5 Lesser-Known South Australia Wine Regions

February 14, 2013 by

Australia & the Pacific, Food, Drink & Travel, Wine Tasting

While most people have heard of the Barossa Valley, South Australia has many other lesser-known yet worthwhile wine regions to explore. Experiences like fine chocolate and wine pairings, biking vineyard trails, wine gallery browsing and artisanal cheese and wine sampling are possible in these off the beaten path wine destinations.

1. Adelaide Hills

Located less than 30 minutes from the city of Adelaide, Adelaide Hills is full of boutique wineries, views of the Mount Lofty Ranges, epicurious experiences and a charming country atmosphere. While the Barossa Valley wine region is known for its old-vine Shiraz and hot continental climate varietals, Adelaide Hills enjoys a cooler climate. This gives way to brilliant Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as an unusual type of Shiraz that is much spicier than that found in the Barossa.

Why Go

Mount Lofty

View from Mount Lofty. Photo credit: David Gardiner via Flickr.

Your first stop when heading to Adelaide Hills should be the Mount Lofty Summit Restaurant & Cafe. Along with enjoying delicious food, visitors will find themselves 2,330 feet above sea level taking in panoramic views of the valley and beyond.

Adelaide Hills boasts more than 50 cellar doors and over 90 wine labels, all from boutique wineries. The area itself is one of the largest wine regions in the country and one of the most diverse when looking at soil, climate and terrain. In fact, Adelaide Hills includes two sub-regions, Lenswood and Piccadilly Valley, as well as numerous villages and towns including Birdwood, Hahndorf, Kuitpo, Lobethal, Macclesfield, Mount Barker, Norton Summit, Stirling and Woodside.

You’ll be able to enjoy some of Australia’s coolest wines – literally – while enjoying a picnic lunch in the vines and getting one-on-one time with the winemakers. The most unique epicurious experience to have in Adelaide Hills is ChocoVino at Hahndorf Hill Winery. The winery is all about being biodynamic and sustainable, working with nature instead of against it. To enhance the wine tasting experience, they offer visitors the chance to pair select varietals with fine chocolate. What many people don’t realize is, like wine, gourmet chocolate reflects the place in which it was made.

You’ll first receive a treasure box containing a raw cacao bean, apple slices and two squares of fine chocolate, Haigh’s Milk from Ghana and Papua New Guinea and Daintree Estates Mill from Queensland. You’ll then be taught the proper way to taste chocolate using all five sense: look at it’s glossy sheen, touch its cool surface, listen to it snap as you break it in half, smell the newly jagged edges and taste the layers as they unfold on your tongue. From there you’ll choose your pairing from the menu, which will allow you sample a variety of fine chocolates and wines, each pre-paired but served at once so you can mix and match. The experience is done in their ViewTube, a space with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the vineyards.

Another vineyard and winery not to be missed in Adelaide Hills is Lobethal Road. You’ll be greeted by their pudgy Jack Russell, Flynn, as you enter the charming mud-brick cellar door. If it’s cold out you can relax by the fire with a glass of Shiraz while warmer weather will allow for a picnic lunch in the garden. As soon as you order their picnic lunch, you’ll realize why Flynn is so fat. They offer a plethora of cheeses including Udder Delights Brie cheese, Adelaide blue, Pepato, aged cheddar and peppercorn cheddar, as well as anchovies, olives, pickles, chèvre, salmon pâté, mackerel, priscutto, salami, sausage, hummus, skordalia, fresh garden vegetables, sweet cherries, crackers and fresh, hearty breads.

Of course, the meal should be paired with wines, since that’s what Lobethal Road is known for. The family-owned vineyard produces a range of varietals, including Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz and a sparkling white. What’s clear when sipping any of their wines – whether it be the Nashi-pear scented Pinot Gris or the Shiraz with flavors of plum and berry fruits – is the winemakers allow the fruit to speak for themselves with very little unnatural influence, giving the vinos a true sense of terroir.

And for those who enjoy a good cheese and wine pairing, head to Rockbare Cellar Door. Located in a historic building on the main street of Hahndorf, the cellar door offers two different wine experiences. The first is a free tasting of their entire range of wines including RockBare Wines, Mojo by RockBare and Alta Vineyards. The other is the “RockBare Experience,” which is $5 and consists of a more structured tasting with four wines matched with cheese and olives. If it’s sunny, sit in the courtyard during the summer with a glass of wine or fresh coffee and a cheese platter, or cozy up by their fireplace in the winter.

Beyond Wine

Kangaroo

Find kangaroos and other wildlife at Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary

Along with excellent wine, the area also holds a rich history. While the Peramangk Aboriginal people were the first to settle the hills, Europeans came in 1837, only a year after South Australia itself was established. One place to experience this early culture is a visit to the heritage-listed German town of Hahndorf. Established in 1839, it’s authentic with many of the locals being descents of the original settlers.

As a major German practice is to source goods and ingredients locally, the town is full of artisanal shops and sustainable businesses. At Max Noske & Son Country Meat Butcher they smoke their own meats and sell fresh free-range products like black & white pudding, Munchner weisswurst and Hahndorf viennas. Additionally, the whimsical Farm Gate Providore immerses visitors in a world of artisanal goodies like colorful macaroons, chocolate-dipped cherries, fluffy cakes and fresh baked breads. At Coco Marie, organic and chemical-free beauty and bath products like lotions, salts and scrubs can be sampled.

For those who want to interact with Australia’s animals, Adelaide Hills is home to numerous opportunities, like the Cleland Wildlife Park, Gorge Wildlife Park, Saunders Gorge Sanctuary and Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary. For your best chance at spotting wildlife, the two parks are usually a sure bet. At Gorge Wildlife Park you’ll be immersed in 14 acres of land with the possibility to spot kangaroos, wombats, alligators, monkeys and otters, as well as hold a koala. Meanwhile, Cleland Wildlife Park is home to 130 native Australian species, like the rare Yellow-footed Rock wallaby, Tasmanian devils, wombats and reptiles.

And for those who would rather sip beer than wine, Adelaide Hills is home to numerous craft breweries. Lobethal Bierhaus features all-grain microbrews, a cellar door and tasting room and a restaurant featuring locally-sourced foods and brew pairing. Additionally, Grumpy’s Brewhaus serves traditional European brews made with imported malts and hops and local Mount Lofty water. And at Gulf Brewery, boutique beers are produced in their cellar door and can be sampled along with artisanal cheeses, local meats and olives.

2. Kangaroo Island

A short 40-minute flight, a Kangaroo Island day trip from Adelaide is definitely doable. Although it is easily accessible and offers much in terms of wildlife, beautiful beaches and world-class wines, the destination remains largely untouched, making it even more appealing. For a great view of the island, climb to the top of Prospect Hill – Kangaroo Island’s highest point – by walking up 512 wooden steps. It’s worth it, as the top awards views of Pelican Lagoon, Pennington Bay, American River, the Southern Ocean and sometimes even Mount Lofty in the Adelaide Hills.

Why Go

While grape vines have been growing on Kangaroo Island since 1837, it wasn’t until 2001 that it was declared an official wine region. Today, there are 30 growers and 200 hectares of vineyards. The temperate climate of the island allows for slow ripening grapes, which leads to wines with vivid colors and intense fruit flavors. Whether you choose to partake in one of the wine trails or just visit cellar doors on your own, expect sustainable varietals and quality over quantity.

For something a bit quirky, Chapman River Wines houses their cellar door in a converted aircraft hanger. The space, which doubles as an art gallery, showcases a range of “Happiness” wines by the glass, bottle and box. While they make a Chardonnay, Rose, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Shiraz, their most interesting blend is a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Shiraz. Barreled in American Oak, the wine has a soft texture and chocolatey aftertaste. Their wines pair well with the homemade local cuisine they offer, like pan-friend Kangaroo Island Haloumi, house made Watermelon Chutney, Zesty Mixed Berry Jam, fresh baked Turkish bread and decadent desserts like homemade Lemon Curd Cheesecake and Mixed Berry Bakewell Tart.

One of the top-rated wineries on the island is The Islander Estate Vineyards. Jacques Lurton is a legendary Bordeaux winemaker and brings his traditional methods to Kangaroo Island. In fact, he has more than 60 vintages in 25 wine regions and 10 countries around the globe. He moved his practice to Kangaroo Island after falling in love with its natural beauty and potential for winemaking, and now resides there with 25 acres of vineyard to make use of. The minimalist winery has a series of four and eight-ton concrete fermenters that Jacques imported directly from his homeland of Bordeaux.

At Emu Ridge Eucalyptus, you can partake in tastings of local varietals from Rookery Wines and Kangaroo Island Ciders while also enjoying the onsite art gallery and learning about traditionally-made 100% pure Australian Eucalyptus oil. The space is also a refuge for orphaned animals like kangaroos and birds, and you can admire the adorable wildlife while sipping robust, intensely-fruity wines. One of the bigger producers, they have over 15 bottles ranging from Shiraz and Riesling to Petit Verdot and Saperavi.

Beyond Wine

One main reason to visit Kangaroo Island is the opportunities for wildlife touring. On Kangaroo Island you can swim with dolphins, go whale watching, spot kangaroos and emus, hold koalas, visit a Little Penguin colony, watch a live pelican feeding or photograph over 250 bird species.

For those with a sweet tooth, Kangaroo Island is home to the world’s purest Ligurian honey. Endemically, the island doesn’t have honeybees; however, in the 1880s Ligurian honeybees were brought over from Italy. Because they don’t have any other bees to crossbreed with, the honey they produce is pure Ligurian honey. While it can be found at restaurants and spas throughout the island, Clifford’s Honey Farm is a sure way to immerse yourself in the honey culture of the island. Along with learning about the honey and seeing the bees at work, you can sample honey-inspired candy, ice cream, cosmetics, candles, wines and drinks.

Southern Ocean Lodge

Southern Ocean Lodge. Photo credit: Ralph Bestic via Flickr.

While many people picture the Caribbean or Mexico when they think of white sand beaches and crystal waters, Kangaroo Island is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking beaches. One of the best is at Stokes Bay. You’ll shimmy through honeycombed rock formations and caves until you come to a pristine beach with a natural rock pool, clear waters and soft sand. And for those staying at the luxurious Southern Ocean Lodge with floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the property and rooms, you’ll have a front row seat to the coastal views of Hanson Bay Beach and the Southern Ocean. You can walk down onto the beach, swim in the crystal waters or admire the unworldly rock formations.

And for those who want something stronger than wine, Kangaroo Island Spirits is South Australia’s only boutique distillery. They source their many of their ingredients locally, like fennel, ligurian honey and native juniper berries, and offer tours and tasting of their liqueurs and spirits. You can also order a creamy affogato, house liqueur served over a scoop of ice cream.

Read more about Kangaroo Island: South Australia’s Foodie Paradise and Wildlife Haven

3. Coonawarra

Located on South Australia’s Limestone Coast, about 230 miles from Adelaide and 270 miles from Melbourne, the Coonawarra is often referred to as Australia’s “Red Wine Centre.” Their most prominent varietal is Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, close to two-thirds of the vineyards planted are Cabernet, one quarter Shiraz, and the majority of the remainder Merlot.The area was used solely for sheep grazing until 1891 when a farmer noticed a patch of red soil, which is now the foundation of the Coonawarra’s fine varietals. While red wine is the main drawing point, the area’s relaxed accommodation, authentic restaurants and artisanal food producers add to the pleasantly simple ambiance.

Why Go

Wynns Coonawarra

Wynns Coonawarra. Photo credit: Alpha via Flickr.

The Coonawarra’s successful red growing region can be attributed to its rich red Terra Rossa soil, cool southerly climate, long ripening season, pure underground water and abundant limestone. Although small in size, 8 miles long and 1 mile wide, the entire space is covered in lush vineyards and is home to more than 24 cellar doors.

The heritage-listed Wynns Coonawarra Estate is thought of as the founder of the Coonawarra, with their vines being planted in 1891. Today, it is the “largest single vineyard holder on Terra Rossa soil.” For those who want to be a winemaker for a day, Wynns Coonawarra Estate offers a “Make Your Own Blend Experience.” Visitors can head into the wine lab to mix and test different percentages of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot until they create the formula they enjoy. Once the blend is perfect, winemakers can make personalized bottles for their wine. If you want to simply relax and sample already-made blends, Wynns Coonawarra Estate offers tours and tastings to visitors. Make sure to sample their flagship wines, the John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon and the Michael Shiraz.

Established in 2002, The Menzies Wine Room was created by the Barossa Valley’s Yalumba Winery, Australia’s oldest and largest family-owned winery, in order to explore the benefits of the Coonawarra’s rich Terra Rossa soil. The winery echos the area’s idyllic setting while also having a prestigious name backing it, which is obvious once you sample one of their varietals or wines from other Yalumba vineyards. For those who want to spend the night in the heart of the Coonawarra, the winery also offers accommodation with spacious rooms, comfortable beds and sweeping vineyard views. If you’re looking for a rare back vintage, like The Menzies Cabernet Sauvignon, this is one of the few places it is available for purchase.

For a mixed experience, the Coonawarra Wine Gallery features some of the area’s most prominent labels, including Mildara, Jamieson’s Run, Rouge Homme and the Lindemans Trio, all under one roof. It’s also budget-friendly, as groups of less than 10 will enjoy free tastings. Also included in the experience is tea and coffee, cheese plates and ales to cleanse your palate.

Beyond Wine

Penola

Penola. Photo credit: Alpha via Flickr.

While there isn’t too much in the Coonawarra Valley aside for world-class wine offerings, the town of Penola does offer a few non-wine experiences.

Before going wine tasting, your first stop should be The John Riddoch Centre, as you’ll learn about the history of the valley, its winemaking culture and the founder of the regions vineyards, Mr. John Riddoch himself. There is also an art gallery showcasing some award-winning works.

There are also a few parks to take a leisurely stroll, including Penola Conservation Park,  Penola Forest Information Bay and Arboretum and Greenrise Lake Recreation Ground. If you’d rather look at historical architecture, Sharam’s Cottage was built in 1850 and is Penola’s first house. Additionally, Woods MacKillop School House was used from 1867 to 1885, although it still sits in the same place today. Meanwhile, Yallum Park was constructed between 1878 and 1880 and is a grand Victorian mansion with well-manicured gardens.

And for one of the best meals of your life, the award-winning Pipers of Penola is in the Restaurant & Catering Awards hall of fame. While the outside is unassuming – the eatery is housed in an 110-year-old church – the inside is stylish and contemporary with a menu featuring innovative dishes and locally-sourced ingredients. Some of their tastiest dishes include a tender oak-smoked rack of pork with caraway cabbage, orange, bean shoot salad and satay dressing, melt-in-your mouth asparagus and parmesan tortellini with sautéed baby spring vegetables, corn velouté and truffled parmesan and fresh seared Atlantic salmon with house made lardons, braised green beans, roasted capsicum slaw and lemon and tahini dressing.

4. Clare Valley

South Australia’s Clare Valley is located two hours from Adelaide. While many wine regions in South Australia are renowned for their reds, Clare Valley is actually known for their Riesling. In fact, it is home to one of South Australia’s first rail trails, the 22-mile Riesling Trail. The route, which takes you to some of the area’s most prominent Riesling makers, is wheelchair-accessible, as well as suitable for hiking or biking.

It’s interesting to note the Clare Valley isn’t actually a valley, but more of an elevated plateau of sub-valleys. Their elevation makes for excellent cool climate grape growing leading to wines with natural acidities and intense flavors.

Why Go

Clare Valley

Clare Valley. Photo credit: Katie Hannan via Flickr.

The secluded Clare Valley is home to an array of experiences, from exploring national parks to perusing charming art galleries and informational museums to unique heritage sites. It’s a slow-paced area, where small businesses care about quality over quantity and locals don’t mind taking a two hour lunch, especially when the food is paired with a fine wine. And with more than 40 cellar doors, there are many bottles to choose from.

For a great view, Mt Surmon Wines sits on top of a 1,312-foot hill overlooking the valley. They began planting their 50-acres of vineyard in 1995, including varieties that were unusual at that time like Pinot Gris, Nebbiolo and Viognier. Today, the biodynamic winery also houses an art gallery as well as a lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows to take in the views while sipping wine and noshing on artisanal food platters. Moreover, you know any money spent is going to a good cause as the boutique winery supports an array of charities in the area.

For a historical and spiritual wine experience, Sevenhill Cellars is the oldest winery in region. It was built by the Society of Jesus in 1851, with the purpose of making sacramental wine, which is still does. In fact, Sevenhill Cellars is the only Jesuit-owned winery in Australia today. Visitors can also enjoy free samples of high-quality table wines in their cellar, or visit the crypt under the on-site church.

Moreover, Annie’s Lane is best known for her plum, spicy full-flavored Shiraz. What really makes this stop worthwhile is its combination of fine wine and local art, as the venue also features a gallery of local works. If you’re curious about the winemaking process, an onsite museum can help you learn more.

And for those who like a mix of wine and beer, Knappstein Winery showcases a microbrewery in their wine cellar. The heritage-listed building began as the Enterprise Brewery in 1878. It became a winery in 1974 and in 2006 restored its heritage with a full microbrewery. Visitors can sample a range of wines, including their single vineyard varietals of Knappstein Ackland Vineyard Riesling and Knappstein Enterprise Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. As for beer, they feature a Bavarian-style Knappstein Reserve Lager made with natural ingredients and featuring tastes of citrus and a notably bitter finish.

Beyond Wine

While only 25 miles long, Clare Valley is home to an array of experiences. For those who want to get outdoors, numerous conversation parks litter the area. Red Banks Conservation Park  showcases some of the richest “megafauna” landscapes in Australia, while Mokota Conservation Park is home to 28 animal species, including a rare butterfly known as the White Spotted Skipper. Moreover, Spring Gully Conservation Park cares for South Australia’s only remaining red stringybarks, while also providing visitors with beautiful views across the Adelaide Plains.

Burra Mine

Burra Mine. Photo credit: ben britten via Flickr.

The state heritage-listed Burra Mine Site or “Monster Mine” is also a popular attraction. Originally, it was a single company mining township that grew into a township collective, becoming the largest metal mine in Australia by the 1850s. Today the site is an open-air museum of the well-preserved town and mine. You’ll see surviving chimneys, old miners’ cottages and original mining buildings.

Clare Valley is also well-known for its fresh produce and farmers markets. Fruits it’s famous for include pears, currants, prunes almonds and apricots, so make sure to sample some of these regional specialties. You can also get a fresh taste of the area at Wild Saffron, a gourmet food store with artisan jams, chutneys, relishes, condiments, dukkahs, oils, pastas and more. They also feature an array of international and South Australia cheeses.  Weekends are best if you want to explore the markets, which include Clare Valley Food, Wine and Art Market, Clare Showgrounds Country Market, Sevenhill Producer’s Market and The Auburn Gourmet Market.

5. McLaren Vale

McLaren Vale winery

McLaren Vale winery. Photo credit: Glen Hayley via Flickr.

Located about 22 miles south of Adelaide, McLaren Vale Winery tours take you through more than 70 cellar doors and 40 cafes and restaurants. The region’s warm climate means you should opt for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Grenache for the best varietals, although McLaren Vale also produces excellent Viognier, Marsanne, Tempranillo, Rousanne Sangiovese and Barbera. Due to its beautiful scenery and many cellar doors, McLaren Vale makes for a great wine drive or day trip from Adelaide, as it’s less than an hour’s drive. Moreover, many of its wineries offer epicurious experiences that go beyond wine, such as chocolate, cheese and olive oil tasting.

For a great view and wine tasting, head to Hugh Hamilton Winery. The winery offers an almost 360 degree view of McLaren Vale from their elevated location,and you can enjoy the scenery while sipping estate grown varietals. Their wines are made to be complex and thought provoking. Try their energetic “The Scoundrel” Tempranillo, with flavors of cherries, raspberries and Asian spice or their zesty “The Trickster” Pinot Grigio, which tastes of apples, lemon grass and a spicy finish. They also often put out samples of their fresh produce, salts and spreads, which is fun to pair with the different vinos.

d’Arenberg is one of Australia’s most well-known wineries and is even sold internationally. Visitors can sample over 30 wines or opt to take part in one of their unique experiences. Create your own blend with “The Blending Bench – The Experience Of A Winemaker” or enjoy a one hour structured tasting session in their 19th century stables.

And for those who want to see how their wines pair with food, there are many wineries in the area offering this experience. While Chapel Hill offers wine and dukkah tastings, Primo Estate will help you pair vinos with their artisanal olive oils. Moreover, Dowie Doole leads visitors through wine with an array of cheeses and lavash, Maximus Wines features tastings with handcrafted chocolate as well as carefully aged cheeses and fresh fruit.

Beyond Wine

Port Willunga

Port Willunga. Photo credit: Stephan Ridgway via Flickr.

While going to the beach in wine country isn’t something you hear about everyday, it’s something you should do while in McLaren Vale. At sunrise, head the Port Willunga to take a walk along the peak and see the bright yellow rays reach over the jagged cliff tops and dolphins jumping out of the waves. It’s a popular beach for snorkeling and diving – especially for those diving the Star of Greece wreck. If you decide to go closer to lunch time, stop in for a bite at the beachside Star of Greece restaurant for fresh seafood and beautiful views.

For a the active traveler who wants a range of focuses in one experience, the Coast To Vines Rail Trail offers culture, history and nature. It runs for about 22 miles along the original steam train tracks that ran from Adelaide to Willunga until 1969. For a taste of the outdoors, trekkers will experience the Coastal Cliff Walk between Marino and Hallett Cove, visiting various conservation and heritage parks like Sandison Reserve Geological Site, John Reynell Heritage Park and Moana Sands Conservation Park. Heritage and culture come into play once you reach the historic towns of Old Reynella, Old Noarlunga, McLaren Vale and Willunga, as well as the indigenous Kaurna heritage sites found in Onkaparinga River Recreation Park. At Trott Park, take in views of the distant Adelaide Plains.

Beer lovers will enjoy the McLaren Vale Beer Company, which started with just one beer in 2008, their VALE/ALE. Today, they’ve expanded to also feature a VALE/LGR, VALE/IPA and VALE/DRK. You can enjoy local and craft beers as well as delicious food at the onsite VALE/INN Taphouse & Kitchen. Try their VALE/INN Burger with a side of hop-salted potatoes, local market fish served with crisp VALE/ALE batter, or a marinated sirloin steak dipping in a VALE/DRK BBQ sauce with fries. All main courses on the menu are listed with a suggested beer pairing.

Book a wine tasting tour in South Australia

 - Jessica Festa

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