Overnight stays: Greenock Centenary Park, Greenock; McLaren Vale Lakeside Caravan Park, McLaren Vale; Coonawarra Bush Holiday Park, Comaum
South Australia is the undisputed home of Australian wine. There are more wine regions than fossil fuel power plants (fact), and all of the country’s biggest names in wine are there. Penfolds, Wolf Blass, Jacobs Creek etc.
But it wasn’t these big boys we were after – we were chasing quality gems, and with dad’s expert pallette providing remote recommendations on top of some already known rippers, we were pretty excited to check out the big regions, having had such a wonderful experience in Margaret River.
Before we arrived in Clare we passed through some beautiful little towns like Melrose and Gladstone, where the local Fair brought everyone out and about with bubbles, jumping castles, food stalls and an animal farm. Who knew The Lions Club could do doughnuts so well?
Our first winery visit was Sevenhill, set on stunning grounds with a beautiful stone church, and plenty of room to picnic and kick a footy. The service was outstandingly personable but the wines were a little lacking, with our taste buds slightly soured after expecting world-class Riesling, but getting just mediocre.
Kilikanoon, on the other hand, were ridiculously good. We didn’t taste a bad wine, and when we tasted their recently awarded ‘Best Shiraz in the World’ (or some ridiculous claim like that), we were convinced we wanted to buy everything. I reckon it’s one of the best tastes of red wine I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t have picked it, with a Clare’s reputation dominated by white.
Looking back, buying a bottle of this Shiryaz was a turning point for us. Prior to that, we were okay with one, maximum two bottles per winery, and we were after everyday drinking wines, that we would open along the way. It was clear we weren’t buying wines to cellar, until now.
As we walked out with a box full of wine, and a bank account in a hurry, this was the beginning of our new approach to buying wine on the Wombatical. We have barely opened a bottle all year, and had about 20 bottles in the back of the WomBatmobile from Margs, so buying for now clearly wasn’t required.
So from hereon-in, we were only looking for wines to keep under the house, or for 2014 vintage bangers in oversized formats, for Liv’s 21st.
It was pretty late in the day when we arrived into the tiny town of Greenock. But in an instant we were in love with the charm and character oozing from the handful of streets.
There’s a pub, cafe and a recently installed brewery that we patroned on dusk, where it seemed the entire town also wound down the day. The husband and wife owners were more hospitable than a hot water bottle on a cold night, and could cook a sausage platter better than anyone. And their beer was pretty great too.
We passed the following morning with a beautifully brewed coffee at the only cafe in town, before getting stuck into some serious wine tasting for the remainder of the day.
The Seppeltsfield carpark was almost full when we arrived on opening hours, almost like Pitt Street Myer on Boxing Day. The massive grounds with more business ventures than an aggressive venture capitalist told an early story that this business has too many products and not enough focus. And when we hit the tasting room we found the same with their wines – trying to do too much at the cost of quality. So, despite the beautiful spacious grounds with segues, bikes, cafes, restaurants and who knows what else, we left a little disheartened that perhaps The Barossa was too commercial for us.
Turkey Flat & Rockford
Back on the boutique wagon, we found plenty of hits and misses at both Turkey Flat and Rockford, offering plenty of opportunities to blow our single bottle purchase rule again out the window. Surprisingly, we were buying wines we didn’t expect to, such as Grenache and Pedro Ximinez, adding to our now completely indulgent and over-stocked under-the-backseat makeshift cellar.
As we left Rockford, ready to exit The Barossa, the lovely sales lady recommended one more stop, at Langmeil. I had tried one or two of their products way back when I was working in wine, but have to say they were pretty unmemorable at the time. But we were having fun being back in wine country, so figured we had time for one more.
This is for me the best winery in Australia. We not only liked, but absolutely adored every single one of their wines, from Chardonnay, Riesling, Shiraz, and through to Tawny, everything was so elegantly and beautifully made, just to our palettes.
So without hesitation, but knowing full well we already had too much wine (and more wine coming from the wine club we joined in Margs), we joined the wine club then and there. I felt like we didn’t have a choice, their wines were that bloody good.
And as we left on a massive high, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face – I had never felt so good about joining a club, and am so excited for the wines to arrive every few months.
Loz’s mum, like many from her generation, have a huge crush on Maggie Beer, and idolise her cooking. She recommended we check out her shop in The Barossa, for a unique experience and top quality products.
As soon as we entered, still on a Langmeil high, we were sold. The buzz was electric, with punters everywhere wandering around tasting all the products on offer, and filling their baskets quicker than a coal-loader fills Christmas stockings for stubborn parents’ whose kids call their December bluff.
It felt like we bought about one of everything, and it was all top shelf. Some of it we opened then and there for a quasi picnic lunch overlooking the duck and turtle filled pond.
Just as our entire South Australian leg felt, we rushed through The Barossa, and would have loved to spend a hell of a lot more time there. It’s definitely a place we want to return to, to check out more wineries, breweries, shops, towns and of course, Langmeil.
By this point of the trip we had blown our non-existent wine budget out of the water, and had more booze onboard than John Bonham. But we figured there wasn’t going to be many opportunities like this year, where we could visit all our favourite wine regions in one trip, and buy enough wine (and join wine clubs) to last a lifetime, so figured we were in the deep, why not keep digging?!
Yarraglen, on the way into town, was a bit hit and miss, although their Shiraz was a banger.
The drive into McLaren Vale was beautiful. It’s a tiny wine region, so super saturated with vines in a small area, which provides a super setting for the cute little in-town caravan park, where we settled in for the night.
Rodney the Redeemer
When I was setting up the motorhome, a bloke celebrating Happy Hour nearby asked how I was going, to which I replied that we were having a few electrical issues inside the van. Without thinking, he immediately nominated his travel buddy, Rodney, a sparky, to have a gander.
And so he did, Rodney entered the van, pretty drunk from a day’s tasting, but all the while willing to help, and he diagnosed our issues, even able to fix one particular one. What a legend, and a testament to some of the people you meet on the road. They then invited us over to join them for Happy Hour, of which we happily obliged, knowing full well these sorts of invitations are rare.
The show must go on
Wineries are so beautiful. They’re obviously set in stunning locations, surrounded by vines, but the buildings are also always so nice. Wirra Wirra, Chapel Hill and Samuel’s Gorge were no exception to this, and with some ripper wines offered between them, we were in a pretty good place when the morning came to an end. Along the way we had collected even more vino, and one novelty-sized 2014 Chapel Hill Shiraz/Cabernet for Liv’s 21st, an absolute banger of a wine.
d’Arengburg would have to be McLaren Vale’s most famous winery, and I reckon they’d produce about half of the product that comes out of this beautiful region.
Apparently their owner is a bit eccentric, and decided a while back that he wanted to do something beyond just the wine. And so came along The Cube.
Towering four stories above the surrounding vines, with weird chanting sounds pulsating through oversized outdoor speakers, we were immediately reminded of MONA in Hobart, which we absolutely loved. This wasn’t about the world famous d’Arenburg wines, this was a multi-sensory stimulating experience.
We paid our entrance fee and were asked to keep an open mind as we entered to a room covered in fake flowers and fruit, with sniff jars lining the walls, offering spray sniffs to anyone interested. Livvy absolutely loved this, and even more so when we passed into the next room playing a 360′ video of complete nonsensical mystery, completely captivating.
Into the lift to the top floor and you could see pretty much the entire McLaren Vale with 360′ views on offer while tasting your pick of way too many wines. By this stage we were pretty much done with wine tasting, but equally fascinated by this weird and wonderful oddity.
Not to be outdone, a visit to the toilets is an experience in itself in The Cube, with comical cubicles and forest-covered doors. Even the fire escapes were a ‘thing’, tripping you out with all sorts of colours and mirrors. I reckon an actual fire in that building would cause chaos!
We were totally shagged and as we wound down towards the south of the south towards Kangaroo Island, we agreed we were probably done for wineries now. At least that’s what we thought.
I remember years ago, when I was working in wine and basically getting an endless supply of premium stuff for free, smashing through a carton of Bremerton Cabernet like it was going out of fashion. It was a super premium wine, but I must have paid a pittance for it, because we were drinking it quicker than Mark Latham changes political parties. It was absolutely delicious, so, knowing we wouldn’t be passing through Langhorne Creek again anytime soon, I convinced Loz that maybe we could manage one or two more tastings on the Wombatical.
Just as I remembered, the wines were top shelf. So good that we again joined a wine club, oh dear, that’s three now. But we had always said, that if we loved every wine on offer, we obviously loved the winemaker, so should join the wine club. Again, I can’t wait to to get a box of wine delivered every few months, and now we would have a great variety from different regions.
Loz was completely done with wineries by the time we arrived at Coonawarra, and understandably so, given we’d been to I reckon close to 20 in the past fortnight. But she is lovely enough to tag along, with the little legend Liv, who has been an understated trooper through our entire winery trail, while I assured this to be our last wine region of the trip, at least for SA 😜.
We found an awesome caravan park just out of town, right next to vineyards, where firewood was hand delivered and the atmosphere was awesome. Knowing it was our final night in SA, we embraced it for all it was, and reflected on the surprising state that had blown away our past month or so.
Knowing we had some distance to cover, we got on the winery wagon early the following morning, visiting the disappointing Brands Laira and excellent Wynns, before finally calling time.
To be honest we don’t really drink much alcohol these days. When we worked in wine it wasn’t uncommon to open a bottle every night or so, but over the years that’s wound right down to a glass here or bottle there. This year especially we have probably drunk less than usual as well, especially wine.
But knowing we love good wine and it holds well if treated well, we had so so much fun driving around the beautiful wine regions of South Australia. It is unquestionably the home of Aussie vino, and we are stoked to come home with amazing physical representations of our time there.
As we checked out the impressive Blue Lake and Umpherston Sinkhole in Mount Gambier we tried to mentally count all the wineries we had visited, bottles bought, and dollars spent. But reflecting on it, it’s not about that, it’s really about the amazing times we had doing an activity we value – and we’re hoping those memories and stories flood back to us every time we receive a box of wine on our front door.