Editor’s Note: From our contributor in Adelaide, a travel article about a leisurely retreat to the wine country of the Clare Valley in South Australia.
“The Clare Valley is just like the Barossa…” he says to me as we stand in the lobby of what can only be described as an iron shed, “35 years ago”.
The shed in which we stand is the simple store for a Sugar Shack Soaps, a soap making outfit which is plonked down one of the various side streets of Clare. My wife and I have a brief discussion with him about the various reasons why the Clare Valley seems comparatively quiet with that other renowned region of South Australia, before concluding that it probably is because of the extra time needed to reach this quiet corner of the state.
Not that the Barossa is an earth-shatteringly noisy part of the world. It’s certainly a popular destination for people on a day trip from Adelaide, but the sedate pace of Clare and the surrounding towns is perfect for a brief escape for a few days to refresh ourselves.
There is certainly no shortage of wineries.
Riesling is the variety of wine that appears on most tasting selections, although Cabernet and Shiraz do feature quite regularly. That is not to say that the area is devoid of uniqueness with some wineries offering a Tempranillo, a variety that I had never heard of before.
The Clare Valley certainly has some big establishments for wines, but if you wander a little further away from Main North Road, there are some smaller ones and even micro breweries awaiting.
Our first stop is a prominent winery just on the cusp of a small town called Leasingham. Turning down a side road of the unassuming little town and driving for a minute or two reveals the imposing structure of Taylors Wines.
Stepping into the tasting room, we are greeted by a timber bar in front of a large pane of glass. Winery workers in high visibility tops scurry behind the window, dwarfed by the massive tanks featuring pipes twisting away to distant, wondrous places. A lady behind the counter welcomes my questions eagerly, casually remarking that the winery is “quite big” and is still a family owned operation. It’s good to see the giants haven’t snapped up this impressively large winery.
Taylors tasting room
Taylors Wine Collection
Typical varieties are on offer here, but it is here at Taylors that we try our first Tempranillo, a sweeter and lighter tasting red. While it didn’t convert my wife who isn’t a regular drinker of the red varieties, it’s certainly a wine that maintains the flavour of a full bodied red, yet finishes subtly without lingering.
Taylors range on display
After explaining our preferences in wines to the cellar door hand, she quickly offers some suggestions of other wineries in the area which cater well to our tastes. I feel a bit confused that she would freely recommend others’ wineries and wines so easily. It’s certainly been my experience that the only nod that wineries make to their neighbouring cellar doors is an absent, “Oh yes, they make nice wines there…” before moving on.
Some regions that we have visited have sometimes drained us with the distance between cellars, but the Clare Valley seems to snuggle them in quite closely. The town of Leasingham is also home to a few others such as Claymore Wineries.
The winery appears as a refurbished barn, with its mezzanine floor and heavily pitched roof, but it is a bespoke design that was built from scratch.
Their wines have prominent musical names, such as “Dark Side of the Moon”, “Graceland” and “Joshua Tree”. I query the staff on the naming of the wines to which the reply is that the owner “just really loves music”. I smile politely and sip some of the “Purple Rain” thinking that the answer should have been obvious. I was mistaken to whimsically conjure a story about a Record Label scout who eschewed his luxurious rock and roll lifestyle for a quaint career in winemaking.
The topic surrounding music names has not reared its head, however they outline to us that they might need to drop their “Nirvana” label due to another winemaker using the name. Instead, Claymore is introducing the “Holy Grail” wine sometime soon, in a nod to the Hunters and Collectors’ song.
Claymore range with the musical names
A little further down the road to the township of Watervale is a major wine outlet for the Clare Valley, Annie’s Lane. Their wines are quite prolific in major alcohol chains, so I was expecting a huge, cold and ultra modern cellar door. The reality is a heritage-listed estate situated amongst some thick vines.
Annie’s Lane entrance
The pleasant man serving us tasting portions inside could not give me a definite age for the vines but offers that they are “decades old”.
Old vines at Annie’s Lane
Apart from wine tasting, Annie’s Lane is also home to an art gallery featuring works from local artists and a museum, featuring the tools, furniture and other odds and ends of the classic wine making trade. There is no charge for this extra piece of culture and history. It is worthwhile to stroll around before stepping outside to sit down in the picnic grounds and simply enjoy the quiet.
Inside the museum and art gallery
Directly on the opposite side of Main North Road to Annie’s Lane sits Crabtree Wines, a cosy cellar door, placed on the side of a hill, overlooking the Watervale area and vineyards.
Crabtree Wines cellar door
We meet a young man who appears to have quite a lot of involvement in Crabtree’s wine-making process. He outlines that the previous years’ dryer weather has given reason to plant the Spanish grapes for Tempranillo. He offers a wine which blends that particular variety with a Cabernet in order to increase the length of the taste.
Our final tasting session takes place in a fairly large winery which stands in the town of Clare, Knappstein. Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of micro breweries springing up around the various wine regions of South Australia, and I was introduced to these more esoteric beers with the Knappstein lager.
The striking structure of Knappstein has always served as both winery and brewery, but a referendum held in 1915 shortened hotel trading hours, and the brewery closed. Step forward into 2006 and the brewery is reopened, creating a single beer, a fresh lager with hints of fruity flavours.
Knappstein Taps and Barrels
Due to its distance from Adelaide, the Clare Valley requires a little more investment in time to fully appreciate. The trip to Clare takes 2 hours over about 150 kilometres. A day trip is certainly possible but for the chance to sit back and savour the quiet, the friendly people and the impossibly relaxed state of the towns, three nights are the perfect method to slink away.
Sugar Shack Soaps
Sugar Shack Soaps
Knappstein Enterprise Winery and Brewery
Photographs courtesy of Andy H – All rights reserved.
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