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The Australian Wine Trail

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Wine is everywhere at the Tour Down Under. The rise of the UCI WorldTour event, which opens the year’s racing calendar, has helped cement Adelaide as Australia’s cycling city. But long before the tour came to town, the South Australian capital had firmly positioned itself as the national headquarters of wine. With more than 200 wineries within an hour’s drive of the city center, Adelaide is an ideal place for wine lovers—or those just looking to venture into the unexpected. Australia is the world’s fifth-largest wine producer and South Australia produces more than half of Australia’s wine in its 18 wine regions—so it’s no surprise that the most difficult part of planning your trip is deciding where to go.

Words: Andrew Spence

Stepping out of your city hotel you can head in any direction and find yourself enjoying world-class wines in less than an hour—although if you head west to the ocean you’ll have to settle for a glass by the sea rather than at a cellar door. And with freeways running north, south and east, along with wellestablished bike routes, getting to some of the most famous wineries Down Under is straightforward.

Just 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Adelaide, the Barossa Valley is Australia’s most famous wine region and home to world-renowned brands Penfolds, Jacob’s Creek and Wolf Blass. Founded by German settlers in the 1840s, these vineyards are among the oldest in the world, thanks to the Great French Wine Blight that wiped out most of the vines in Europe in the late 19th century.

The Barossa has four small towns—Lyndoch, Tanunda, Nuriootpa and Angaston—that occupy an area just 14 by 13 kilometers. It’s home to some 20,000 people and has hosted many Tour Down Under stages over the past two decades. But back to the wine….

While it’s nice to have your picture taken at Jacob’s Creek or visit Penfolds, it’s often the boutique cellar doors—the ones you have never heard of and may never again—that really bring an Aussie wine-tasting trip to life. A left turn from the main road between Tanunda and Nuriootpa onto Seppeltsfield Road will take you to Whistler Wines. Nestled in a native Australian bush setting, the family-owned winery has a knack for attracting visitors wanting something different. Like so many South Australian vineyards, Whistler specializes in Shiraz but has a wide range of red and white wines on offer, starting at $20 a bottle.

“We get people coming in here everyday saying they are only interested in coming to small independent wineries—they want to meet the people behind the wine and learn something,” says owner, grape grower and winemaker Josh Pfeiffer. “For us, it’s about getting people here and then keeping them here for long enough for them to remember us and want to come back.”

A little farther down Seppeltsfield Road is the historic Seppeltsfield Winery, one of the most beautiful and wellpreserved estates in the Barossa Valley—and host to a stage of the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under. The sprawling grounds combine more than 420 acres of vineyards, gardens and heritage-listed architecture. It specializes in fortified wines and liqueurs but also offers a range of still and sparkling wines in the redeveloped 1900 Seppelt Bottling Hall. If you’re feeling hungry at this point, Seppeltsfield also has a celebrated restaurant: FINO Seppetsfield.

But if you can hang on a little longer, the next stop a little to the west is worth the wait. Hentley Farm, founded by Keith and Alison Hentschke in the 1990s, released its first vintage in 2002 and quickly established its place among Australia’s best boutique wineries. Its 100-acre, low-yielding vineyard is considered to be in perfect red-grape-growing terroir near the western edge of the Barossa. Hentley Farm is centered on a quant 19th century cottage. And like many local vineyards its offerings are dominated by big bold reds such as The Beast Shiraz through to the more subtle and food-friendly blend of The Stray Mongrel.

Hentley Farm was bestowed the title of “Best Winery in Australia for 2015” by famed Australian wine writer James Halliday. However, while the wine is good, it is the winery’s restaurant, set in a converted stable originally built in the 1880s, that has claimed the bulk of the accolades since opening in 2012. The restaurant has a strong focus on utilizing foods foraged or grown on the property, while showcasing the highest quality produce the Barossa and surrounding regions have to offer.

Just 40 kilometers south of Adelaide is the McLaren Vale region. Containing the townships of McLaren Vale, Willunga and McLaren Flat, the first vines were planted here in 1838. The home of global wine brand Hardys, McLaren Vale is at the top of the Fleurieu Peninsula, which features stunning beaches and the mouth of Australia’s longest river, the Murray. This region is also the home of the penultimate stage of the Tour Down Under with the race to the top of Willunga Hill usually deciding the tour’s overall winner.

There are more than 70 vineyards to choose from in McLaren Vale and if the Barossa owns the title of Australia’s most highly regarded wine region then McLaren Vale can make a pretty strong case for being No. 2. Unlike the Barossa, which gives you the sense it has a duty to uphold its proud history of serious winemaking, the atmosphere in McLaren Vale is lighter and more fun.

Turning off the main road (A13) and onto Seaview Road before you reach the township of McLaren Vale, you will come across the Mollydooker winery. A Mollydooker is Aussie slang for a left-handed person so it’s no surprise that the wine poured there and the surrounds are full of fun and character. The wine is known for its full-bodied character and high “fruit weight”—the percentage of the palate hit by the wine. Funky labels with a hip cellar door to match round out the Mollydooker experience.

Like the Barossa, McLaren Vale is also best known for its dry red wines, chiefly Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache. However, it also produces a number of white wines including Chardonnay, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.

About a mile down Olivers Road before turning left on to Osborn Road and you are at d’Arenberg, one of the region’s most renowned and progressive wineries. Its restaurant, d’Arry’s Verandah, is also one of the region’s most celebrated lunch spots. The Osborn family has tended vineyards in McLaren Vale for more than a century with the winery now producing more than 60 wines across 25 varieties. But perhaps the crowning glory is the soon-to-beopened d’Arenberg Cube, which is set to take the fun feel of the area to the next level.

The $14 million five-story glass-encased, steel-and-concrete structure inspired by Rubik’s Cube (below) is the realization of a 13-year dream for chief winemaker Chester Osborn. Set to open in May, the cube is an architectural puzzle, fourmodules wide, four high and four deep, soaring above the winery’s Mourvedre vineyard. “Some people refer to this as Willy Wonka’s wine factory, and in a way it is,” Osborn says. It will be filled with art installations, a “wine fog room,” flagons connected to bicycle horns to beep the smell, winetasting rooms, a second restaurant and a top balcony made of 2-ton glass panels. With all this investment, it’s no surprise that d’Arenberg is also home to McLaren Vale’s busiest cellar door, hosting 50,000 visitors a year, a number that Osborn hopes to build upon when the cube opens.

After a 10-kilometer drive past the townships of McLaren Vale and McLaren Flat, you arrive at Woodstock Wine Estate and restaurant. Set among towering gum trees, the vineyard is run by Jimi Charleston, who loves nothing more than to strum away on his guitar while sharing Woodstock wine tales with customers. The winery offers a wide variety of wines ranging from sparkling to whites, reds and fortifieds—headlined by The Stocks Shiraz, which sells for $80 a bottle.

The winery also has a 7-acre wildlife sanctuary featuring wallabies, kangaroos, koalas and bettongs, with daily, supervised feeding times at 11.30 a.m. The Victory Hotel, with its sweeping views of the coast and amazing wine cellar, is the last stop on the way home for a good steak and tastings from the Vale Cru, a collective of high quality, small-batch winemakers.

If red wine is not really your thing, or if two days of tasting in the Barossa and McLaren Vale has you searching for a refreshing change, consider heading for the hills. The Adelaide Hills wine region is just 25 kilometers east of the city and is a cool-climate wine region, due to elevations up to 700 meters (2,300 feet) above sea level. It specializes in sparkling and white wines, although it does produce a number of coolclimate reds, which are steadily gaining in reputation.

The region runs from north to south along the line of the hills and takes in many small towns, including Stirling, Hahndorf, Woodside and Lobethal. Also known for its picturesque vistas, parts of the Adelaide Hills featured in three stages of this year’s Tour Down Under. It has only taken off as a wineproducing region in the past 40 years and has quickly become renowned for its dozens of small artisan wineries that produce elegant, subtle European-style wines.

Popular white wine styles from the Adelaide Hills include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, while Fiano and Gruner Veltliner are gaining in popularity. The reds aren’t totally excluded from the region—many Adelaide Hills wineries are having success with Pinot Noir and cool-climate Shiraz. The region’s short wine history has given rise to a lot of experimentation and hipster winemakers that has the area emerging on the world stage.

Sidewood, which has its cellar door at Maximilian’s Restaurant in Verdun, is one of the region’s fastest growing wineries and has adopted French philosophies and winemaking styles to its wines. “Ours is very much a Burgundy-style Chardonnay and we’ve got some great Pinot Noirs and we’re using a lot of French oak as well,” Sidewood owner Owen Inglis says. “The region has great potential—the Burgundy varieties are very well suited to the region, sparkling wines as well, and Rhônevarietal Shiraz, but I think probably the Pinot Noirs coming out of the Adelaide Hills are going to be some of the best in the world.” Sidewood also produces cider from locally grown apples and pears and has recently installed a new canning line to expand its operation.

At the southern tip of the Adelaide Hills, perched above and to the east of McLaren Vale, Geoff Hardy continues a 160-year family tradition of pushing the boundaries of Australian viticulture. A descendant of Thomas Hardy, the forefather of McLaren Vale wine, Geoff has established one of Australia’s most spectacular cellar doors in Kuitpo Forest. Resembling an old log cabin, the K1 by Geoff Hardy is set on the edge of a lake surrounded by native trees and cool-climate vineyards. It has been recognized as one of Australia’s “Top 10 Cellar Door Experiences” by Wine Business magazine and also features a handcrafted tasting bench that Geoff made from a 400-year-old red gum tree.

From issue 63.