’s great to have a winery down the road”, I told the company representative, but noted that it tended to stink the house out during crushing season. Eek.

There was another connection from my past also, in that Alexander Macleay used to grow wine around Wagga Wagga, where I also lived for a time. It was wonderful to try to imagine how it must have been to have brought the wine all the way from Wagga in those days by bullock dray, and then to bring them to Elizabeth Bay House, all the way down those stairs.

Garage sale in the downstairs carpark
Garage sale in the downstairs carpark

Elizabeth Bay House is a gorgeous property with terrific views. And it was great to go down into the cellar and to do some tastings. The people who spoke were also very passionate about their interests.

By the end of the afternoon, as we emerged at about 6.20pm the weather had cleared somewhat. It was no longer wet, and no longer cold. Or maybe that’s just because I chose to drink instead of spit?

The other two really cool things about the day were having a drink with my friend Graeme tonight (and meeting a visiting tourist, and having a garage sale in the basement carpark. While most people were participating in the great garage sale trail (or whatever it’s called), it’s not so easy in an apartment block. But that didn’t stop a couple of enterprising women in our block who set up a stall in the carpark downstairs. “All a bit girly for my liking”, I told one of them, a woman I used to work with, commenting on the assorted dresses they were selling, but still congratulating them on the efforts, and by maintaining apartment block security by declaring the garage sale “for residents only”.

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