Tag Archives: winery

In Defense of Texas Wine

In a recent conversation with a potential FRANK diner, the subject of Texas wines arose.

“There are some amazing Texas wines!” I happily responded.

“No,” countered Jennie, “There’s no good wine in Texas.”

This sparked a bit of a debate.  “Have you ever tasted a good Texas wine?” Jennie asked.

“Well…..I have tasted an amazing Texas port.  But if you’re asking me about amazing whites or reds, to be honest, I haven’t.  But I know many sommeliers who say there are some extraordinary wines made here.”

“But have you tasted one?” she pressed.


“I see,” she said cattily.  And that was that.

Texas wines have been plagued by a bad reputation arising from attempts in the 80s and 90s by Texas winemakers to grow “popular” grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay, and since none of these varietals do well in Texas soils, the resulting wines tasted…well…more like diesel than wine.

But you can’t blame them.  Texas has never been known as a hugely-informed wine market.  While there are MANY urban Texans who know and drink good wine, all it takes is a trip into a liquor store or grocery store in most smaller cities in the state to make it painfully clear that wine isn’t as popular as beer here.  You’re lucky to find much beyond the basic cabs and chardonnays from the mega producers in California for $6 a bottle.  Even in my suburb of Dallas, I have to drive 10 minutes to a big liquor and wine store to get anything special…the grocery stores and beer/wine stores in the area only stock basic, inexpensive, mass-produced wines, so I have to go out of my way to get even a decent bottle.  So the vintners here thought they needed to stick to easily recognizable varietals like Chardonnay in order to be able to sell their wines…and even worse, because so many entry-level wine drinkers in Texas prefer cheap, sweet wines, many Texas wines were backsweetened after the fermentation process, resulting in sugary white and red “table wines” that were so sweet, no trace of the original grape’s character was to be found in the glass.

T.V. Munson, the Texan who saved the French wine industry

It wasn’t always like this.  In fact, Texas grapes saved the French wine industry from oblivion…a fact known by few Texans but by literally every Frenchman.  In the late 1800s, a disease called phylloxera ravaged grapevines across much of Europe, destroying virtually every living vine there.  A horticulturist named Thomas Munson who lived in Denison, TX provided the French government with root stocks from our wild grapes (we have 15 native grape varieties growing here, more than any other region on earth according to the World Atlas of Wine), which he had cross-bred to build a resistance to phylloxera.  French grape growers immediately grafted the few remaining vines they had living onto our Texas root stocks.  Now, virtually every vine in Europe is growing on Texas grape root stock, producing the best, most expensive, and most sought after wines in the world.  And Munson’s 1909 tome, Foundations of American Grape Culture, is STILL in print and STILL referenced by vineyards across the world.   California’s legendary wine industry has everything to thank for this document.

Though his work was predominantly in the late 1800s, wine was already being produced in Texas for centuries before.  Mission grapes were planted in the 1650s by monks near El Paso for making sacramental wine, more than a century before the first vines were planted in California.  And our many species of wild grapes have been used to make homemade wine in farmhouses here since the 1800s.  But everything derailed when commercial vineyards decided to plant popular, recognizable wine varietals so their wines would sound familiar on the shelves, rather than actually looking at our soil and climate, and planting grapes that would actually produce great wine in this “terroir” (the French term for the characteristics of a place, and its appropriateness for specific types of plants).

Consequently, we developed this reputation for making terrible wine, and I’ll be honest, I’ve never tasted a bottle of Texas Cabernet or Chardonnay that was even drinkable.  (And I’m no wine snob, I’ll happily sip a glass of Yellowtail, Barefoot, or Charles Shaw…ie, “two buck Chuck.”)  Yet Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay still represent the vast majority of wine grapes grown in Texas, despite the fact that our terroir is more appropriate for less familiar varietals like Tempranillo (tem-pran-EE-yo) and Viognier (vee-yon-yay).  Meaning, the majority of Texas wines continue to be sub-par.

But surely not all!  And I was determined to show Jennie that there are good…even superior Texas wines.  It would be a hard sell.  Jennie is hugely informed about wine.  And while she’s also no snob and has a variety of favorites less than $10 a bottle, all the Texas wines she had ever tasted were so bad she would happily pay NOT to drink them.

Salado, TX, a great place for antiquing

On a recent trip to the Texas hill country, we found ourselves in Salado, a charming historic village 50 miles north of Austin, famous for its antique galleries, but is now populated with a disproportionate number of wineries for its size.  We chose the one with the best reviews on Yelp, and I’ll decline to mention which one simply because I don’t want anyone to get in trouble for the following story.

We walked into the empty tasting/retail room and were greeted by a young woman who offered us a tasting of 6 wines they make right there in-house.  We choked our way through the first few vintages, with bouquets of sulfur and notes of diesel and sewage on the tongue…and it looked like all I was doing was further cementing Jennie’s skepticism about Texas’s potential as a wine powerhouse.

“Do you know if Texas wines are getting a better reputation lately?” she asked the girl.

“Oh, yeah,” the girl replied.  “Last time I read about the most popular wines in the US, the most popular come from America, next was Virginia, and then Texas.  So our wine is really popular.”

We weren’t entirely sure what to make of her comment, and it’s entirely possible it was, in fact, an educated comment, despite how it sounded.  Texas vintners often bring in grapes from other states, and when the percentage of grapes from out-of-state exceeds 25%, the wine must be labeled “American wine” rather than “Texas wine.”  I haven’t heard of any Texas vintners bringing in grapes from Virginia, though, so it’s entirely possible this girl thinks “America” is a state somewhere in the US, and also thinks that Virginia wines are lauded above California, Oregon, Washington, and upstate New York, which currently produce the finest wines in the US.  But nothing she had on offer was endurable.  Feeling bad, I bought 2 bottles of Texas wine that were not made on-site…a Cabernet affectionately called “Kick Butt,” the favorite of the girl behind the counter, and a dry rosé.  Jennie adores rosé, and I figured it would be really hard to mess up a rosé.

Later that night, we popped the rosé after a brief chill.  (Rosés can be served anywhere from room temp to very cold depending on the character of the wine, but it’s perfectly fine to drink most rosés at room temp, and in fact you’ll experience much more flavor from a room temp rosé than a chilled one.  Cold temperatures reduce the number of flavors that the tongue can perceive, and if you don’t believe me, take a scoop of ice cream and let it thaw to room temp.  Then taste a spoon of the frozen ice cream, and then the melted.  They will taste completely different.  I actually drink IPA beer at room temperature, because it’s much more complex and delicious than chilled.)  I found the rosé to be perfectly serviceable, and, in fact, drank the whole bottle myself.  It was too sweet for Jennie, though it would still be ultimately characterized as dry, so she turned up her nose yet again.

After that, I just didn’t have the guts to open the Kick Butt Cabernet.  Jennie had already made up her mind about Texas wine.  I had MAYBE one more chance, and it couldn’t be based on the advice of a girl at a Salado winery who thinks America is a state inside the US.  I had to do some research.

One of the problems inherent in finding a quality Texas wine is that our state has such horrible restrictions on the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol that it’s VERY expensive for a winery to sell their wine anywhere but right on the property.  So most of the vineyards that are supposedly producing exceptional wines only sell on-site, meaning you have to drive to them to buy their wine, or have them ship you an entire case.  Which is expensive if you’re not certain that you love their wine.  And Texas is a big state, with wine regions stretching from the northern plains near Amarillo, 8 hours south to the hill country, 8 hours west to the high desert, so you can’t just do a quick tour.  And I wanted to find a wine that was not only great…but I could buy it in Dallas if I wanted to.

Enter Tina Danze…chef, food writer, recipe developer, and wine specialist.  She often writes about wine for the Dallas Morning News, and a few years back she did a special project that involved an educated panel tasting Texas wines that are commercially distributed around the state, to find the best ones.  You can read her article about the outcome here.  Two of her wine panel’s top picks for Texas reds were from a vineyard not too far from Austin, Pedernales Cellars.  Coincidentally, the vineyard is only a stone’s throw from a property that I was working with about 6 years ago, converting a historic hill-top mansion into a country inn.

A friendly hitchhiker in the Texas Hill Country wine area

So we headed east into the Texas Hill Country AVA.  AVA stands for “American Viticulture Area” and is a designation by the American Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (man that’s a mouthful!) to specify different wine producing regions around the country…similar to “Bordeaux” and “Cotes du Rhone” in France’s AOC labeling system.  Interestingly, the Hill Country AVA is the second largest wine growing region in the entire nation, though only a fraction of it is actually planted in vineyards.  That leaves a LOT of land open for aspiring vintners!  Lovely, rugged, pastoral land ribboned with small roads where you’re likely to run across a hungry donkey who will stick his head in your window and ask for an apple.

About an hour’s drive from downtown Austin, we arrive at the Pedernales Cellars, perched on a hilltop above rocky, rolling pastures and surrounded by ancient oak trees.

I am suddenly consumed with anxiety.  This is really my last chance to prove to Jennie that amazing wine exists in Texas.  Yet I’ve never tasted ANYTHING good from Texas other than port-style wines…sweet, fortified dessert wines.

We walk in and are greeted by a lady who immediately begins to tell us that Pedernales’s wine maker, David Kuhlken, had the soil on their ranch carefully analyzed, and they discovered that it was almost exactly similar to the calcium-laden soils of Spain, and the climate is very similar to that in France’s Rhone Valley.  David had studied grape growing and wine making at UC Davis, the best school for vintners in the world, and was taking a logical, scientific approach to making wine when he planted his first vineyard in the early 90s.  He knew to stay away from Cabernet and Chardonnay.  His research led him to the European red varietals Tempranillo from Spain and Touriga Nacional from Portugal (commonly used for making port), as well as Rhone varietals like Grenache (gray-NAH-sh), Syrah (seer-AH), and Mourvèdre (moor-VAY-druh), which are often combined into a popular wine blend simply called GSM.  (Cotes du Rhone wines are predominantly GSMs.)

And the fact that the lady behind the counter is effortlessly, properly pronouncing these varietals gives me a spark of hope that she might not, in fact, think that America is a state somewhere in the US, and that Virginia wines are way better than anything California could produce.

We work our way through a few of their whites, none of which impress Jennie.  I can tell she thinks they’re okay.  But we aren’t in search of “okay Texas wine.”  We are in search of stellar Texas wine.

We get to the first pour of a red, a 2011 blend they call “Block Two” made from Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional, listed at $30 a bottle ($24 for wine club members) which, I will admit, is a pricey bottle for me.  First we swirl and smell.

It smells good.  Intriguingly complex.  And good.

Jennie and I both take a sip, and I don’t say anything.  I just look at her.  She takes another sip.  Then she puts her head down and giggles quietly.

“dammit!” she whispers.

Because it’s good.  REALLY good.

“You win,” she says.  “It’s Texas wine.  And it’s really, really good.”

We proceed through several more reds, mostly Tempranillos, some of which also utilize Tempranillo grapes from far north Texas near Lubbock and Amarillo, and some of which are Tempranillos entirely from on-site.  All of them are good.  But not quite as good as the Block Two.

Then comes the final wine in the list.  Their most expensive…the 2011 Family Reserve Tempranillo, listed at $50 a bottle ($40 for wine club members.)  We swirl, smell, and sip.

And there it is.  An extraordinary wine.  Not just by Texas standards.  By ANYONE’S standards.  And not just in my opinion.  Jennie concedes.

“Okay, okay.  You were right.  At least one vineyard in Texas is making incredible, world-class wine.”

This is further backed up by the fact that Pedernales Cellars has won gold medals at wine competitions around the world, including a Grand Gold at France’s coveted Lyon International Wine Competition.

Granted, this wine is not cheap.  I can’t afford to drink it regularly.  But for a special occasion, I’m now tickled pink that I can open a bottle of Texas wine that will impress even the most die-hard wine snobs.

Unfortunately, all the wines we tasted at Pedernales Cellars are only sold right there at the winery.  However, the wines that Tina Danze recommended from them (their Texas Tempranillo impressed the panel more than any other bottle of commercial distributed Texas red, and their GSM blend came in second) are available at around $20 a bottle at many larger Texas wine retailers, and the winery ships their entire wine selection across Texas and to many other states.  I have yet to try these commercially available bottles, but it’s on the list for this weekend.

What this proves is that Texas soils are capable of growing grapes that can, in the hands of a skilled winemaker, be turned into extraordinary wines.  And considering how much cheaper rural Texas real estate is than ANY land in California, Oregon, or Washington…there’s a vast amount of opportunity available here for anyone who’s not scared of growing grapes that no one can pronounce.

Feel free to comment below, especially if you have a favorite Texas wine that you’d like to share with us!


All About Australian Wine

Most Americans are familiar with Australian wine.  Ask any person with average wine knowledge what wine comes from Australia and they’ll tell you, “Shiraz.”  Of course, many other varietals are raised there, but Shiraz (the same grape as Syrah) is the most popular wine grape grown in Australia and it is responsible for making Australian wines famous around the world.

Australia produces a staggering amount of wine…more than 1 and a half BILLION bottles a year, with more than half that being exported.    Australians overwhelmingly prefer drinking their own wine, as only 16% of the wine sold in the country is imported.  (Compare that to 35% in the US, and 12% in France…and you know how much the French prefer their own wine!)  In the year 2000, Australia began selling more wine to the UK than their own neighbor France!  Australia is the 4th largest wine exporter in the world, and they are the 7th largest wine producer behind France, Italy, Spain, the US, China(!!!), and Argentina.  But when you factor in their population, that 7th place spot becomes even more incredible…with only 22.6 million Australians, they have less than half the population of any of the others on that list.

Wine is produced throughout Australia, though most Americans are familiar with the South Australia and Southeast Australia wines, simply because these regions produce the most wine in the country.  The most popular red grapes are Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot a distance third.  For whites, Chardonnay is hands-down the most popular varietal.  (Though neighbor New Zealand is famous the world over for producing the finest Sauvignon Blancs on the planet.)

Of late, I’ve been most interested in the wines of Western Australia.  You may have read on recent blog posts that my very first winery visit was in 2002 at the Riverbank Estate in the Swan Valley wine region of Western Australia, just outside of Perth.  I had, of course, been drinking wine for many years before that.  But this was the first time I was exposed to how wine is created.  Tasting a flight of wines from the same grape and vineyard, but year by year, made me realize just exactly how important the climate is to the production of great wines.  The same vine yielding the same grapes will produce RADICALLY different wines from year to year…depending on sunlight, fog, rainfall, heat, cold.  No matter how much control we gain over the winemaking process through technology, Mother Nature is still the master vintner, and She’s the ONLY one that can ensure a near-perfect, legendary wine.

Wines from Western Australia can be hard to find in the US.  (I’ve been trying to track down a bottle for 2 weeks so I can blog about it for my potential job as TasteMaster in Western Australia!)  I finally met with success!  This is a 2007 Shiraz from Wishing Tree, an estate in the Margaret River region.  (I found it at Goody Goody in Highland Village, for anyone in the Dallas area having trouble locating Western Australian wine.)  Eager to recapture those memories of my vinous intellectual awakening, I screwed off the top.  By the way, THANK YOU, Wishing Tree…I respect most winemaking traditions, but in the case of cork vs cap, progress wins out EVERY time.  The cork is a big liability as a wine ages.  The cap is far better insurance against oxidation, it’s easier to open, and its easier to store in the unlikely event that you don’t finish a bottle!  Aussie fan Sue informed me that the Australians pioneered the screw-cap wine bottle out of desperation, when they were producing so much wine in the 1960s that cork production couldn’t keep up…another example of Aussie ingenuity making the world a better place.  (Note…the cap was originally produced by a French company at the request of Aussie winemakers, so that should add an additional layer of security for those of you who’ve been dubious of the cap.)

This 6 year old Shiraz is honestly…remarkable.  Dark, full bodied, and incredibly dry, yet still somehow very fruity…like a mouthful of blackberries but without any hint of sweetness.  A comparable Syrah from the Hermitage region of France would command a selling price between $30 and $50 a bottle.  This Wishing Tree set me back $13.  I’d say we’ve found a winner.

And MOST wines from Western Australia are winners.  Pick up any respected global wine guide, from the Oxford Companion to Wine, to the World Atlas of Wine, and you’ll find references to Western Australia’s wine as among the finest produced in the whole country.  There’s a reason for this.  There are virtually no mega-wine companies in Western Australia.  Every vineyard is a small, family owned estate where the grapes are carefully cared for on a small scale.  So if your own personal experience with Australian wines is primarily limited to the mega-vintners like Yellowtail, Lindemans, Rosemount, Jacob’s Creek, or Penfolds, then you haven’t REALLY tried Australian wine.

Within Western Australia are 9 major wine regions, and the most popular are:

Margaret River – The most renowned of Western Australia’s wines are the cabs from this region, in the far southwestern corner of the state.  The climate is very similar to the Bordeaux region of France, which many wine critics agree still produces the finest wine in the world…(IN a good year.) It’s also by far the largest wine region of Western Australia.

Great Southern – The second largest wine region in the area, it is known for its Shiraz, Cab, and Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauv Blanc.  It’s a 4 hour drive south of Perth and is the most remote of the region’s wine districts.

Swan Valley – This is the oldest wine region of Western Australia, the first vineyards were planted in 1834, two decades before the first commercial vineyards were planted in California.  This region is less than half an hour’s drive from Perth, so it’s even closer to the big city than Napa and Sonoma are to San Francisco.  Shiraz, Cab and Chardonnay dominate here, though some incredible sparkling wines are also produced.

All the wine regions can be visited in about a week, so for the serious wine connoisseur, a trip to Western Australia might ought to be on your bucket list.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get hired as TasteMaster in Western Australia and get to spend 6 months exploring the region’s wineries!

Australia, part 3

I’m sorry I haven’t written in three days. It’s not because I haven’t had access, a connected computer has been sitting next to my bed the entire time. It’s simply because these Aussies live a RIDICULOUSLY hedonistic lifestyle, and we’ve just been caught up in it all.

After our long day in Sydney, we wanted to sleep in a bit before our Saturday flight to Perth, hopefully sleep off a little of the jet lag, because we knew that the birthday party on Saturday night would be a doozie and we wanted to be ready for it. So we were hoping to sleep in at the hostel until 9 or 10.

Wrong! At 4 am, a Scottish guy stumbled into our room, cursing in the dark, and crashed into bed. That’s normal for a youth hostel, people coming in at all hours to pass out. Normally, you just roll over and go back to sleep.

At 5 am, a British guy burst in, saw the Scottish guy asleep, and hollered, “Bugger me, you bastard! Is all you do just sleep all day? Last time I saw you was 5pm, and you were asleep. Now it’s 5am, and you’re still asleep!”

The Scottish guy woke up, groggily, and cursed a bit. “I’ve been out getting pissed, you f-ck. And now you woke me up. Well, I’m awake, I might as well go and get pissed again.” (For those who don’t know Limey speak, “pissed” means drunk.)

So this Scottish guy gets up, an hour after passing out drunk, and heads out to get drunk again. Sydney has no drinking laws, and many bars just don’t even have doors because they never close.

The Brit tears off his shoes, filling the room with an unspeakable stench, and jumps up onto the bed, quizzing J-P and me about our origins.

“I hope I don’t offend you by asking this, blokes, but you got a spliff I can buy off you?”  (For those of you who don’t smoke pot, “spliff” is Limey-pot-speak for joint that includes both marijuana and tobacco.)

“No, sorry, man. If I had one, though, I’d give it to you.”

“Just as well. Still, I need something to put me-self to sleep. If I ain’t got a spliff, I’ll eat a sleeping pill.” He opened his backpack and dug out a little pill, swallowing it without any water.

“Did that Scottish guy really go out to get drunk at 5am?” I asked.

“Damn right, he did! How long are you blokes in town?”

“Our plane leaves in about six hours.”

“Well, then, we’d better go and have a beer ourselves! Pub down the way sells a schooner of Guinness for only $4.80!”

J-P, still a little green from the fish and chips, moaned.

“Come now, don’t make me go back to London and tell everyone how dreary Texans are!”

You can’t say such a thing to J-P, whose personal goal it is to redefine the image of Americans in the minds of the international public. But he was just too sick and exhausted to redefine the image for this particular Brit, and I knew we’d never get any sleep staying in the room with this guy. So out of personal sacrifice, I decided to go have a beer with this guy at 5am, and let J-P get some much-needed sleep.

That, and how often do you get to say you got drunk in Sydney at 5 in the morning?

I tugged on some clothes, and Marc and I headed out into King’s Cross, the seedy neighborhood which surrounded the hostel. Hookers were stumbling around the sidewalks, bouncers were beckoning us into XXX theatres, and people were smoking pot all over the streets.

At the pub, I ordered a schooner of Guinness at exactly 5:43 in the morning. A typical Sydney breakfast. A portly Aussie bird (they call women “birds” here) came up to us, drunk as she could be, and she and Marc proceeded to have a heated, 30-minute debate on the correct pronunciation of the word “cashew.”

Then Marc and I wandered the streets for a bit, talking about politics, drug culture, and the politics of drug culture. Then we ordered a meat pie (the quintessential Aussie snack) from a street vendor, and went back to the hostel.

J-P and I packed and headed to the airport for our 5-hour flight across Australia to Perth. We were met at the airport by Iris, the mastermind of the surprise party. She drove us home to freshen up, and then we headed to The Cricket grounds to surprise Wayne.

Wayne, wondering how-the-hell we got to Australia

The Cricket is Australia’s favorite sport. And it’s always referred to as “The Cricket.” When we got to The Cricket grounds, Wayne was sitting in the attached pub watching his son Joe captain the local cricket team. We snuck up behind him and scared him good. He couldn’t speak for about 5 minutes, he was so shell-shocked that we were there!

He ordered us a beer and invited a few friends over to the table, and we proceeded to be regaled on the finger points of “The Cricket” by a large man named Angry who had furry mutton-chop sideburns and a tattoo of Tweety Bird on his left bicep.

The party was scheduled to start at 6:30pm, and Iris was expecting 70 people, including two Olympians, several vintners, lots of relatives, and many old friends. Pete and Ruth Murphy, the other Aussie couple we met on the trip to Antarctica, were flying in from Melbourne, and we scared them good before they walked into the house.

I simply can’t describe the party to you. There was a never-ending stream of lamb, pork, and beef from the “barby,” and throughout the course of the night, the 70 folks in attendance consumed 30 bottles of wine and more than 400 beers. It seemed like every person in attendance could be the title character in a novel. And though many of them had never met the others at the party, there were NO fractal groups, everyone mingled, laughed, and gabbed with everyone else in a constantly simmering swarm.

The climax was a touching moment when Wayne’s children got up and talked about their childhood, and when Wayne’s long-time friends told the stories about he and Iris moving to Western Australia in the 1960s when the government was giving away free land. They got a particularly nasty plot, but cleared it away with backbreaking labor and farmed it as best they could until drought claimed everything. They lived in a tent for a number of years before finally moving to a tin shed. Then they gave up the farm, moved to Perth, and Wayne took a job working the coal mines. Then he had a long career as a police investigator, working the drug squad. And finally he and Iris bought a horse-betting business, which became their gold mine. And friends were present from every phrase of their life.

When everyone was finished speaking, it was Wayne’s turn. “I want to thank you all for this,” he began, with emotion mounting exponentially with each passing word. “Iris and I just want you to know that every single person here is a member of our family. and that’s about all I have to say!”

He later confided to me that he had MUCH more to say, but there was no way it would come out.

I thought, after I went to bed that night, that the party was over. But we were roused the next morning and told to dress up…we were going to the wine country of the Swan Valley for a family lunch. After a drive through the lovely river valley we arrived at the Riverbank Estate winery, where we tasted the entire line of 2003-2004 wines. To be totally honest, they were terrible! But the lunch that followed the tasting made up for it.

Roast Duck with Shiraz Mulberry SauceJ-P and I both ordered roast duck on nectarine and peach salad with fortified Shiraz and mulberry sauce. It was incredible. Dessert (a mango passion fruit trifle, followed by an extraordinary blue cheese from Tasmania) stuffed us to the point of bursting. The wine had taken its toll, and when we got back to the house, I was ready for a nap.

But the Aussies were ready for a beer.

So we drank beers and cut up for a few hours, laughing and bullshitting each other, and then it was time to make dinner. Wayne threw some steaks on the barby, along with the largest shrimp I’ve ever seen. More bottles of wine were opened and more beers were popped, and we stuffed ourselves again.

This morning we went to visit Iris’s cousin’s flower farm, where they raise gerbers, a huge, brightly colored flower that’s popular in wedding bouquets here. Then we had lunch in Fremantle, Perth’s port city, which is filled with sidewalk cafes and lined with fantastic white-sand beaches on the Indian Ocean. After that we explored King’s Park, a vast, magnificent park overlooking downtown Perth and the Swan River, and then Iris and the girls took us into downtown for some shopping. Ugh.

It really has been incredible to experience this big, friendly Australian family. They’ve all come up from nothing, living in tents and working until they bled, to become millionaries. Wealth has a different face in Western Australia. Iris and Wayne are so loved in the community, their children Tim, Peta, and Joe are incredible people, and to see this family together has been a rare treat. Watching and listening to the stories and the interaction at Wayne’s 60th birthday party has made me want to live the same kind of life, so that I might be lucky enough to have the same kind of experience when I’m that age. It really has been priceless.

If we survive the beer and food for another 24 hours, we plan on heading over to New Zealand for a few days on Wednesday (Tuesday for you all).