The freshest foods, the finest wines and the most spectacular scenery.
Is there anything better in life when touring Tasmania? I think not.
It’s all to be found on a day along the Great Eastern Drive.
I'm sitting at a table in a winery on Tasmania's east coast overlooking the greenest of vineyards, sampling the plumpest, juiciest oysters I have ever seen while sipping a delicate drop of chardonnay.
I could be mistaken for thinking I'm among the relaxed, rolling hills of Tuscany or Burgundy. As a regular visitor of France and Italy as the host of the Tour de France coverage on SBS, I can claim to having the odd tipple from these world-renowned areas of Europe.
The milder climate along the state’s east coast is conducive to the best things in life.
Known to the locals as The Great Eastern Drive Thru, this beautiful 180km stretch of coastline located between Orford and St Helens has 8 cellar doors to explore. My advice is to plan your day wisely as you could easily get lost in the views, engorged in the seafood or carried away in the palatable varieties of grapes. I myself only experienced 4 cellar doors between the towns of Bicheno and Swansea. There was just so much to experience. (reworded)
Take it from me, the Great Eastern Drive thru has everything lovers of food and wine would want.
Devils Corner Cellar Door was my first stop.
If it's majestic scenery you're after, then don't look past visiting this extraordinarily beautiful section of Tassie.
The stunning view over Coles Bay and the mountain range called The Hazards is worth the trip alone as you taste a famed Devil's Corner pinot noir or sauvignon blanc.
I stared at the vista longer than I had planned.
Just down the road is Spring Vale Wines.
The long driveway from the main road and into the winery itself gives you a hint of what's to come.
It's like stepping into a time tunnel.
The cellar housing the lines of quality produce is meticulously maintained and is a throwback from the 1830s.
The adjoining vineyards are filled with grapes bursting with flavour ready for the annual harvest.
The picture-perfect setting is complemented by the pop-up outdoor eatery called Vineyard Seafood Restaurant.
Gone are the days when cellars specialised only in wine tastings to passers-by and prospective customers, as their only source of business.
So, in a bid to enhance the region’s wining and dining experience, serving quality food has become equally important as the selling of the traditional varieties in a bottle.
I'm met by master chef Don Monk.
He is a glowing example of this new fusion where local fresh food meets classic vintage wines.
He's carrying two fresh crayfish good enough to eat - and they were.
Speak to Don for a minute about his passion for food, and you’re instantly transported into his world of fine fare.
You can hear it in his voice why food and wine are the most important ingredients of life.
Don uses a wood-fired oven to cook his delightful creations.
He served up the most incredible seafood offering.
Although not an aficionado of consumable species that originate from the oceans, I was in a world of bliss when Don prepared lunch.
It started with a dozen of the plumpest, juiciest, fattest Pacific oysters I had ever eaten.
Freshly shucked natural or Kilpatrick – both varieties were way above standard.
Grilled scallops nestled in their origin shell were next, topped by toasted hazelnut and coriander butter.
My tastebuds were in another stratosphere.
Although most ingredients are locally produced, Don was resigned to using exquisite Italian tomatoes to create the authentic Napoli sauce for the freshly steamed Spring Bay mussels.
The roasted crayfish was drizzled with cold-pressed canola oil and garnished with the simple ingredients of lemon, salt and pepper.
The explosion of flavour washed down by a glass of 2016 Spring Vale Chardonnay.
It was the perfect meal.
I was in Don’s friendly and fun company for no more than a couple of hours, yet felt like I had known him all my life, such is his personable and infectious nature.
It was hard to say goodbye, but I know I'll be back sooner rather than later.
Spring Vale is typical of what can be expected along the Great Eastern Drive.
Also a must-visit is Gala Estate in the quaint village of Cranbrook on the Tasman Highway.
For a moment I mistakenly thought I was in Ireland when introducing myself to Grainne Greenhill.
She explained her Irish accent is complemented by her Scottish family history.
Such is the story of Gala Estate.
The Constable Amos Pinot Noir is the marquee wine and I couldn't stop at one.
Just down the road is Milton Vineyard.
The strains of afternoon jazz can be heard as a result of the entertainment on offer in the café located in the confines of the tasting room.
Victor, a young and vibrant Frenchman works his electrical keyboard every ? on a verandah overlooking the beautiful lake and farm setting.
The Gallic atmosphere is accompanied by the delights of Milton’s resident chef Sophie.
She has designed a whiteboard menu with items not unlike what you may find on a list in a famous Parisian brasserie.
Milton Vineyard is a Family run business. On the day of my visit I was shown around by the son, and former sheep farmer Henry Dunbabin and his partner Josie.
Although Pinot Noir is the preferred red wine of the region, the Dunbabin’s have created an exciting rare Shiraz which has all the markings of being a classic.
Visiting four excellent wineries in one packed session was an absolute joy, adventure and an experience that cannot be overlooked.
After sampling the delights of Tasmania’s growing wine region the following are the samples that impressed.
- 2016 Devil’s Corner Pinot Gris
- 2016 Spring Vale Pinot Noir
- 2016 Gala Estate Constable Amos Pinot Noir
- 2016 Milton Vineyard Only 10 Rows Shiraz
The wineries and the people that work and live in this close-knit community makes the Great Eastern Drive a special location.
I’ll definitely return to the small pocket of delight of Tasmania.