Just 24 miles south of Adelaide and a marvelous place to break your journey on the way to Kangaroo Island, McLaren Vale undulates down to a pristine coastline of white sandy beaches on Gulf St. Vincent. While vineyards define the region, there are also olive and almond groves, orchards and dairy farms plus rich fishing grounds, abundant marine life (including whales and dolphins) and remarkable natural beauty.
McLaren Vale’s Mediterranean climate is great not only for its vines but also for its winemakers, whose laidback style creates an easygoing ambiance that seduces visitors. They have their own brand of Aussie irreverence, winning the award for the quirkiest wine names in the business; Dead Arm Shiraz, Derelict Vineyard Grenache, Woop Woop and The Mongrel top the list.
Some say that McLaren Vale’s Grenache ranks with the best in the world, but Vale winemakers are also known for their Shiraz, Italian varieties and gutsy whites.
Visitors must stop at d’Arenberg for full-bodied reds and languid lunches on d’Arry’s Verandah; Coriole for its Italian varieties, cheeses and olives and summer cultural festivals; Hardy’s Tintara and Chateau Reynella for a peek into Aussie winemaking history; Vineyard and Penny’s Hill & Mr. Riggs to see dynamic boutique winemaking in action; Hugh Hamilton Wines for some amusing riffs on the Aussie vernacular; and Chapel Hill for its fine wines and gourmet retreat.
Towards the south, the Saturday Willunga Farmer’s Market fair is one of Australia’s best, the cliff-side Star of Greece café offers contemporary fare, such as Coffin Bay Valentine Oysters and Coorong Angus with Morten Bay bugs. The Victory Hotel overlooking Sellick’s Beach has terrific bistro food and a cellar where you can find boutique gems like Alkoomi, Craggy Range and Brokenwood.
Stay nearby at the Willunga House Bed and Breakfast. Built in the 1850s as a general store and post office, the two-story stone residence is charming and serves a spectacular home-cooked breakfast with coffee courtesy of an antique La Carimali espresso machine.
McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism
Main Road, Mc Laren Vale
Tel: +61-8-8323-8999; www.mclarenvale.info
The Barossa Valley
The Barossa Valley, whose century-old Shiraz and Grenache vines are the oldest in the world, was discovered by an Englishman who gave it a Spanish name—though it was settled by German-speaking Silesian farmers. The Valley has enduring ties with the past and yet is constantly reinventing itself. In the 1850s, its grapes produced fortified wines; 100 years later, Penfolds Grange Hermitage winemaker Max Schubert began using techniques that led to Barossa’s production of the premium red table wine it offers today.
The Barossa winemaking heritage falls into two groups: First are the Silesian farmer immigrants with names like Gramp, Henschke, Seppelt, Schrapel, Sholz and Jenke, who settled on the rich brown earth of the valley floor where the summers are long, hot and dry. The second are the English settlers, including the Penfolds, Saltrams, Hills and Smiths, many of whom headed for the higher Eden Valley, where the soils are rockier and the grapes grow in cooler and wetter conditions.
Many Barossan wineries, such as Penfolds, Orlando and Wolf Blass, became public companies, while Peter Lehmann and Rockford rose to prominence in the Chardonnay-crazed 1980s when they bought grapes from growers to prevent them pulling out heritage vines during the Australian government’s scheme to cut red wine production. In the last decade, boutique wineries, including Torbrek, Greenock Creek and Elderton Wines, produce big gutsy reds that have become cult collector wines.
Barossa’s Germanic heritage is still writ large. Picturesque Lutheran-spired churches dot the valleys, German-style butchers and bakers are in every village and the Saturday Barossa Farmers Market is resplendent with smoked bacon, dill pickles, muesli and suckling pig. Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop makes a perfect stop for lunch. You can buy flaky pheasant pie, pâtés, cheeses and breads in a picnic basket to enjoy on the deck overlooking a duck pond.
In honor of its most successful brand, the massive Orlando Wines sited its soaring glass Jacob’s Creek Visitor Center near where Johann Gramp planted his first vines in 1847. At Penfolds, you can taste Grange, RWT, Saint-Henri, Bin 28 Kalimha Shiraz, Bin 707 and Block 42 Kalimna Cabernet Sauvignon, and even dabble in a little winemaking yourself. Visit Barossa icon, Peter Lehmann Wines, to check out the Queen of Clubs wine labels by local artists and taste the Stonewell Shiraz, and enjoy food under the red river gums outside.
Then there is Robert O’Callahan’s Rockford, with its century-old basket press used to make his signature Basket Press Shiraz; Charles Melton Wines, whose Rhône-style Nine Popes (the Down Under answer to Châteauneuf-du-Pape) is made from 100-year-old dry-grown Shiraz, Mourvèdre and bush Grenache vines. Gibson Wines, owned by former Penfolds’ chief viticulturalist, Rob Gibson, is now making aromatic wines with Grenache and Merlot.
Stay at The Louise luxury boutique hotel and dine on fine local specialties at its elegant Appellation restaurant featuring some of the best wines in the country, grown just down the road.
The Barossa Wine & Visitor Centre
66-68 Murray Street, Tanunda,