By Max Anderson
Less than two hour’s drive north of Adelaide sits the rolling countryside of the Clare Valley, home to more than 40 wineries and vineyards.
Tasting notes: A colourful strip of stone-fronted cottages offering food, art and antiques, the village of Auburn is the start of the popular Riesling Trail, a walking and bike path that extends 36 scenic kilometres north to Clare.
Wine me: Mount Horrocks Wines is a summer’s day delight, not only for its rieslings but its petite cellar door housed in the former Auburn railway station. The region’s biggest winery, Taylors Wines, is just north of Auburn. It offers winery tours, barrel tastings and a chance to blend your own wine.
Dine me: For light bites, try breakfast at Simpson Rices Creek, lunch at Meller’s Café or the rustic pub comforts of the 1850s Rising Sun Hotel. If you want fine dining, well-regarded modern Australian cuisine can be found at Terroir from 6pm. Locavore rules strictly apply, all the food is sourced from within an area of 160 km from Terroir, and the menu is earthy and honest, reflecting the quality produce of the areaThink roast pork cutlet with honey-glazed root vegetables, grilled leek, onion jam and cauliflower .
Alternatively: Pack some pies and pasties from Cogwebs, where you can also hire bikes for the Riesling Trail. The (mostly) flat trail can be cycled in 2 1/2 hours but easily warrants a full day, leaving plenty of time for detours to wineries and restaurants.
Tasting notes: Dating back to 1847, this small town is something of a pilgrimage site for lovers of the Clare Valley’s signature wine variety, riesling. In 1853 Francis Treloar planted five acres of riesling for commercial use. Today parcels of aged vines continue to be the source of fruit for some of Clare Valley’s premium labels.
Wine me: Riesling purists will want to head for the likes of Clos Clare, Crabtree Wines and Stephen John – all low-volume producers of handmade vintages. Due to its prodigious output, of both white and red wines, Annie’s Lane is more widely known. You’ll find it just outside Watervale at the Quelltaler estate, a property dating back to 1863 and home to lovely picnic grounds as well as a winemaking museum.
Dine me: Strike out north for the small village of Penwortham, turning at Horrocks Road for a scenic loop. Your destination is Skillogalee – not only a producer of fine wines but the site of the Skillogalee Restaurant. Take breakfast or lunch in the converted farmhouse, or better yet on the veranda overlooking garden and vines. The Vine Pruner’s Lunch of rum-glazed ham and vintage cheddar pairs very nicely with the local “reez”.
Alternatively: Turn up the volume among the Annie’s Lane vines at A Day on the Green. The Quelltaler estate has been hosting this winery circuit festival since 2005, introducing the joys of the Clare Valley to the like of Tom Jones, Chrissie Hynde and Chris Isaak. More than 6000 music lovers regularly attend, most of them camping at the Watervale Oval. The 2017 event takes place on March 25, with the Hoodoo Gurus and Violent Femmes headlining.
Tasting notes: Sevenhill is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hamlet, yet home to a surprising number of good reasons to slow down and stop.
Wine me: Chief among them is Sevenhill Cellars, the oldest winery in the Clare Valley and the only winery in Australia run by a religious order. The Jesuits established it in 1851 to produce sacramental wine. They still own it today and their altar wine is used in communions as far afield as the US and Asia. They also produce commercial wines, which are available in the lovely cellar door – part of a historic estate that includes St Aloysius church, a crypt and the extraordinary wine cellars, all of which can be seen on tours. If riesling is your thing, you’ll find Paulett Wines a little way east of Sevenhill in the famous Polish Hill River sub-region. The cellar door has a café and one of the most impressive views in the region.
Dine me: The Little Red Grape has made a big splash by combining an artisan bakery with a cellar door. What’s not to love about a gourmet chunky steak pie and a hearty Clare shiraz? The Sevenhill Hotel across the road has been around a long time for good reason – it is home to a reliably good pub restaurant and has a surprisingly fine underground cellar stocked with hundreds of local wines.
Alternatively: Turn right and head for Mintaro, one of the loveliest villages in South Australia. This State Heritage nook of stone and slate is home to art galleries, Reillys Cellar Door and Restaurant, Pikes Beer Company, a maze and Martindale Hall – a late Victorian stately home that looks quite improbable in the South Australian landscape.
Tasting notes: This functioning “ag town” serves a substantial population of 3200 and feels decidedly urban after all those pretty villages and vales. But it’s not without history, interest or fine places to eat.
Wine me: One of the most convenient cellar doors is Mr Mick Cellar Door, thoughtfully located at the end of the Riesling Trail for much-needed revivers. It was started by winemaker Tim Adams and named for winemaker KH (Mick) Knappstein – both famous in the world of wine. Still with famous names, Jim Barry, producer of the much-loved The Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, is in the neighbouring sub-region of Armagh.
Dine me: Clare has no shortage of eateries. You’ll find everything from McDonalds to the paleo-inspired café, Only the Good Stuff. In 2014 Seed Winehouse and Kitchen came roaring out of the blocks as a fine diner that wouldn’t look out of place in any capital city. Fashioned from an 1850s chaff mill on Clare’s Main North Road, it offers a cocktail bar as well as an evocative dining space that serves everything from suckling pig to blue swimmer crab on black linguine.
Alternatively: Give the wine a rest and order a cleansing ale at the Knappstein Enterprise Winery and Brewery. The original Enterprise Brewery was opened in 1878, producing beer for copper miners. When brewing finished in 1917 the building remained empty until the 1960s, when it reopened as a winery (and later a cellar door) under the Knappstein name. In 2006 it came full circle when a new micro-brewery was added to the complex: the Knappstein Enterprise Reserve Lager is unusual for being crafted by both brewers and winemakers.
Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are at Adelaide Airport.