Almanac Life: The South Australian Wine Safari


Thirty years ago Suzanne and I honeymooned through the wine country around Adelaide, we thought there was no better way to celebrate those thirty years by retracing our steps – and adding a couple of extra locations. Heading out on Good Friday we drove, tasted, drank and ate our way through South Australia, returning on ANZAC Day.


The Opening – Melbourne to Coonawarra


Leisurely drive with no time frames, a short break for lunch at Skipton, then another at the legendary Royal Mail Hotel at Dunkeld.  Unsurprisingly the first purchase too, with the local gin making its way to the vehicle.  It was then on to the border and our glamping Hex Tents at Coonawarra Bush Holiday Park.  The main thing glamping had over camping was that all the bedding was there and there was no tent to erect or van to set up.  It was a lively camp, a lot of fun in unique accommodation.


Glamping in style!



Day 1 – The Coonawarra


We covered a few iconic wineries and none of them disappointed.


Bellwether – A great brunch at a boutique winery.  Great opportunity to see a winemaker Sue Bell in action working inside the barrel.


Bellwether Wines


Redmans – A classic family-owned winery where unsurprisingly we met more travelling Melbourne folks.


Wynns – A big production corporate winery and now knocked off the bucket list.  A bit restrictive on the tasting but a couple of beauties including their Pedro Ximenez.


Katnook – Historic buildings in a beautiful setting.  Our pick for the day!  Very generous with their tastings including a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon


Leconfield – Another off the bucket list.  Excellent wines, old vine Riesling a beauty and their everyday drinking wine “The Coonawarrior” great value.


Patrick – Not originally on the schedule but recommended from Bellwether for their Rieslings.  A few experimentals so they were a bit hit or miss but the hits were on target, the same for their reds.


Hollicks – Got to taste their wines with dinner at the restaurant.  Good food with friendly but overworked staff.  Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon excellent.



Day 2 – Coonawarra to Victor Harbour (via Robe)


Got a few wineries in early before the trek to Victor Harbour


St Mary’s – Off the beaten track down V&A Lane.  Wines and spirits here, good reds and excellent Gin.  Didn’t get into the Vodka or Cane Sugar Spirit.  Learnt about V&A Lane – a straight road that ran all the way from Robe to the Victorian Border (Doesn’t go all the way to Robe now).  Was plotted by the first surveyors of the colony who used the Equinox as their guide, so the sun rises and sets on the road twice a year.  V for Victoria the district to the south, and A for Albert on the north side.


Majella – Seriously challenging Katnook – awesome service and a great range of wines.  Superb Riesling, the Musician, the Composer through to the irresistible GPL68 Cabernet Sauvignon.


Bowen Estate – Got a run because the next on the list wasn’t open yet.  Historic family winery in magnificent old buildings.  Well known Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon, they also have about an acre of Chardonnay around the vineyard.  Hand-picked and only available cellar door it is a ripper.


Balnaves – Not quite on the scale of Wynns but a slick and friendly operation with beautiful views and good wines.  They charge for tasting but it all goes to charity this year RDFS.


All before lunch then it was off to Robe and the Caledonian Inn – a fantastic pub on the water, but unfortunately a miserable day.  Robe definitely a town that needs further exploration.


Then the trek through the rain and dark around the Murray mouth to Victor Harbour.



Sal heads in to the Caledonian Inn



Day 3 – Victor Harbour to McLaren Vale


Less wineries more touring!  Arrived in Victor Harbour in the evening and off to dinner at our lodgings at the Anchorage Hotel.  Historic pub on the water – rooms might be a bit dated but full of beautiful furniture including the four post bed.  Coffee at a quirky espresso bar Qahwa – definitely recommended. Did the Victor Harbour thing visiting Granite Island and catching the horse drawn tram back to the mainland.


Then off to our next destination and the wineries of MacLaren Vale, via Aldinga Beach and lunch at Breeze overlooking the coastline. How good to be staying at a winery.


Serafino – Has everything: accommodation, restaurant (not open Monday or Tuesday??) and wine.  Was worried about style over substance with the wine – but horribly mistaken.  Beautiful Italian and Spanish varietals ready to drink now, a big Shiraz and then a magnificent Cabernet Sauvignon.  And more to try over the next two days!


Settlers Spirits – These guys like their gin – and so do we.  12 varieties but we limited ourselves to a couple each.  Their Rare Dry was excellent, the specialty options we tried were hit or miss but we really liked the Yuzu and Coriander Gins.


Supermarkets being closed Easter Monday turned out to be a blessing.  Couldn’t do the light meal in our room for dinner so it was off to the McLaren Vale Hotel.  This was no ordinary pub fare although it is on the menu.  Meals were superb with generous serves plus the choice of over 60 gins.  Wine list was extensive with local and not so locals on the list.



Dinner at the McLaren Vale Hotel



Day 4 – McLaren Vale


A relaxed morning with a walk and coffee from a bakery with no bread before a concerted attack on the McLaren Vale vineyards.


Ginny Pig – a small distillery with their outlet in the McLaren Vale Visitor’s Centre.  Another hit or miss where the hits were pretty good; their Rare Dry packed a punch and the Botanical a deserved prize winner. The name – the first friends who tested it out referred to themselves as Ginny (Guinea) Pigs.


Battle of Bosworth – The name perked the interest and a set in magnificent old buildings.  A couple of good wines including a Chardonnay and Shiraz, but really too many wines to go through and from a range of labels and locations including Kangaroo Island.  One of the few Pinot’s in the region, not sure they would be on the must-do again.


Primo Estate – Recommended by fellow tourers in the Coonawarra and it delivered.  With a standard and premium range we split the tastings.  The standard range consisted of easy drinking Italian varietals.  The La Biondina and Nero d’Avolo the picks.  The premium range was superb with price tags to match a very, the picks being the Pinot Grigio and Nebbiolo.


D’Arenberg – Home of the cube with art exhibitions, carnival tents and entrance fees.  Then a process to go through just to taste wine and then purchase, all too hard.  The wines might have been OK but we had too many others on the list to go through their machine.


Coriole – a winery we first visited 30 years ago introducing us to Sangiovese.  Many changes over 30 years but still great service despite the crowds and still great wines.  They too had their standard or premium tasting options – however they just served everything anyway allowing comparisons between their standard and premium offerings.  The single vineyard Sangiovese the standout.


Samuel’s Gorge – We first visited this winery about 12 years ago where winemaker Justin McNamee ran tastings like a party and took us through the range of shiraz parcels that he would blend for his next vintage.  All in the same buildings with a few changes and more staff but still a feel good atmosphere and as per 12 years ago excellent quality wines.  We left this till last and it did not disappoint.



The travellers with Justin McNamee



Day 5 – McLaren Vale to Adelaide


A run and swim opened the day respectively for us and provided some justification for the treatment we are giving our bodies throughout the day.  Would highly recommend Serafino as a place to stay.  Generous rooms and right in the heart of Mclaren Vale.  First stop was at a winery nearby but for coffee.


Oxenbury – no idea about their wines but coffee was good and the aroma from the kitchen was irresistible, so we indulged … Great spot right on the bike trail.


We then pressed on to the top of Chalk Hill where we found spectacular views plus a distillery and winery all in the one complex.


Never Never – always good to kick off with a gin.  In this case three of them with a few others available but we resisted.  Favourite was the Southern Strength over the Triple Juniper and Juniper Freak.


Chalk Hill – jumping across to other side of the complex we were met with the standard (Chalk Hill) and premium (Alpha Crucis) options.  It was 11:00am and the place was packed already so not much extra in the tastings, we stuck to the standard and were impressed.  The Italian varietals stood out.  The entire complex is built for visitors and one could easily settle in for an afternoon, comparable to Montalto for the Melbourne readers.


Kay Brothers – a step into history and a completely different vibe.  Tastings in a tin shed, still had the magnificent views.  I was tasting, the bride was driving – didn’t stop our host producing a Mataro for the driver.  Great easy drinking wine.  For the drinker it was straight on the reds and as expected they did not disappoint.  They were now on to us and produced their signature Shiraz Block 6 – and we fell for it, awesome wine.



Sal at Kay Brothers



Chapel Hill – another we first visited 30 years ago, it has grown significantly and is a smooth operation.  Our host was brilliant taking us through two wines at a time to compare.  The whites were OK, the reds a bit hit or miss.  The hits were excellent with first on the parade the Grenache – a fabulous wine.  Then we had the shiraz lined up: 2017 and 2018 House Block and the 2018 Road Block.  The 2017 was a bit thin – the 2018 was rich, deep and impressive.  The difference of the weather between the seasons standing out.  Then the Road Block only 50 metres away was next level again.  A great winery and great service.


Oliver Tarango – got the recommendation to go here.  Suspect we got them on a bad day – wines were OK but we only got through the bottom of the range, service was slow and we just did not get to know the wines.  Highlight was Tex the Terrier, made friends with everyone especially those eating pate.


It was then onto Adelaide and catch up with a dear friend, did 2KW a great rooftop bar for drinks and Fishbank for dinner – both great experiences.


Top pick for the day is Chapel Hill


Honourable mention to Tex at Olivers!


Day 6 – Adelaide to Clare Valley


A scheduled travel day got a few handy fill-ins.  Our accommodation in Adelaide The Watson on the river and just out of the city was excellent but we had to get going to Clare.  There is the direct route or you can go via Adelaide Hills in case you missed anything.


Petaluma – Remembered them from a previous visit when they were at Bridgewater Mill, they have built a fabulous new facility.  The wines matched it.  The Croser range was very good with a couple of back vintages in the tasting, then the premium range excellent with The Tiers Chardonnay a standout.  Their signature Cabernet Sauvignon beautiful and scored a cheeky Malbec which was great value.


Applewood – Another gin distillery loaded with passion and a great range, of which the Alpine is exceptional.  Was quiet on a Thursday morning but judging by the size of the carpark and a couple of Tesla stations it gets pretty busy.


We then hit the road to Clare arriving at our accommodation The Clare Country Club mid afternoon.  We had a rest before heading to the Watervale Hotel for dinner – on our travels we’d been given a couple of recommendations for this pub. This ain’t no ordinary establishment! We walked into the pub to find a few vintage types in eager conversation, all over a few vintage reds.  Then there are the magnificent indoor and outdoor dining facilities – about 10 degrees kept us inside.  Superb menu (the tag line ‘we are self confessed ethical epicureans’ says it all) was too hard to pick from so we chose the feed me menu, the wine list rated the best for a pub in Australia.  One page dedicated to the legendary Wendouree wines.  With some assistance from the sommelier we had the a local Riesling and Nero D’Avolo.  Both food and wines were brilliant – it’s a long way away but can’t wait to come back.  We missed the 11:00 daily wine masterclass – a must do next time.


Pick of the day – Watervale Hotel



A superb dinner at the Watervale Hotel



Day 7 – Clare Valley


A big day in the Clare Valley with an early start. Many people also taking advantage of an early long weekend and certainly challenging with lack of staff for many of the establishments.


Skillogalee – A favourite from 30 years ago, delivered a beautiful Riesling as expected. A broad range with a very good shiraz along with a newly released Sparkling Shiraz which was delightful. Set in magnificent old buildings.



The magnificent setting of the Skillogalee Winery


Kilikanoon – were greeted by Frankie the Border Collie and a cosy tasting room. Another doing plenty with Italian and Spanish varieties and all worth a try. Our favourite was the Mataro.


Paulett – this time the greeting was glorious views across the valley and a facility to take full advantage of the view. The winery and café are integrated with the option to have a five wine tasting with matching canapes. We took the option, and it was sensational – both food and wines were excellent. The premium Riesling a standout among a few beauties.


Pikes – a busy joint with both a winery and brewery – thought I had reached heaven! We stuck with the wines, as regular drinkers of their Riesling we were keen to see what else was on offer. Some lovely other white varietals of which the Albarino was the pick. The reds were good, their premium range delivered were 2020 vintage – full of flavour that will benefit from a few more years, if possible.


Sevenhill – Historic vineyard owned and run by the Jesuits since 1851. A magnificent property resplendent with church.  An updated tasting experience from 30 years ago. Expected the signature drop “St Ignatius” to standout but thought the Cabernet Malbec was even better.  Also, a beautiful Viogner. Departure via the historic cellar was a great feature.


A big day done, back to get ready for a couple more Saturday before the Barossa beckons …


Top pick of the day – Pauletts Winery



Day 8 – Clare Valley to Barossa Valley


The penultimate day was a beauty as we travelled from Clare to the Barossa – efficiency was the key!


Seed – local café-bar in Clare, you don’t get many better greetings than a massive Tomahawk Steak in the dry aging fridge!  We did brunch as a good start before we were on our way.


Mad Bastard – He is Mark from the legendary Barry family and runs a quirky winery and hams it up as the Mad Bastard.  Lots of fun and swearing but some serious wines at excellent value a must on any tour.


Jim Barry – the centre piece for the Barry family but far too pretentious – you have to book an “Immersion” to taste all their wines – and it is not even all their wines.  Their top Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz (The Armagh) were not for tasting.  The Florita Riesling was and is an exceptional wine.


Knappstein – was next on the schedule but it was closed due to Covid-related staff shortages.


Good Catholic Girl – after the Mad Bastard this one hammed up the theme even more.  Wines from three of the Barry girls with wines including a shiraz made from cuttings taken from the Armagh vineyard.  Only open on the weekend but a good reason to go to Clare on the weekend.



Good Catholic Girl



It was then off to the Barossa Valley


Seppeltstfield Road Distillers – Time for gin and not disappointed here – a glorious setting with some excellent product.  Like all distillers the experiments are hit or miss.  Their Barossa Dry and Native Gins stood out, their take on Shiraz Gin was almost port like.  Completely different to what Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz drinkers would expect.


We then hit Tanunda where we had time to kill before our room was ready – so a couple of tastings.


St Hallett – Upgraded from the rustic setting we visited 30 years ago and a pretty slick operation.  Had to pick which tasting we wanted, so chose Shiraz – they did have the signature “Old Block” on the menu and it made the investment for a tasting well worth it.  Would have been nice to try more varieties.


Rockford – Still in the same premises from 30 years ago so pretty tight and very busy – might be something in not charging for tasting, everyone leaving was carrying product.  You get to taste whatever is in stock including the legendary Basket Press Shiraz and Black Shiraz – the yardstick for sparkling Shiraz.  All wines were good, and the aforementioned pair magnificent.


Ferment-Asian – Everywhere we went, this restaurant was recommended for dinner and it delivered.  Beautiful delicate food.


Top pick of the day is Rockford Wines – but a very tough selection



Day 9 – The Barossa Valley


Into the last stretch and a few Barossa beauties to close out proceedings.  We opened the day catching up with friends from Melbourne also in the Barossa over the ANZAC day weekend.


El Estanco – Great coffee and brunch in Greenock, this place would be great at any time and clearly very popular.


Kalleske – On the main drag of Greenock with a special tasting room in the cellar visible through the floor of the main tasting area.  Wines were good and consistent with a couple of experimentals that need work.


Willows – The Mad Bastard suggested we attend this winery, and it was well worth it.  Lovely setting with great wines, great value and great service.  Also, some wonderful stories, like naming their Shiraz The Bonesetter – after the founder who was a doctor with the Prussian Army putting soldiers back together.


Maggie Beers Farm – Bucket List time, the place was heaving but were still able to accommodate us for a gin tasting, where we confirmed that Sloe Gin is not for us.  The other two though easily made up for it.  Great setting and not sure it is completely off the bucket list yet.


David Franz – Interesting greeting with a strong farmhouse funk aroma, but it didn’t put too many off with car parking requiring some creativity.  This place was fun, great views and great atmosphere.  Bumped into Melbourne friends here! The wine list is huge with lots of funky styles – plenty missed but there were a couple of gems unearthed.  Easy place to spend an afternoon trying wine and snacking on a wide range of deli snacks.


Still standing after all that wine tasting!



Charles Melton – Had plenty of recommendations to go here.  The big reds were superb with a couple cheeky rose types that hit the spot in late afternoon.  Excellent service at a busy place.  Notably popular with the limo service tasters.


Char – The last dinner at a casual restaurant in Tanunda.  Burgers the order of the evening were the recommendation, delicious if a bit hard to handle.


Top pick of the day – Charles Melton Wines


It has been a great trip with many highlights, we hope those that have followed our travails have enjoyed the updates and got some handy tips for travel plans.  Thanks to SA, you have been awesome!


Over and out!




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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Congratulations Sal! What a fab trip, thanks for sharing your experiences in a wonderful part of the country. Ripper read!

  2. Absolutely epic, Sal.
    Looks like it was a fantastic trip.

  3. Colossal (pun intended). That’s a tour both inspiring and intimidating! How tremendous is the Watervale pub? If there were an 8 pub wonders of SA, that makes the list. Well done to you and Suzanne.

  4. Outstanding report Sal. A gastronomic and viticultural delight.

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