On the way to the airport, leaving the winery under blue autumn skies as a red hot air balloon passes overhead. It’s days like this when you wish the Gomersal Road would magically double back on itself and take you straight back home to the Barossa. However, duty (and Singapore Airlines flight 269) calls.
Jakarta Airport….and more illegal taxi drivers than the Barossa has town bands. Heat and humidity, noise and chaos reigns….we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto. Rescued from the clutches of a swarm of watch sellers and driven at top Jakarta traffic speed (10 kmh) to the hotel to freshen up and head out to a local wine bar….come karaoke place! The evening is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet, YMCA, Dancing Queen. My Way, a random tasting of locally made spirits and a stirring rendition of Khama Chameleon to round out the night at a respectable 2am.
Breakfast and a chance to flick through the pages of the Jakarta Post to get up to speed on the local scene. Interesting to note that a patron of a local restaurant pulled a gun on a waiter last week in a dispute over the bill. Even more interesting to realise I’d be hosting a wine tasting at the same restaurant that evening. Time to brush up on my manners and remind myself the customer is always right…especially when they have the gun.
Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents Club to meet with an old friend David. Private Clubs have their advantages….aside from keeping out the riff raff, guests cannot pay for drinks! Many thanks David for your hospitality – my shout next time.
The first round of tastings for the day…yep, paid to drink before Mickey’s arms hit noon. Taxis, trains, trams and buses are the theme of the day as we criss-cross Hong Kong spreading the gospel according to St. Peter….Lehmann. A media tasting from 7 – 9pm dovetails into a trade tasting from 9-11pm which somehow ends up becoming a beer festival in Soho that doesn’t end until 1am.
Cross the border into China at the Shenzhen crossing…where I’m immediately propositioned by a most persistent watch salesman who attests that his Rolex wares are all 100% genuine Chinese made originals. I politely decline and move onto another sales team tasting.
I take my seat at the dining table with 40 employees of the Chengdu branch of our Chinese importer. They must be expecting more people later, given the some 100 bottles of wine that lie nearby. The table groans with plates of chili, interdispersed with occasional pieces of chicken, pork and beef. This is the capital of Sichuan, famous for offering chilled toilet paper in its wash rooms.
The wine is all gone, all 100 bottles drained in a fury of gem-bei (bottoms up!) I find myself in a karaoke lounge doing my best to hit the high notes of the Bee Gees’ classic ‘Tragedy’. My colleagues announce my efforts to indeed be a tragedy and quickly move on to the more familiar Chinese pop tunes. The boss announces stumps at 3.30am and advises all present that the foreigner will be saved the trials of trade visits in the morning and granted a sleep in….
….except (in another tragedy) the message never gets through to the local sales team and I’m awoken to be escorted around Chengdu (population 15 million) with the sunglasses remaining in the ‘on’ position.
The team tasting in the afternoon is met with mixed levels of enthusiasm, with some sleeping, some swearing never to touch the devil foreign wine ever again and some having to excuse themselves from the room periodically – apparently a bad chili?
I’m one hour from the Russian border and one hour from lunch with Kim Jung-Un. I’m in Harbin where the sky is big and blue, the air is fresh and everyone is smiling. Could this be a long lost colony of Australia? Dining with local wholesalers and exchanging gifts with the owner of the best restaurant in town. From our side, a bottle of Mentor signed and dated by yours truly. The restaurant owner presents me with a carton of Chungwa ciggies, Deng Xia Ping’s favorites and in China the most auspicious brand. I promise to share them with the family upon my return to the Barossa.
Another karaoke lounge, another tragedy. We drown my sorrowful voice with 15 shots of cognac to celebrate one of the locals becoming an Aussie comrade earlier in the day. Welcome to ‘straya mate!!!!!
Two Barossans, one duck, 8 Tsingtao’s, one slab of roast pork belly, 2 plates of dumplings and some greens to keep mum happy – the yin and the yang of lunch in Beijing. A big lie down in the afternoon….this is why China is called the people’s paradise. Dinner in the evening with a few of the local trade who visited the Barossa earlier in the year….many still longing for a mettwurst and pickle sandwich. We have made a deep impression on these people.
The Barossa takes a first step onto center stage in China, presenting a masterclass on our local giggle juice. 8 sterling Shiraz presented with passion and pizzazz by Comrades March and Duncan to an enthusiastic audience of 76 trade. I take a bow and am whisked away, leaving Jimmy to face the media whilst I host 40 wine fans to a dinner in nearby Sanlitun.
Tuesday 12 noon
Qingdao 2008 – host city of the sailing events for the summer Olympics.
Qingdao 2012 – host city for the taxi grand prix. Our driver hits 150kmh an hour in a beat up Volkswagen whilst talking sweetly (or arguing – it’s sometimes hard to tell) with his wife / girlfriend/ mistress (or possibly all three) on his phone which is clutched in one hand with an inferior brand ciggie smoking away in the other. There are no seatbelts.
Meet up once more with the other half of the Barossa Laurel and Hardy show Jimmy March. He’s got his head down going over his notes one more time….this lad sure does prepare well. I gargle a Basket Press Shiraz and get ready to present the Shanghai leg of the Barossa masterclass. We are well received and my jokes are appreciated…Shanghai, you’ve been a great audience.
Another karaoke session. This time I’ve ditched the Bee Gees and have gone for Boom Boom Pow by the Black Eyed Peas. I seem to have found my genre and everyone is enjoying my best Will.I.Am impersonation….until I realise they’ve disconnected the mike!
Dawn on the final day of the trip – a 2 hour flight to Guangzhou, a final masterclass and a train to Hong Kong awaits. The crowds love us….and the wines of course.
The crowd applauds, the bright lights dim and Jimmy and I embrace in a manly Barossa way and reassure each other how brilliant we were. A few bottles of Shiraz and a couple of dusty plastic glass are requisitioned for the trip to Hong Kong and we farewell the people’s paradise.