South Australia – Clare Valley – off the beaten track
Fine rieslings and reds abound
By Winsor Dobbin
The Clare Valley is one of Australia’s greatest wine regions – and also one of the least visited despite being just a two-hour drive north from Adelaide.
The first vines were planted here in 1842 and the Clare is home to many of Australia’s best family-owned wineries and produces arguably our best dry rieslings along with red wines of intensity and elegance. Famous family wineries include Mitchells, Pikes, Pauletts and Taylors, along with well-known labels like Jim Barry, Kilikanoon, Grosset, Mount Horrocks, Annies Lane, Skillogalee, Kirrihill, Tim Adams and Wendouree, which makes some of Australia’s long-living reds and have cult status with aficionados.
Stop 1 – Late breakfast at Cygnets
Built from local stone in the 1800s, Cygnets at Auburn is a beautifully restored former general store situated in a historic village that is the gateway to the Clare. Open for late breakfasts, espresso coffees, home-made cakes and scones, lunches and or a hearty lunch. There’s always a warm welcome from owner Marjorie Moncrieff and her team.
Open: Seven days. Bookings recommended.
Main North Road, Auburn
Phone (08) 8849 2030
Stop 2 – Wine tasting at Annie’s Lane
The heritage-listed Quelltaler winery at the heart of Watervale, in the Clare Valley's south, is one of the region’s oldest wineries, dating back to 1863. The cellar door is made of timber and has an inviting open fire for crisp winter days. The winery has gone through several owners and incarnations but has been the base for Annie’s Lane since 1996. There is an on-site winemaking museum and art gallery and the extensive grounds host Day on the Green concerts, including a recent performance by Tom Jones.
You must taste: The 2009 Annie’s Lane Chardonnay and Riesling are both excellent but don’t miss out on the reserve wines under the Copper Trail label.
Quelltaler Road, Watervale.
Phone (08) 8843 2204
Stop 3 – Wine tasting at Pikes
Pikes’ beautiful 1870s cellar door overlooks the vines and rolling hills of the Polish Hill River valley and the walls are decorated with works by local artists. There is a lovely relaxed ambience here and grazing plates are on sale to eat on site or take away. A $20 gourmet package contains a selection of cheeses, walnut and fig paste plus olives – as well as an environmentally friendly bamboo plate and wooden knife.
You must taste: The 2009 Traditionale Riesling and The Merle Reserve Riesling are among the best in Australia. Also try the easy drinking 2007 Red Mullet red blend.
Open: seven days
Polish Hill River Road, Sevenhill
Phone (08) 8843 4370
Stop 4 – Lunch at Skillogalee
Skillogalee is one of Australia’s best winery restaurants and lovers of dining al fresco will adore the gorgeous gardens. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2010, Skillogalee is open for lunches 363 days per year and offers seating for around 30 in two rooms and for a further 40 to 50 outside on the veranda. All dishes on the menu can be matched to Skillogalee wines and there are several bed and breakfast options for those who wish to stay.
Open: for lunch seven days.
Trevarrick Road, Sevenhill
Phone (08) 8843 4311
Stop 5 – Cycling Tour
You can get a feel for the Clare, and work off any lunchtime excesses, by walking, or cycling, the Riesling Trail, a 30-kilometre track that links several of the local villages. The track follows the course of the old railway line from Auburn in the south to beyond Clare township in the north. The trail passes cellar doors and boutique farms and there are picnic stops and story boards along the way.
Open: Daily. Bicycles are available for hire at Cogwebs in Auburn from $40 per day including drop off and pick up.
30 Main North Road, Auburn
Phone (08) 8849 2380
Stop 6 - Wine Tasting at Sevenhill Cellars
Pop into Sevenhill and you’ll find Jesuit monks tending to their grape vines, just as their predecessors have done for over 160 years. The Jesuits fled persecution in Silesia in the 1850s and began making sacramental wine – which they still produce alongside fine table wines and fortifieds. The historic winery, cellars and cellar door, St Aloysius Church and the vineyards are all worth exploring.
You must taste: The 2008 Inigo Merlot is outstanding and it is essential to taste some fortified wines like the liqueur tokay and fine old tawny.
Open: Seven days. Guided tours 2pm Tuesday and Thursday. Bookings essential.
College Rd, Sevenhill
Phone (08) 8843 4222
Stop 7 – Dinner at the Artisan’s Table
Newly opened in the old Salt and Vines premises, the Artisan’s Table Wine Bar and Bistro gives the Clare a night-time dining option. Owner and chef Roger Graham has worked in the region for several years and plans to highlight local produce in dishes like mutton backstrap with Algerian relish and Coffin Bay oysters with cucumber and capsicum confetti.
Open: For lunch and dinner Wednesday to Saturday and for breakfast and lunch on Sundays.
Wendouree Road, Clare
Phone (08) 8842 1796
Stop 8 – Overnight stay at Mintaro Mews
The village of Mintaro is one of the prettiest in the Clare Valley and Mintaro Mews is an ideal base from which to explore the region. There’s a choice between accommodation in the main building, originally a grain store, or in the blacksmith’s shop, which was later converted to stables and offers cosy rooms. Make sure to pop across the road for a drink at the Magpie and Stump Hotel, a quintessentially Australian country pub.
Burra St, Mintaro
Phone (08) 8843 9001
- A visit to the swish new O’Leary Walker cellar door.
- The pub grub at the Sevenhill Hotel.
- Local art galleries like the Irongate Studio at Mintaro and the Uptown Gallery in Burra.
- A visit to Wild Saffron gourmet café.
- The rock‘n roll themed wines at the Claymore cellar door.
- The annual Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend held each May (May 15-16 in 2010)
- Clare Valley (SA)
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