Clare Valley is a haven for crisp, mineral-laden Rieslings and fruity yet well-structured Cabernets and Shirazes. It is also a great destination for visitors who like their wine country a little quieter than the hubbub of the other major South Australia regions, such as Adelaide Hills, Barossa and McLaren Vale, all areas surrounding Adelaide, the state’s cosmopolitan yet laid-back capital.
About a 90-minute drive north of Adelaide, Clare Valley is a maze of soft, rounded upland hills and picturesque crossroads towns. Wine has been made here for more than 160 years. Take the 15-mile drive along North Main Road from Auburn in the south to the town of Clare in the north, and you will pass a sea of vineyards, uncrowded cellar doors (as they call tasting rooms here), the remnants of a local mining industry and perhaps a family of kangaroos grazing in a sunny meadow. Or, if you prefer, cover the same route by foot or bike along the Riesling Trail where the old railroad tracks once ran.
The 2006-2007 growing season has been a hard one on the region—devastating spring frosts in low-lying vineyards and a summer-long drought saw much of the seriously reduced crop harvested in February, more than a month earlier than normal. Yet, most Aussie still winemakers see their wines glass as being half-full.
Neil Pike, who with his brother, Andrew, runs Pikes Wines in Clare’s Polish Hill region, plunges his arm through a thick cap of Shiraz grapes into an open-top fermenter and draws up a glass of ruby red juice. “The color and aroma are great,” he says, indicating that the 2007 fruit, though reduced in quantity, should be of high quality.
At his hilltop Gaia Vineyard, Jeffrey Grosset shows off Cabernet Sauvignon berries about the size of marbles, which he believes will make wines of great intensity.
There are almost 40 wineries—most conveniently located along the Auburn-Clare road—that offer tastings and sales, and several have restaurants and picnic facilities. Some of the familiar names include Knappstein, Leasingham, Tim Gramp, Taylors (sold in the U.S. under the Wakefield), Jim Barry and Annie’s Lane. The oldest is the Jesuit’s Sevenhill Cellars, founded in 1842.
Although the area is rural, there are nevertheless a few good lodgings, though no spas as yet. Among them are the upscale Brice Hill Lodge set alongside the Riesling Trail, to which guests have their own private access; Clare Valley Motel, which with 33 units can accommodate larger groups and meetings, and the historic Rising Sun Hotel located in the town of Auburn dating back to the 1850s.
There are also a slew of bed & breakfast operations. Some hotels also have good restaurants, but you might want to try a fresh lunchtime salad at the attractive Station Café at the restored railroad stop that serves as Mount Horrocks’ tasting room.
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