The intimate outing takes you behind-the-scenes at beautiful cellar doors, vines and wineries along picturesque Spring Gully Rd.
Wine tours can be hit and miss; some merely scratch the surface of life through a winemaker’s eyes, while others truly take you behind the scenes. This is the latter.
A group of boutique Clare Valley wine brands have joined forces to present a day tour that invites you into their world. The intimate outing (for a maximum of four people) takes you behind-the-scenes at their beautiful cellar doors, vines and wineries along picturesque Spring Gully Rd. It is their home and they’re proud of it.
We meet at the Clare Valley Wine, Food and Tourism Centre (grab a coffee while you wait – they make a good one), pile into a 4WD (no impersonal buses on this tour folks – winemakers drive you around in their own vehicles) and head for Sussex Squire Wines, a beautiful hilltop cellar door surrounded by gum trees and vineyards.
Property owners Mark Bolan and Skye Page guide us through their dry-grown shiraz vines as kangaroos raise their heads in curiosity.
Mark loves to talk about the varieties his outfit produces, and the impact of the soil profiles in which they grow – and continues to do so over a wine tasting (and cheese plate) in the cute hilltop cellar door.
The 2017 Sussex Squire Thomas Block Shiraz is a highlight. As an additional option, Sussex Squire also offers the chance to take part in a blending exercise using shiraz and mataro/mourvèdre. It’s as close as you’ll get to actually being a winemaker for a day. Just mention it when you book.
Next stop is a picnic prepared by the team at the Watervale Hotel (who also serve the best breakfast I’ve had in donkey’s).
It’s laid out on a picnic table with Spring Gully lookout views.
This could be a contender for the most speccy outdoor perch in South Australia. Magpies warble in the Conservation Park trees below. Wow.
Things get educational at Eldredge Vineyards where award-winning winemaker Leigh Eldredge takes the reins. It’s no beige school classroom … Leigh leads a short, sweet and animated crash course in flavour elements and notice where they hit your mouth (sweet, acidic, tannic, etc).
It’s a rare chance to spend time with the fifth-generation Clare farmer and his daughter Skye.
Together, they lead a tasting of their shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, merlot, malbec and riesling. Once again, the setting (their cellar door’s balcony – formerly an 80-year-old stone cottage), is spectacular.
Leigh gives us a tour of the estate grown single vineyards, too.
Matriarch and Rogue winemaker Marnie Roberts is visibly excited when we arrive at her winery (essentially a large shed).
Ahead of our arrival she decked it out with retro umbrellas and wine barrels packed with cheese and charcuterie platters, and bottles of her wine range. It’s cute, very cute.
Before the official tasting kicks off, she leads the way to barrels of wine in various stages of fermentation. She loves to experiment with emerging varieties such as montepulciano, saperavi and DO NOT USE d’avola, and fernão pires (a grape grown throughout Portugal).
Sampling progressive wine from the barrel like this isn’t something you get to do every day and after tasting a textured fiano in the making, you can’t help feel a sense of anticipation about its future.
Marnie turns up the winery music as the sun goes down and if you want to get your hands dirty, she’ll let you crush and plunge new wines or press them off skins.
The experience starts at 10am but has no set finishing time, so ask as many questions as you like. It’s delightfully no frills, raw, visceral, and informative. Depending on the time of year you could find yourself pruning vines, picking grapes, exploring wineries, and tasting wine out of the barrel.
By the time it wraps up we’re full to the brim with knowledge and genuine fondness for our hosts. We’re also in possession of six bottles of wine to take home (guests choose two from each venue).
South Australia needs more experiences of this nature. It not only builds greater understanding about what goes into the bottle, but also the stories and faces behind the brands.
If the need for more food hits later in the night, avoid driving and order in.
Indii of Clare Indian restaurant delivers to your door and is a favourite with local wine folk. After a day of drinking, it well and truly hit the spot.
Katie Spain was a guest of the Clare Valley Wine & Grape Association.
This review was first printed in May 2019 and had details updated in March 2021.
- LOCATION Clare is located 136km north of Adelaide on Horrocks Hwy.
- INCLUDES Transport between three wineries (seasonal experiences at each location), wine tastings, decadent gourmet picnic hamper, two cheese platters, six wines to take home.
- PRICE $2450 (Mon-Thurs, April to January). The price is for the entire group (maximum of four people). Inquiries welcome for dates outside the time frame above.