“It’s a rite of passage,” a friend told me matter-of-factly. “Every Aussie has to do it.”
That was the line I found myself repeating to my husband to convince him that driving ourselves, our seven-month-old baby and our Jack Russell Terrier across Australia in a camper van was a good idea. It worked. And indeed, it turned out to be a good idea.
But I found myself in a predicament only a fellow wine lover might understand. What to do with the contents of your cellar when uprooting your life?
The answer? Drink it.
Fortunately, our rented 25-foot camper van had a perfectly suitable place for storing wine while on the road. A hidden compartment beneath one of the back seats did the trick. With a minimal amount of sweatshirt padding, my mobile home cellar would travel destruction-free in a cotton-polyester cocoon. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the glassware. In the first 10 minutes of driving, a curve in the road resulted in a cacophony of crashes—the cringe-inducing sounds of wine glasses breaking—that had our trembling terrier scrambling beneath the driver’s feet.
There were other challenges. Our route would take us from Perth in the west to Melbourne in the east (where we would then fly to Los Angeles and repeat the voyage to New York). Australia’s arid, uninhabited vastness provided days of nothingness, where one shoulder-less, single-lane road across the Nullarbor Plain was dominated by a cavalcade of terrifyingly fast “road trains” (triple tractor-trailers).
What to do with the contents of your cellar when uprooting your life?
Little challenges, like changing diapers in a moving vehicle or coaxing a high-strung dog to pee on the precipitous cliff-edge of the Great Ocean Road, would test me. And cooking from scratch in a pocket-sized kitchen was all-too-reminiscent of the microscopic apartments I squeezed myself into during my early 20s.
But after a day of white-knuckle driving, there was no greater reward than parking our camper van, whether on the side of the red-dust encrusted road or perched above the lonely sea-swept cliffs of the Great Australian Bight (surely a gateway to heaven, if one believes in such things), and cracking open a special bottle.
My cellar, while containing nothing particularly iconic, was filled with labels I loved. The spice box elegance of Felton Road was imprinted upon my brain as I sipped it beneath a sunset over the Southern Ocean, surrounded by desert as far as the eye could see.
Lopez de Heredia’s Tondonia Reserva Blanco, with its old library scent and honeycomb flavor, comforted me as whipping winds along Victoria’s Apollo Bay threatened to roll our camper over. In the middle of the desert, denied water at a few lonely rest stops, we turned to wine instead, savoring bottles from Australia’s most game-changing producers like Jauma’s Blewitt Springs Grenache and Lucy Margaux’s Monomeith Pinot Noir.
We rolled into Melbourne with the camper van a little lighter—every bottle from the home cellar had been drunk. If we had indeed completed a “rite of passage” by crossing the continent of Australia, then it was baptism by wine.
And when it came time to pick up Camper Van No. 2 in Los Angeles (dog and baby intact), the ever-rewarding, wallet-emptying process of building up a personal cellar began again.