If you like your gourmet destinations a little sleepy but full of gourmet flavours then the Clare Valley might fit the bill, wine writer Winsor Dobbin reports.
If you are looking for a quintessentially Australian getaway with plenty of gourmet attractions, then the Clare Valley, just 45 minutes north of the Barossa, is well worth considering. Think gum trees, kangaroos, vineyards, quirky characters and country pubs in abundance. Known for its rolling hills, the Clare Valley consists of a string of villages along the Main North Road, and several off to the side. Locals joke that it is the perfect R&R destination: meaning rieslings and reds, which are the two signature wine styles, including at the Taylor Family Winery, one of the biggest family producers in South Australia and home to one of the most-visited cellar doors.
The region is known for its Riesling Trail, a former railway line that meanders through the vineyards and is hugely popular with walkers and cyclists. The 35-kilometre sealed track connects the townships of Auburn, Leasingham, Watervale, Penwortham, Sevenhill, Clare and White Hut. It is a segment of the 800-kilometre Mawson Trail for mountain bikers and is a fabulous way to experience the region's sleepy but characterful townships and history. Right on the trail is Sevenhill Cellars, which can date its history back to 1848, when a Jesuit priest fleeing persecution in Europe - Father Aloysius Kranewitter - landed in Adelaide and then headed north with a group of over one hundred German and Silesian migrants. His group decided to settle and, after purchasing one hundred acres of land in 1849, the young priest named the property Sevenhill in honour of the seven hills of Rome. The creation of gardens and orchards were prioritised along with the building of basic accommodation and the first grapevines were planted in 1851. Just five years later and the first wines of Sevenhill were produced and the Clare Valley wine industry was off to a winning start.
From Clare township in the north through Sevenhill and Watervale to Auburn in the south - you will find vineyards producing arguably Australia's greatest rieslings (Jeffrey Grosset is the most renowned producer, but also look out for names like Pikes, Pauletts, O’Leary Walker, Wines by KT and Limefinger). The Taylor family makes several outstanding rieslings with the St Andrews the flagship release.
Settlers from England and Ireland first moved into this region during the 1840s and several of their cottages remain intact. Vines were planted alongside those first villages and winemaking has continued since.
Picturesque villages such as Mintaro have interesting old stone and slate buildings and the region is dotted with atmospheric country pubs such as the Rising Sun at Auburn, the friendly Sevenhill Hotel, the beautifully renovated Watervale Hotel and the Magpie and Stump at Mintaro. The Clare is a working rural community; many farms and vineyards have been in the same families for generations. You are in the country, so do not expect city-slicker attitudes.
The region has long produced some of Australia’s best grain, beef, lamb, free-range eggs, seasonal fruit, and other produce. Today the range of products includes craft beer, traditional cider, hand-made chocolates, pasta, and extra virgin olive oil.
Star eateries include Seed in Clare township with a modern Australian menu and its own deli; the Watervale Hotel with both indoor and outdoor dining options, and Skillogalee, regarded as one of Australia's best winery restaurants and now under new ownership. Also check out Indii of Clare, Slate restaurant at Pikes, Bush Devine at Pauletts, Umbria, and Terroir Auburn.
Among the best times to visit has been late May, after the grape harvest, when the Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend celebrates local food and wine. It has been spread over three days, with many of the local wineries and restaurants hosting events, tastings, and music. The event is being re-imagined into a week-long event in 2022.
Most Clare Valley wineries are family-owned and there is a good chance of meeting the winemaker or viticulturist at the cellar door of the major venues such as at the Taylor family winery (Adam Eggins is an engaging fellow). Pikes’ 1870s cellar door and recent restaurant, Slate, overlook vines in the Polish Hill River valley. The Knappstein cellar door in the former Enterprise Brewery building is now also home to a microbrewery. Wendouree makes some of Australia's long-living reds and has cult status among aficionados but is open only by appointment.
There are small country markets most weekend with Auburn Market, on the third Sunday of each month, among the most popular. Also make time for a ride on the Clare Valley Model Engineers’ miniature trains. During the summer months, you can ride on the second and fourth Saturday of each month for gold coin fee. Also make time to visit Kapunda and Burra, which are heritage towns that began life as copper-mining outposts. Both have stone cottages and historic buildings. Kapunda, the former home of cattle baron Sir Sidney Kidman, is best known for its huge statue of miner Map Kernow (Son of Cornwall), which greets visitors as they drive into town. Burra is a beautifully preserved place. Its attractions include the former Redruth Gaol and the Monster Mine. In the 1850s, Burra was second only to Adelaide in population in South Australia.
The Clare Country Club and The Mill Apartments are among the most popular accommodation providers, but for those seeking self-catering privacy I can recommend Serendipity@7Hill, a modern home with contemporary design and open-plan living. Think three bedrooms, two bathrooms and plenty of garden space on which to enjoy a picnic. The Sevenhill Hotel and the Little Red Grape bakery are both just seconds away. There are also dozens of bed and breakfasts and furnished cottages from which to choose, many with cosy wood fires in winter. Or opt for Bungaree Station staying in historic buildings dating back to 1841 and exploring the station complex or enjoy the luxury and quirkiness of Bukirk Glamping, while offers bell tents and tiny homes. There are also several caravan parks from which to choose.
#Clare was recently named as 'Voters Choice' in South Australia's Top Tourism Town Awards.
For more details visit www.clarevalley.com.au