IT MAY BE FAMOUS AS A WINE REGION, BUT MCLAREN VALE’S SUNKISSED BUSHLAND, GOLDEN FIELDS AND PAINTED SEA CLIFFS MEAN THERE’S PLENTY TO DO BEYOND THE CELLAR DOORS. TAKE A LEISURELY WEEKEND IN THIS BOUNTIFUL VALLEY JUST 40 MINUTES FROM ADELAIDE, AND INDULGE IN A FEAST FOR THE SENSES.
WORDS: Alexis Buxton-Collins
9AM WILLUNGA FARMERS MARKETS
Regulars come all the way from Adelaide for this Saturday morning market that serves as a weekly pilgrimage for local chefs and the culinarily challenged alike. Follow your nose to the locally roasted coffee, then listen to the buskers as you wander through more than 80 stalls selling everything from mushrooms and seafood to cheese, pâté and delectable baked goods. When you start to get peckish, you won’t find a better breakfast than Little Acre’s 12 hour smoked brisket and pickle toastie.
11AM HITHER & YON
A short stroll from the market, this cute 1860s butcher shop has been transformed into an intimate showroom for the Leask Brothers’ wines. Original slate floors and whitewashed limestone walls contrast with bottles adorned by colourful designs. Open them up and you’ll find a range of zesty whites and juicy reds with a hint of spice – then all that’s left to do is pour a glass of wine, and debate whether the aroma or colour of the ever-popular rosé bears a stronger resemblance to Turkish delight.
12PM ADELAIDE BIPLANES
Still easing into the day? A scenic flight in the open cockpit of a vintage biplane will fix that. Once you’re soaring high above the region in an original 1940s Tiger Moth, you’ll have the perfect vantage point to gawk at the rows of breakers rolling towards pristine beaches of golden sand, and shimmering fields of grain on the slopes leading to the verdant Mount Lofty Ranges.
1PM STAR OF GREECE
From the air, the entire coastline looks spectacular but gorgeous Port Willunga emits a siren call all of its own. Poised above the glittering waters of Gulf St Vincent, the deck at this clifftop restaurant also looks out over a neighbouring property that supplies olive oil perfect for drizzling on thick hunks of bread. Local pork, beef, vegetables and dairy all find their place in the vibrant modern Oz menu, and the Kangaroo Island squid and King George whiting are permanent fixtures.
Picture: Ellen Morgan
3PM BRASH HIGGINS
Since vines were first planted in McLaren Vale in 1838 (almost a decade before the Barossa), English and then Italian winemakers have made the region synonymous with complex reds and lighter Mediterranean styles. But it’s Brash Higgins, a garrulous minimal intervention American label from winemaker Brad Hickey that’s leading the next wave. Call ahead to secure a tasting with Brad himself – once you have a taste of his bright, aromatic wines, like the show-stopping zibibbo, you’ll see why he’s so highly regarded.
5PM VINEYARD RETREAT
Armed with the day’s supplies, bring a picnic back to The Vineyard Mclaren Vale, a luxury retreat located in the foothills of the vale (and don’t worry if you forget to stock up – a minibar stocked with local food and drinks is included in the tariff). The sleek accommodation pods and plush wooden cabins all have decks overlooking the surrounding shiraz and grenache vines. The 1200 thread count sheets and combustion heaters make it tempting to stay inside but sunset is best enjoyed from the hilltop jacuzzi.
10AM ONKAPARINGA RIVER NATIONAL PARK
After a leisurely start, head to the northern end of McLaren Vale where the Onkaparinga River cuts a narrow gorge through a well-preserved pocket of remnant scrub. Walk through a forest of stately pink gums and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the orange-stained siltstone walls lining the gorge. Closer to ground level, you might spot echidnas and bandicoots among the carnivorous sundew plants and multitude of colourful native orchids lining the path.
12PM SALOPIAN INN
After your morning walk, reward yourself at this welcoming 1850s cottage in the very centre of the region. The Salopian Inn’s seasonal menu includes a hand drawn map of the fertile kitchen garden, and any produce not grown there is sourced as locally as possible. Opt for the “feed me” menu to be plied with Asian-influenced dishes including dumplings stuffed with wild caught prawns, and the legendary braised roo tail. Even if you’re not after a bottle of red, it’s worth heading downstairs to explore the historic cellar.
2PM GEMTREE WINES
McLaren Vale is renowned as Australia’s most sustainable winegrowing region and Mike and Melissa Brown from Gemtree Wines have been leading the charge. Visit their cellar door to see how their punchy, full-flavoured wines pay back the love lavished on the vineyards, and then get a crash course in biodynamic farming at the sustainable cellar door. Afterwards, take a stroll through their Eco-trail and admire the six connected dams feeding more than 50,000 native trees and shrubs.
4PM NEVER NEVER
As the weekend draws to a close, make one last stop at this magnificent hilltop distillery boasting views over the entire region. Enjoy a flight of three gins with tonics and garnishes chosen by the distillers, and you’ll discover why their clean, crisp spirits have been named the best in the world (more than once). Then, take in the sunset from the lawns that sprawl around the handsome distillery door before heading back up the Southern Expressway to Adelaide – gin in tow, of course.
Picture: Meaghan Coles