The epicurean way: a four-day road trip around South Australia’s wine regions | Life and style
There are more than 500 wineries in the four major wine regions immediately surrounding Adelaide, and almost half as many cellar doors.
It’s enough to make even the most ardent oenophile baulk, but a rambling four-day trip is the perfect way to get a sense of what makes each region special. And because the distances between stops are never too long, there’s plenty of time to explore beyond the wineries.
Day one: city to rail trail
Driving time: two hours
“I reckon you might need a little help,” Mick Mittiga says matter of factly. A few seconds sizing me up is all it takes for the owner of Clare Valley Cycle Hire to recommend taking an e-bike on the Riesling Trail.
Fortunately, thanks to the wormhole-like Northern Connector that funnels road trippers swiftly through Adelaide’s northern suburbs, I have plenty of time to explore the former railway line that traces the belly of the Clare Valley.
My first stop is next to the trailhead, at a cellar door synonymous with the region’s most famous product. After weaning Australians off sticky dessert riesling, Grosset Wines now concentrates on distinctive dialects such as citrusy Watervale riesling and the powerful, steely wines from Polish Hill.
Riding in the direction of those sub-regions, I pass cuttings of fractured siltstone and embankments overlooking vineyards where twisted, leafless vines are still struggling to escape the clutches of winter. And as I leave the main trail for a road that climbs steadily upwards, I silently thank Mick for insisting I take an electric bike.
Don’t miss: Easy to navigate and close to most of the cellar doors, the Riesling Trail is the best way to navigate the region, on bike or on foot.
Eat: Pike Wines’ cellar-door restaurant Slate has plenty of seafood options that pair perfectly with their bright, zesty riesling.
Stay: Bungaree Station once housed a small village complete with stables and council chambers that have been turned into comfortable accommodation. From $182 a night.
Day two: traditional tastes
Driving time: one hour 40 minutes
Heading south from the Clare Valley, the two-lane blacktop is flanked by fields of barley and wheat tall enough to catch the wind in waves, before breaking on lonely gumtrees. The landscape would be hypnotic, if not for the occasional shocks of bright yellow canola fields that punctuate the scene like exclamation points.
No wine region in Australia has a richer tradition than the Barossa, and it’s on display when Dean Hewitson offhandedly mentions the provenance of his Old Garden. The deliciously smooth wine, packed with forest fruits and a hint of orange peel, is made with fruit from an 1853 Mourvèdre vineyard that is reputedly the oldest in the world, since Europe’s vines were wiped out by phylloxera at the end of the 19th century.
Like an island divided from the rest of the valley by the Sturt highway, Greenock is the perfect base from which to explore the valley. It’s a small village (worthy of the name thanks to a general store and the conspicuous absence of a supermarket) but nevertheless has four wineries within stumbling distance of a classic country pub where flannel-clad farmers drink cans of Woodstock next to winemakers toasting their colleagues’ hard work.
Don’t miss: Taste the Barossa’s history at Seppeltsfield’s Centennial Cellar, where 142 consecutive vintages of tawny are busy maturing.
Eat: A celebrity of a different vintage is celebrated at the Farm Eatery, where Maggie Beer’s daughter Elli serves old Pheasant Farm favourites alongside share plates of lighter fare celebrating local producers.
Stay: In the centre of town, the Old Telegraph Station is one of Greenock’s most convenient options. From $190 a night.
Day three: into the clouds
Driving time: one hour 50 minutes
As surely as the Greenock creates hangovers, nearby El Estanco cures them with giant stacks of rich, piquant chilaquiles and an onsite coffee roaster.
Suitably fortified, I cross the valley to Williamstown and climb through regimented lines of pine plantations into the Mount Lofty Ranges. When the vines reappear, they’re hidden beneath a thin cloak of leaves that confirm the transition to an entirely different climate.
From its centre in the Basket Range on the region’s western edge, the natural wine movement has been exerting a growing influence over the Adelaide Hills. Highly variable in quality and flavour, those wines find an echo in the region’s hyperactive topography. Hidden valleys filled with blossoming cherry trees and fetching lakes flanked by thick bushland vie for my attention, but hairpin turns and precipitous drops mean my eyes are fixed firmly on the road ahead between stops.
Don’t miss: Many of the natural winemakers don’t have cellar doors so the shared Summertown Aristologist cellar door is the best place to dive into the scene.
Eat: The most important decision at Mount Lofty Ranges Vineyard is which of the three tiers of seating to occupy for a tasting menu as colourful as the surrounding valley.
Stay: On the far side of the Mount Lofty Ranges, Longview Vineyard lives up to its name with far-reaching views to Lake Alexandrina and the Coorong, from the decks of the onsite suites. From $154 a night.
Day four: beside the sea
Driving time: one hour 40 minutes
With the rising sun at my back, McLaren Vale’s intricate tapestry of mixed farmland, bounded by lush hills and the glittering waters of Gulf St Vincent, looks like the promised land.
Fortunately, the views are just as good from the valley itself. Within walking distance of McLaren Vale township but steep enough to dissuade pedestrians, Chalk Hill is home to Never Never’s light-filled distillery door, where the oily triple juniper gin makes no secret of its hero ingredient and the sweet, cranberry coloured “ginache” highlights one of the region’s more notable varietals.
Despite predating the Barossa as a wine producing region, McLaren Vale has always seemed more comfortable experimenting. It’s a spirit that continues at Brash Higgins, where wildly aromatic wines owe some of their flavour to Sicilian-style clay amphorae, whose bellies are striped with stains from eagerly fermenting wines that have overflowed.
The riesling sémillon channels the maritime winds into a margarita-like blend of salt and lime. It’s still on my mind as the sun sets behind the skeleton of an old jetty at Port Willunga. After four days of constantly evolving scenery, the sea views represent another abrupt change. Less than an hour away, another completely different landscape awaits in the city. But it can wait just a little longer.
Don’t miss: Break up the day with a visit to Port Willunga, just minutes from many of the vineyards.
Eat: There are no duds on the menu at the Salopian Inn, but every visit should include an order of perfectly pleated king prawn dumplings swimming in thick, sweet chilli oil.