Michel had suggested Sunday lunch on the deck of Gapsted Winery. Their website does a much more comprehensive job of explaining what’s what than I could here, so go look. Suffice to say that they make “cool climate” wines in “Australia’s Alpine Region”. Right. Michel is a member of their club and it looked like a jolly splendid place to while away an hour or two staring at some of their vines from our table.
There is a menu from which you can select individual dishes but Michel, an old hand at this caper, was keen on their degustation menu – three modestly sized courses that might actually leave room for our evening meal. You can choose to have just the food for A$40 or get a glass of wine chosen to complement each course for A$49. No contest, bring me a drink! Actually, the first drink was a glass of bubbly. Michel, once again being designated driver, had to keep donating alcohol to be shared by Francine and myself. Ahhhh! For those who will undoubtedly ask, here’s the menu. 😉
And here, just to complete the detail, are the three individual courses that the above menu referred to.
Suffice to say it was an excellent lunch and far from extortionate. All their wines had been good so I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of their Tawny Port to help down some evening cheese. Carrying the port to the car was slightly delayed when Francine was distracted by a Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus) which began hoping about the grass near the vines. It was an opportunity too good to miss.
We made it to the car but our departure was further delayed when progress came to an abrupt halt before getting off the property. Just before reaching the main road, Michel slammed on the anchors. “Echidna!”, he exclaimed, excitedly. Not surprisingly, really, as echidnas are rarely seen and here was one rummaging around on Gapsted’s front lawn right beside us. The echidna began nosing around in the detritus littering the Gapsted sign. I approached cautiously, thinking it would be nervous and wary. It did curl up once or twice, exposing its defensive spines, but essentially kept on with its business despite my watching it. Then, to our joint surprise, Edna Echidna began marching swiftly straight towards Francine.
We thought Edna would veer away as she approached Francine but no, she kept going and headed straight beneath a crouching Francine and between her legs. There she finally stopped, up against her right foot. Now what? After a pause we noticed movement, not forwards or backwards but a sort of shuffling, wriggling movement. Every now and then, we saw one of its powerful digging feet appear from under the skirt of spines. It seemed to be sinking slightly lower in the ground. Yes, it was excavating a hole, immediately beneath Francine. Whether it was beginning to construct a burrow under Francine’s backside or was just digging in search of food (echidnas are ant-eaters, BTW), I know not. We watched chuckling; mesmerized. Francine was besotted, as well she might be. What a privilege.
[Aside: I should just point out that Echidnas are monotreme mammals; that means, not to put too fine a point on it, “one hole for everything”: urinating, defecating and egg-laying (yes, it’s one of those curious egg-laying mammals along with the Duck-billed Platypus). I have no idea how one might actually sex an active, spikey, one-hole-for-everything kind of creature so Edna implies nothing as to gender and was simply a name we couldn’t resist. Edna is a Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus). Yes, there’s more than one echidna species, though this is the only species in Australia, I believe.]
Fresh from our chance encounter, a couple in Stanley, friends of Michel, had invited us all around for drinks and nibbles in the later afternoon. Coincidentally, the couple owns a property in Marseillan, one of our favourite parts of France, so it is possible that we may meet again. We sat around a roaring wood fire – it gets cool up here in the evenings – in an open hearth in their garden and passed a very convivial evening in jovial company.
Nothing was going to top Edna Echidna, though. What a thrill.