If I were to tell myself a year ago that when we returned to Australia this time around we'd be able to rally a crew of 19 people all the way across the country to Margaret River, Western Australia for a wine tasting extravaganza to celebrate Gina's 30th birthday; I would have believed it entirely.
That's not to sound cocky at all; in fact it's way more of a reflection on the friends we have then anything to do with us... That's just, for lack of a better term, "How We ROLL!!!"
But STILL; seeing the thing come to fruition was enough to bring a tear to the eye. I feel obligated to list each of the team members to give them their due credit and acknowledge our appreciation to them all for being awesome and generous and for throwing down to be a part of the adventure.
In no particular order Team Margaret River consisted of:
Becky Reining (Singapore)
Rachel Paeper-Jones (Sydney)
Lizzy Ryan (Melbourne)
Caity Noonan (PLT nomad)
Oliver Dickston (Melbourne)
Adam Sutherland (Melbourne)
Matt Gilbee (Melbourne)
Emma Heeley (Sydney)
Jemima Hardman (Sydney)
Ali Sutherland (Sydney)
Chris Devlin (Sydney)
Christy Nichols (Professional Nomad)
Chris Abfalter (Professional Nomad)
Jamie Christopherson (Professional Nomad)
Morgan Schaening (Perth)
Steph Davis (Perth)
Laura Mattman (Melbourne)
AM (PLT points leader)
G (PLT points leader)
I know what you're thinking: "With that roster how can you lose?"
Well, I assure you, aside from a few bucks from the deposit on the houses we rented, we did not lose a thing!!!
The weekend began on Thursday as 2 car loads arrived in Margaret River to get keys and establish ourselves in the beautiful properties we had secured. That evening's antics were fueled, in large part, by a fiery session of Kings and a bottle of Jameson that never stood a chance.
Friday saw the arrival of 3 more car loads of people; the first was the Perth crew led by Morgan who was fresh off a red eye flight back from Kuala Lumpur where he'd been closing deals and making dollas.
We hit the beach for a quick swim and sand session before heading back to the house to rendezvous with car number 4; Sydney/Melbourne early Friday arrivals led by Lizzy Ryan.
That afternoon/evening saw the first of what would be many, many, many sessions of the team's resounding favorite game: Zones as brought to you by Caity Noonan. I'm happy to report that the Zones fury did not die with the end of the weekend; to the contrary...Zones-mania is alive and well in each respective home city.
All that being said; all in all it was a relatively quiet one and we were all tucked into bed by a very respectable midnight in anticipation of a long Saturday the following morning.
The 5th and final car arrived at 2am led by a very determined Chris Devlin who expertly navigated the vehicle through the dark night from Perth full of the last, late arrivers. The only casualty was one solitary "wascally wabbit" who was a bit too slow crossing the road!
Saturday morning and people were up and at 'em. As a sign of our growing maturity many people were out for morning jogs before we all dawned our freshest and rudest 80's gear for our 1982 themed birthday wine tour extravaganza. As a sign of our continued immaturity there were no less then 3 filthy mustaches and a plethora of ridiculous gear on display.
Jody, our fearless bus driver was there early and we pulled out at promptly 10:15 headed to the first winery of the day; the well known, delicious, yet slightly stuffy Leeuwin Estates.
Eventhough we had a reservation, there was a look of shock (terror) in the eyes of, and a collective gasp by, the staff in the tasting room as our crew of 19 fluorescent clad, wig wearing, mustache sporting individuals rolled in the front door.
We eased into the first tasting and by the time we left we'd charmed them all, due in large part to our irrestable wit, humour and good looks and in small part due to a few hundred dollars in purchases including a mixed case to be shipped to, ahem, Singapore.
Winery #2 was a much smaller venue, the family owned Adinfern winery. The lovely owner walked us through their range of wines and by way of some operational efficiencies we were able to buy ourselves a bit of extra time at this spot. We were thus able to enjoy a few liesurly bottles of their finest while soaking up the sunshine on the back patio of the tasting room. The first of several liesurly wine drinking sessions on the wine 'tasting' tour...
Venue #3 was our lunch stop. We'd chosen to mix it up a bit and to hit a brewery for lunch instead of another winery; and so we piled out of the bus and into the stunning grounds of the Colonial Brewery. It turned out to be a great desicion as the place has a huge outdoor lawn/beer garden with a stage and live music and there were 2 sun drenched tables with signs noting a reservation for Gina Lutzke; yup...this is an environment our crew knows how to handle.
Lunch was good and we spent a few hours enjoying Colonial's tasty suds and each others company and noting how lucky we were that Mother Nature had delivered the perfect, and I mean, perfect early Autumn day in Margaret River.
The crew was looking good and feeling better as we loaded into the bus and headed off to venue #4 of the tour, hands down the most beautiful of the many beautiful places we visited all day; Knotting Hill.
What a spot! After the tasting we parked ourselves on the lush grass in the shade of a tall weeping willow overlooking a lake and golden grape-lined hills and got into a few bottles of their offering to the wine world. Rachel Paeper commented to me that our surrounds at that moment quite resembled her vision of what Heaven could look like; indeed Rachel, indeed.
We were lucky to snag a late, but private tasting at the renowned and notorious Bettenay's Vineyard. The former for producing some of the finest small batch wine in the region and the latter for the boisterous and entertaining owner/winemaker, Craig Bettenay who lived up to his reputation by delivering a lively walk through his range of wines. He is a charming fella who literally was sporting Merlot stained hands, a quick wit and who makes grey hair look good like George Clooney. Needless to say, he had several of the swooning by the time he was done.
After a prolonged goodbye to Craig we piled onto the bus for the final time and Jody dutifully delivered us into downtown Margaret River where we unloaded for a quiet dinner at the Settler's Tavern. Everyone was exceptionally well behaved and, even in spite of the extra attention we received from our fresh gear, there were no incidents.
We rallied a few taxis back to the house where the 80's dance party kicked into gear. The dancing and merriment went long into the night; it was an apt end to an epic, epic day out!
Easter Sunday arrived perhaps a bit earlier then would have been preferred for a few of our party but nonetheless we all picked our selves up and dusted out selves off. Noting no major injuries or damage to the house we set out to make the most of the day and to see what else besides wineries Margaret River had to offer. We had an unsuccessful mission to the caves where we decided that, while we'd gladly be spending many hundreds of dollars each over the weekend, that $15/person entry fee for the caves was a bit steep and so we retreated to the beach where we spent a few hours swimming, soaking in the sun and playing beach games.
In the late afternoon we had a fricketts tournament in the park across from our house as the autumnal sun dipped behind the tree covered hills. That evening we sat down together and enjoyed an Easter feast of Aussie BBQ, roasted potatoes, and a variety of delicious salads followed by yet another ridiculous example of Morgan's culinary wizardry; from scratch, home-made Dutch Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream. Booyah!!
The night's activities including an Easter Egg hunt led by Emma, and a very sweet round robin of small speeches wishing happy birthday to the honorary Birthday Girl- Gina Marie. Of course, some Zones action found it's way onto the agenda. Also, of note, was a Skype video call with a long-lost member of the Aus crew; Mr. Jonnie Robertson.
Monday morning and the Margaret River weekend had concluded! We were all up bright and early to clean the houses and we wished goodbye to one car load of people who had to get back to the East Coast for work the next day.
We pulled out of Margaret River to face the long road back to Perth, but fortunately not to face the end of the WA adventure. Nope, Morgan and Steph had signed on to host the Perth stop of the Pro Leisure Tour which means this good-times train is going to keep on trucking.......
Like I said: that's how we ROLL!