I just spent 10 delightful days in Adelaide, the epicentre of South Australia's bustling wine regions, where I acquired my host's charming habit of accenting exclamations with the words 'is that' as in 'How cool is that!' Arriving at my first winery visit, in McLaren Vale on a sunny Saturday morning, I stumbled upon David Paxton of Paxton Wines, grilling 'brekkie on the barbie' with glasses of bubbly in hand. How Australian is that! The Paxton team were in a cheerful mood because they had won a gold medal the evening before at the McLaren Vale Wine Show. Wine shows are taken seriously in Australia and show medals are so highly regarded that a gold-medal sticker on a bottle can dictate a winery's bottom line for the year, hence the jovial mood at Paxton. How wonderful is that! It takes years for an aspiring judge to enter the Australian show-judging elite, which sports a hierarchy more rigid than that of the military, and medals are almost as hard-earned. It comes as no surprise, then, that wine judges rarely retire. Nevertheless, there is an impressively long waiting-list of winemakers and industry professionals hoping to attend Australia's premier judge-training programme, the Australian Wine Research Institute's (AWRI) Sensory Assessment Course. Lucky enough to have been allocated the 'foreigner's seat' for the year, I gained entry to a programme that required us to taste 120 to 150 wines each day and also demanded that students exhibit sufficient stamina to attend wine dinners each evening, or they would fail to qualify for certificates. How tough is that! Australian judges have been accused of perpetuating a uniquely Australian palate, so the AWRI took great care to include top-class global wine styles in our tastings, such as Mouton Rothschild, Louis Roederer Cristal and Yquem to name a few. How harsh is that! The Paxton breakfast was followed by what my host, Bernice Ong, billed as a light lunch at Penny's Hill Wine Cellars, served outdoors in the warm spring sunlight overlooking vineyards just awakened from winter hibernation. Tangles of young shoots and bright green leaves - not yet restrained by the season's training wires - stretched and strained towards the blindingly blue sky while we sipped our way through six weighty courses. Alas, our three-hour lunch caused us to rush through a lavish sampling of 15 wines at nearby Wirra Wirra winery. How cruel was that! On Sunday, 40 of South Australia's wineries convened in Adelaide for a touch-rugby tournament to raise funds for the homeless. The region's winemakers and cellar hands fumbled their way towards rugby goals, while the rest of us fumbled our way through a daunting array of producers' tables, attempting to exhaust generous fistfuls of drinks tickets. How sporting is that! On Monday, Stuart Blackwell, senior winemaker at St Hallett, kindly escorted me through the winding valley roads of the Barossa Valley to the famed Wolf Blass, Penfolds, Seppelts and Yalumba wineries as well as to an old favourite, Charles Melton Wines. The Barossa fields were sodden from this spring's generous downpours and more than once we found ourselves inching across flooded culverts or leaping over vineyard run-off. The valley's normally wheat-coloured slopes were an exuberant spring green with wild Lady Jane blossoms creating a diaphanous lavender haze on the slopes. How awesome is that! On the final two days of my trip, I participated in Winedown 2005, a conference for young members of the wine trade to ponder and discuss industry trends. It was interesting to gain their perspective, though I was, ahem, a touch over the age limit. And oh, how tough was that!