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Views, lunch, wine, friends ...

reflections on a day out in Nillumbik

Nillumbik is the name of our Shire - the local council area. In the bottom corner is where we are - Eltham - outer suburban Melbourne - on the river Yarra with a reputation for vaguely weirdo artists and mud brick homes, in one of which we live. On the Yarra river in fact. There are rapids at the bottom of our garden which lull us to sleep at night as the water rushes over the rocks.

The rest of Nillumbik is definitely rural, and stretches out north of the Yarra to the beginnings of the Great Dividing range. There are half a dozen or so of small townships, and several vineyards, as well as lots of other farming ventures. Each season there is an Open Cellars weekend, and we have got into the habit, of having a day out, tasting the wines and enjoying the scenery. Which is stunning. Some of the wineries provide food, some provide music with the food, some provide art exhibitions. The food varies from the almost posh lunch that we had, to pizza from a wood fired oven, or a platter of local produce. For the Yarra Valley is famous not just for its wines - Moët et Chandon, no less, has a presence here - although our own locals are equally renowned - at least in Australia. Nillumbik, although indeed part of the Yarra Valley is not really where people think of when they talk of Yarra Valley wines which hosts vineyards of high repute, like Oakridge, Chandon and Innocent Bystander. The wineries in Nillumbik are small - 'boutique' is the word the local council uses - and mostly not open to the public, although some open at weekends. So these Open Cellar occasions are a wonderful opportunity to actually meet the winemakers, enjoy the magnificent scenery and taste some superb wines.

This season we decided to include lunch - at one of our two favourite wineries - Shaws Road. Over the years we have watched Shaws Road winery evolve, from virtually just a shed on a dirt road, a different name - Eltham Hills to a 'proper' cellar door - which is literally in the cellar, a classy restaurant and a B&B. I think the two winemakers began with a very small plot in Eltham itself, which is still there, and then expanded to Shaws Road, and the valley beyond. They may even buy in grapes from other Victorian wine areas. I confess that, other than knowing that their wines are lovely - the Chardonnay in particular for me I know little about the growing of the grapes and the making of the wine. And I should also say that they sell some great olive oil from a local producer.

I took the photograph at the top of the page yesterday but it doesn't really do the view justice. This picture was taken from the restaurant's earlier iteration - just a few laminex topped tables with windows which were not properly glassed in. There were plastic 'windows' which could be removed in the summer. But you can see the view better. Those hills in the background, I think were part of the terrible bush fires back in 2009 and indeed 80% of one of their vine-growing areas in the Strathewen Valley - towards those hills - were destroyed. In addition to the distant view, just below the windows are a whole lot of bushes, through which, throughout the meal yesterday flitted tiny blue wrens and finches.

The food was great - a very high standard, that began with that local Yarra Valley produce platter. We had a choice of main dish, and yet again I forgot to take any photos - Monika and I chose the Pan fried Blue-eye Cod, baby leeks, peas, crispy pancetta, chive velouté sauce, David had a navarin of lamb and Craig had a vegetarian tagine. Dessert - Crème brulée and Lemon posset. I suppose it wasn't up to Michelin starred food, but it was definitely above standard café fare, and very reasonably priced too - plus the view. And next door were two very long tables of people celebrating a 90th birthday. The 90 year old looked to be more like 80 and in spite of the numbers of people celebrating there was no disturbance.

Views abound in Nillumbik shire, alternating shady valleys and the open hills dotted with cattle and horses, with the occasional alpaca. It's that kind of farming. There must be goats as well I suspect, although there are probably some people who simply live there and enjoy.

We visited two other wineries yesterday - Yarrambat and Kings of Kangaroo Ground. I mentioned views, and below are 'official' photos from Kings and Shaws Road, and one that I took at Yarrambat. As you can see the two 'official' ones emphasise the romanticism of 'the view'.

The Kings of Kangaroo Ground one in particular is either very clever, or is a photograph of one of their more distant vineyards, because the reality is that their local vineyard has a massive electricity transmission line travelling over it, and the cellar door, shown below is the shed at the back of the local country post office. But it's quirky, the winemakers and family are welcoming, amusing and knowledgeable. It's always our last stop on our way home after these outings. And their wines win medals at Australia's top wine show too. So they are not to be sniffed at.

Yarrambat too, with that other magnificent view is tiny - their cellar door is an extension of their kitchen, but their wine is glorious.

Because of the views Monika and I took to pondering on the importance of a view in life. They too have a view into the distant hills, albeit foregrounded by their suburb's rooftops, but as they look westwards they have spectacular sunsets. Here we have no distant vistas, just greenery all around - trees, and sort of grassy slopes up to the road. A more than pleasant view, but not a vista. In Adelaide, however, we had the most magnificent view, down the Adelaide Hills and out to sea, where on a very clear day you could just glimpse Kangaroo Island. But cloudy days were beautiful too, because we were in the clouds and so the mist drifted in and out. My kitchen faced that view, and I cannot tell you how calming it was. Prior to living there I had mocked people - especially the people of Sydney - to whom having a view was everything. Now I value that. A view is serene. It's a glimpse of a wider world. Calming. If you are feeling down, just sit in front of a view and relax, and all will be well.

So much for the 'romantic' side of the day out. Back home was this, because of course, we bought more wine than we realised. In fact these are just the last two boxes to be unpacked. A couple from Shaws Road, four I think from Yarrambat and maybe four or even five from Kings. Ok these days there are only six in a box, not a dozen, as there were in the time of our first winery crawl around Victoria and South Australia when we first arrived in Australia. Nevertheless money was spent and bottles were purchased which will have to be stored somewhere - and drunk. So let's have a party!


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