The Intoxicating South
A sun-kissed trek through South Australia’s wine regions
There was once a cat named Audrey—after the Hepburn—but nicknamed Ordinary for its plain form. It could always be found at its owner Chester Osborn’s heels, following him wherever he went, for fear of being forgotten or ignored. Audrey is today immortalised on the label of a wine bottle as a kinegram, moving along with a human figure when the bottle is turned. The wine, cleverly called The Athazagoraphobic Cat, is a lively blend of Sagrantino and Cinsault grapes by d’Arenberg winery in the picturesque coastal town of McLaren Vale in South Australia.
With its blend of heritage and modernity, d’Arenberg embodies the spirit of South Australia’s wine region that stretches from its capital city, Adelaide, through Barossa, Clare Valley, Coonawarra, and all the way to the wonderfully secluded Kangaroo Island. Unlike the highly commercial and glamorised Napa Valley, South Australia’s wine country is diverse, quirky and free-spirited. Its 18 unique regions are steeped in history yet resolutely modern; charmingly casual but sophisticated. Last year, Adelaide was inducted into the Great Wine Capitals group—a global network of nine other renowned wine regions, including Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Rioja, Cape Town, Rheinhessen, Mendoza, Porto, Verona and Valparaiso.
Although Australia’s wines are oft labelled “New World”, some of the vineyards in South Australia were started way back in the 19th century. A journey through this expansive region offers hills and valleys, bushland and coastlines that, together, make up the diverse terroir that yields fruit ranging from Shiraz, Pinot Noir, and Riesling, to Rousanne and Tempranillo. To fully enjoy the sunny skies and cooler climes, sip through the region from March to May or September to November.
Once a quiet city compared to the likes of Sydney and Melbourne, Adelaide has been making headlines for its foodie culture. It’s hard not to, given its 200 cellar doors just within short drives from its central business district. This is where we begin our gourmet adventures in South Australia. Hire a vintage Jaguar E Type convertible for that extra flair or a chauffeured 1965 Daimler if you have limited time between cellar doors. Classic car lovers can begin the trip in September with a visit to the swish and breezy Bay to Birdwood vintage and classic cars event for aficionados. Then zip on to the National Wine Centre of Australia where you can sample 120 different wines in the country’s largest tasting room.
At dusk, make your way to Orana where chef Jock Zonfrillo conjures magic with the studied use of native Australian and bush ingredients such as wattle seed, lilly pilly and beach succulents. The 18 to 20-course menu is stellar throughout—a rarity for any degustation meal these days.
A trip to Adelaide is not complete without spending some time at Penfolds’ Magill Estate. Enjoy brunch at Magill Estate Kitchen with views of the historic Penfolds vines, followed by a tasting at the cellar door. Return in the evening to the chic Magill Estate Restaurant for their tasting menu and a bottle of Grange.
McLaren Vale is all about the panorama. One of Australia’s oldest wine regions, this town is blessed with vineyards on rolling hills looking over St Vincent’s Gulf. Farmers here grow olives, almonds, quinces and pears very well. Pick up a bottle of first run extra virgin olive oil along with a case of the legendary Joseph Double Pruned Cab Sauv 2009 at the Primo Estate cellar door. Double pruning is a technique pioneered by Joe Grilli, Primo Estate’s owner and winemaker, in order to make an elegant and finely textured wine from vines grown in a warm climate. The vines are pruned twice; the primary crop completely removed to produce a second crop of small berried grapes that ripen well into late autumn.
At d’Arenberg, fourth-generation owner and winemaker Chester Osborn creates wines with quirky, flamboyant names such as The Feral Fox, The Daddy Long Legs or The Old Bloke & The Three Young Blondes—all of which have intriguing back stories to their namesakes. The insouciance of this brand belies the rich heritage of the d’Arenberg estate and business that started in 1912.
Since early 2016, this family-owned wine business has been making headlines globally for the construction of its d’Arenberg Cube, an AUD14-million glass-encased structure that resembles the Rubik’s Cube. The Cube is slated to house a restaurant, an art installation room, tasting rooms and more. It will co-exist with the current 19th century homestead with its cosy cellar door and the iconic d’Arry’s Verandah Restaurant—all overlooking the McLaren Vale hills and coastline.
Check into the Beresford Homestead for the night, or the week, where the art-filled villa offers a personal concierge, chef and chauffeur at your request. From helicopter transfers to private yoga and pilates instructors, to a massage therapist on call, your wine tour in the region can be as grand and indulgent as you wish.
With its 150 wineries, Barossa has some of the biggest names in Australian wine. Penfolds Grange is produced in its winery here, where visitors can have a taste. There is Henschke of the historic Hill of Grace vineyards fame. Fifth generation family-owned and run since 1868, the label completed its 149th vintage last year. Barossa is also known for its “liquid sunshine”, or fortified wine. Seppeltsfield Winery produces a sublime 100-year-old Para Vintage Tawny in its bluestone cellars. You can even sample a vintage from the year of your birth.
One should not pass through Barossa without stopping by Hentley Farm’s restaurant—the sort of foodie mecca that also happens to be at a winery. Head chef Lachlan Colwill runs a progressive kitchen that uses produce harvested from the farm’s 150 acres such as herbs, vegetables and fruit grown in their gardens and orchard, as well as foraged wild ingredients.
Check into The Louise for a couple of nights in a suite with your own private terrace view of the vineyards, and wake up the next day at dawn to have a breakfast picnic with the kangeroos in the nearby conservation park. Then spend the afternoon learning how to blend your own wine in a winemaker’s masterclass. In the evening, ask the resort concierge to arrange a hot air balloon flight to watch the sunset in the sky.
Clare Valley to Coonawara
Before heading all the way south to Kangaroo Island where a weeklong stay at the Southern Ocean Lodge is a must, stop by Clare Valley which is known for its Rieslings. Cycle through the famous 36-km-long Riesling Trail that takes you from one cellar door to another. After lunch, pop by Coonawara, a small area known for its terra rossa soil (red soil with limestone) for this region’s renowned Cab Sauv. Once sated, hop on your private charter flight to Kangaroo Island where island adventure begins in style.
By Chongwan Tay