Mention to your friends that you're going wine tasting and you'll be served up all kinds of advice regarding the wineries you must visit. Usually, you'll end up on a wild-goose chase, but sometimes you'll strike gold.
Recently, I was given an insider tip about a small wine region in the Perth Hills.
After a bit of digging around, I found out that the region has four distinct wine trails: Bickley and Carmel valleys, Chittering Valley, Mundaring and Serpentine Valley. All within an hour of Perth and all offering great tasting experiences.
I was keen to try any one of them.
In perfect weather, armed with little more than a good idea and a bad map, I take the Great Eastern Highway out of Perth, turn right at the Kalamunda exit and follow the signs to Carmel.
Why did I turn right to Carmel and not left to Chittering? Perhaps it was the smooth-sounding name Carmel - a bit like caramel. Perhaps it was the simple desire to follow a pretty road.
I cross a small creek and drive through a village dusted in fruit blossoms. Roadside stalls burst with fruit and flowers.
This is the gateway to the beautiful Perth Hills; a region that satisfies every bucolic fantasy.
I wind my window down and breathe in some of the gloriously fresh air, then watch, as clouds, wispy as a horse's tail, flash past.
My heart is light as I sing along to the Travelling Wilburys, "Well it's all right, riding around in the breeze".
Stretching along the Darling Escarpment, the region is geographically and climatically special.
The 400m-high escarpment helps moderate daylight hours, shields vineyards from maritime influences and provides myriad topographical aspects.
In general, the land doesn't lend itself to mechanisation so most of the vineyards are hand tended, with handmade boutique wines a feature of the area.
The Perth Hills Wine Region was gazetted as an official wine-growing region in April 1999 and recently celebrated its 10th anniversary of Geographic Indication (GI).
GI is the official description of an Australian wine zone, region and subregion approved by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation.
Wine that carries the regional name must consist of a minimum of 85 per cent of fruit grown in that region. This protects the integrity of the label and safeguards the consumer.
The Bickley and Carmel Valley Wine Trail comprises nine wineries; all have cellar doors open at the weekend, and most will open during the week by appointment.
My first stop is Fairbrossen Estate, a small family-operated vineyard with a tearoom overlooking the vines. It produces a gold medal-winning rose made from cabernet sauvignon grapes grown on site, as well as a vintage cuvee and a cabernet sauvignon from Margaret River grapes. But, at this time of the morning, it is the tearoom that grabs my attention.
The owner's family origins are in the Lake District in the north-west of England where healthy living and big appetites are common.
A phrase often expressed at the completion of very hearty meals was, "I'm fair brossen" meaning quite literally, "I'm full to bursting".
I'm pleased to report that with a menu featuring homemade pies, hearty soups and Devonshire teas, this philosophy is alive and well in this little corner of WA.
Cosham Wines is next on the trail and it's here I learn the basic rule about visiting boutique wineries - it pays to phone ahead.
This adorable-looking winery with its pretty barn-like tasting room is closed for a private function. So too is its neighbour, Myattsfield Vineyard. I sulk my way to the next winery.
Luckily, Lawnbrook Estate Wines and Packing Shed restaurant are open for business.
The carpark is full to overflowing and so are the wine glasses.
Wine tasting is offered in the beautifully restored packing shed and casual dining is available under the shady terrace or outside in the field overlooking the vineyards.
A random collection of candy-coloured wicker chairs is set up under spreading trees and fresh flowers grace the simple wooden tables. The air is heady with the fragrance of wisteria and other blossoms.
I select a table under the shade of a poplar tree, kick off my shoes and luxuriate in the feeling of clover under my toes.
From the blackboard menu, I select an entree-sized stuffed field mushrooms with salad and a cherry ripe cheesecake for dessert. As always, a full belly and a chilled glass of a classic white restore my mood.
A big sky opens up over rolling hills as I make my way slowly to the next pit stop. I sing along to U2's It's a Beautiful Day. Heading off without a plan into unknown territory brings a joy I had long forgotten.
Hainault Vineyard is a family-owned and operated boutique vineyard nestled in a delightful jarrah forest. At 400m elevation, it is the highest vineyard in the State and boasts a relatively cool climate.
As well as producing premium wines, owners Lyn and Michael Sykes also want to reduce their reliance on chemicals and increase the use of organic solutions.
I spend a very happy hour sampling their award-winning wines; a fresh 2006 semillon, a lightly oaked 2008 semillon- chardonnay blend, a semi-sweet 2009 gewurztraminer and a young, dry 2007 merlot.
From the shady terrace, I watch as the sun is swallowed by the hills. It is getting late, which is perfect for my next stop, the Perth Observatory, Australia's oldest continuously operating professional observatory.
The observatory is open to the public for star-viewing nights and daytime guided tours and tonight there is a Dark Sky Viewing session on the program.
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