French Gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin claimed, “a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine”. Bien sûr Monsieur, we couldn’t agree more. That’s why, if you ever visit Adelaide – the self-proclaimed rose capital of Australia – you should also make time for a sniff, swirl, sip and swallow. And if your hectic schedule leaves only an afternoon to indulge in the grape, never fear. Follow the path of the locals, who, when the weather turns roll-neck, farewell cooling ales at ‘The Bay’ and head east to the Adelaide Hills in search of a warming glass of red.
The Adelaide Hills isn’t as well known as the Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale, but as the premier Aussie high-altitude wine region – 400 metres above sea level – it’s in a class of its own. Penfolds, producer of Australia’s most famous wine, Grange Hermitage, still has their flagship winery in the Adelaide foothills, only 10 minutes from the city’s post office. The creator of iconic Aussie label Jacob’s Creek – Orlando Wyndham – also calls the Adelaide Hills home. With its first vineyards planted in 1847, Orlando is worth a visit for the history lesson it offers if not for its raft of drinkable drops. Wine icons aside, you don’t have to travel far to reach the rest of the cellar doors in the region. There are more than 30 to visit, and most are within a half-hour drive of the city centre, so there’s plenty to keep you entertained.
Adelaide is a Colonel Light-designed metropolis of grand boulevards and spacious parks. The late, pink-short-wearing former premier, Don Dunstan, lived there, and it is now home to several world-class festivals, Australia’s first nude beaches and historic churches – lots of historic churches. So jump off the plane and make your way to Rundle Street, Adelaide’s fashionable alfresco cafe strip. There’s a medley of trendy watering holes to choose from, but if you like to “umm” and “ahhh” over your vino, you can’t go past the classy restaurant Bin 273 for a vast and varied selection. And if bubbles are your thing, order a glass of Croser Sparkling Pinot Chardonnay to top it all off. Yum.
Next, head for the hills along the cultural centre of Adelaide, North Terrace. Here you’ll find the museum and art gallery, which are both worth a visit. Then it’s past the botanic gardens, up Payneham Road and along Lower North East Road, where quarter-acre blocks and suburban abundance gives way to a colourful patchwork of paddocks, forests, farms and orchards.
The town of Gumeracha – meaning ‘fine water hole’ – soon emerges from the mist to welcome you to the home of the world’s biggest rocking horse. The wooden creation stands an impressive 18 metres high and invites you to mount its mane and climb right to the top. But if you’ve seen enough jumbo Aussie kitsch, continue on – the next stop, Birdwood, is more petrol than pinot, so if you like old jalopies, drop in and visit the National Motor Museum, which houses an extensive collection of vintage cars. Don’t forget why you’re there, though – if valuable drinking time is slipping away, press on to the Nepenthe winery, about three kilometres away.
The name Nepenthe (pronounced ne-pen-thee) comes from Homer’s The Odyssey and means a heavenly elixir with powers to banish sorrow. No wonder the locals’ dress code seems to include a grin from ear to ear.
Nepenthe aligns itself with Benjamin Franklin’s old adage, “wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy”. The cellar is unassuming and unpretentious; they let their wine do the talking. Their sauvignon blanc is truly magnificent, winning the Great Value White Wine of the Year Trophy in 2003, which is one of the most prestigious awards at the world’s biggest wine competition, the annual International Wine Challenge. Another highlight is The Fugue, from the musical term ‘multi- layered’, which is a blend of several smooth reds including cabernet and merlot. The cellar door is open seven days a week, from 10am until 4pm.
Next on the itinerary is Shaw & Smith.
Specifically built for the 2000 vintage, the winery looks like the home of a well- to-do grazier, but actually houses all of Shaw and Smith’s production, marketing and administration needs. Although cousins Martin Shaw and Michael Hill-Smith have only been making wine since 1989, any misgivings about their age or experience are quickly allayed with your first sip. They certainly make a mean drop. Wine tasting here is a little more orderly and you need to part with a crisp ‘bluey’ to purchase the tasting flight of five different wines and specially selected cheeses. However, the $10 investment is well worth it; your senses will be left tingling from the treats laid out before you. Each tasting flight comes with its own tasting mat which guides you as you quaff, explaining the individual characteristics of each wine. Any bickering over the last piece of cheese is sure to subside as slurps of contentment resound. The stylish, well-appointed tasting room is open on weekends between 11am and 4pm.
After a couple of hours of carousing, lunch beckons. Head to Petaluma’s Bridgewater Mill Winery and Restaurant for some more wining and reclining. Petaluma’s winery and restaurant are housed in the historic Bridgewater Mill, which oozes
rustic charm. The Mill was originally built in 1860 and later purchased by Petaluma Wines in 1984. After sinking a few more tasters, the only thing spinning faster than the 26-tonne water wheel (fondly dubbed ‘Old Rumbler’) will be your head. The Mill’s reputation as one of Australia’s premier restaurants is well deserved, with meals that almost outshine the wines.
After lunch, resist the temptation to catch a few z’s in front of the heavenly open fire and let your nose follow the scent of enticing hand-made fudge all the way to the town of Hahndorf. The Adelaide Hills is rich in German heritage – towns like Hahndorf were founded by Prussian Lutherans fleeing persecution in their homeland. The settlers came armed only with their faith and their grapes, and although many townships in the hills Anglicised their names during the world wars, the German influence remains strong to this day. Sir Hans Heysen – the great nine-time Wynne Prize-winning landscape artist – lived and worked in Hahndorf and his former home and studio is now open to visitors.
Next stop is Marble Hill at Ashton, the former summer residence of the South Australian Governor. You’re probably best exploring the house before attempting any wine tasting. Built in 1878 and tragically razed by the Black Sunday fires of 1955, the shell of the house is still accessible via walkways, but it requires a good measure of sobriety to navigate. Although gutted by fire, the site is worth a quick visit if you happen to be there on the second Sunday of each month when it opens.
Once you’re filled to the gills, return to Adelaide via the South Eastern Freeway, but don’t worry too much about your route; if you get lost you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the serendipitous discovery of quaint pubs and eateries.
So there you go, an afternoon of epicurean delights just a 30-minute drive from Adelaide. And you don’t need to be a vintner to enjoy it. If you can’t tell if a wine is dusty, chewy or complex, don’t worry. A good rule to remember is that if it tastes good, swallow, if it doesn’t, spit it out.