I have just arrived home from what was a very relaxing three days away in the Hunter Valley in NSW, about 2 hours north of Sydney. The Hunter Valley is a wine region, with over 100 vineyards and wineries, many of which are boutiques and only sell wine to the public from the cellar door. This had been a mini-getaway in the making for months, purposely planned during the week to avoid the crowds, and for me it was a chance to do something I haven’t done for a long time – switch off. Just switch my brain off, stop writing, stop thinking about all the things I have to do, and just relax.
There is a lot to be said for switching off every now and then. We all like to push ourselves in something, whether it be our jobs, our family or personal lives, sports and hobbies, or creative interests. A few days ago I felt myself come unravelled with my writing and knew that I needed to just let it go for a few days, and so this little wine trip couldn’t have come at a better time, really. We spent the first day there riding around between wineries on bicycles, wine tasting at each one while enjoying the glorious views of the valley (though I did also discover that you can in fact forget how to ride a bike, despite the popular saying – it had been over a decade since I had last ridden, and it showed). The second day we had a tour mini-bus taking us around to some more wineries for more tasting and buying, as well as visiting a pub for lunch, and a cheese shop and chocolate shop on the way back to the little house we stayed in. Today, before we left, we enjoyed a champagne breakfast, and visited yet another chocolate shop.
In the short time we stayed at the house, we explored the large block of land we were on, and got to meet this guy:
In fact, there were four of these donkeys all up. There was a story behind them, in that they were all rescued from various places and had all been traumatised in one way or another, and so were currently being rehabilitated by the owners of this land, who allowed them to wander freely, and who fed them daily. Two of the four donkeys were very shy, including this one, who would happily stare at me from a distance of a couple of metres, but just after taking this photo, as I tried to pat it, moved away from me quickly. For me, it was my first time ever seeing a donkey up close before, so I quite enjoyed it (there were also wild kangaroos hopping about the place, though not in our particular block of land).
But this brings me to my next point – one thing that really interested me about the Hunter Valley was that there are so many stories there, particularly behind the vineyards and wineries themselves. The land we stayed on had an old, run down vineyard that clearly had been abandoned a decade or so ago, and although there was nothing growing, the support rows for the grapevines were still standing, hinting at the past use of this land. There were many vineyards we visited that had begun life as family owned ventures, only to be abandoned for one reason or another during last century, and eventually picked back up again by another family many years later. These stories intrigued me, because while some were for simple reasons like financial struggles or the end of a family line, others were shrouded in much more mystery. One of my favourite stories was behind the Audrey Wilkinson vineyards, which were abandoned in the 1970s when the family line died out, and by the time it was bought again a few years later, cows had come along and eaten all of the old vines, completely destroying the majority of it, so it had to be started from scratch all over again. Such stories as this just seem to be shouting out to me to write them down, to turn them into some short stories or something along those lines.
So it has been a good few days, learning about the histories behind these places, learning about the art of both wine making and wine drinking, meeting real wine connoisseurs, and of course, buying and drinking copious amounts of wine. Now let’s see if this is a positive or negative influence on my writing…