Australia’s Great Ocean Road is a stupendous coastal drive between Melbourne and Adelaide, however it’s also the route most vacationers take. Simply inland is one other, via wine nation. Right here, the land modifications as you journey, turning into woodier or sandier, thrusting up naked mountains or tree-draped hills, and the wine modifications with it.
The individuals, nevertheless, are persistently eccentric — in any case, you don’t construct a wine business in a gargantuan nation with no native grapes and really low rainfall by taking the logical, simple path. As if to show my level, I meet two locals who transported an previous practice down from Queensland to create a restaurant that chugs round Swan Bay. The on-board chef plates up six programs of native produce with matched native wines because it rattles by way of the panorama. One winemaker tells me he treads his grapes by foot (as if making wine right here weren’t exhausting sufficient); one other has constructed an enormous Rubik’s Dice-shaped constructing in his winery.
I eat at eating places the place they mill their very own bread, or churn their very own butter, or develop all their components. Many individuals I encounter inform me they got here to wine nation hoping to remake their lives — as if planting themselves alongside a couple of vines might result in a extra fruitful existence. Or maybe it’s the stressed spirit of the early settlers who have been pressured to maneuver right here as convicts or as persecuted minorities, inhaled together with the menthol of eucalyptus that perfumes the air.
Under Melbourne, Port Phillip Bay curves like a pair of arms, as if the mainland had tried to hug Tasmania however missed. I take the western arm: Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. “You can’t call this a single wine region,” says Ray Nadeson, of Lethbridge Wines, half an hour north west of Geelong. “There are too many soil variations. There’s limestone, basalt, granite, clay…”
We’re at Mietta, a winery whose soil has black clay atop basalt, and which Ray considers cool-climate, regardless of it being T-shirt climate at first of winter. Ray is a educated neuroscientist, which is fairly uncommon for a winemaker, and should imply he’s extra exact than most. He’s
additionally the person who likes to crush grapes by foot. I don’t dare level out to him that loads of UK drinkers consider Australia as a single wine area.
There have been vines right here within the 1870s, Ray tells me, as he pours a number of Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Shirazes in a tasting room that resembles a 19th-century parlour. They have been planted by German immigrants however have been all pulled up when the vine-killing phylloxera louse arrived within the Yarra Valley, north of Melbourne. I ask Ray why, given the scourge by no means truly made it this far south. “The British had the political power in Australia then, and the Yarra winemakers were Brits,” he explains. They didn’t need their struggling area to have to face up to competitors from the Germans’ wholesome vines, in order that they squashed their business as you may a louse. It took a century for replanting to start.
Ray taught neuroscience for 25 years earlier than choosing the precarious lifetime of a winemaker. His wines are incredible, as are his neighbour Nick Farr’s — however don’t hassle making an attempt to go to Nick; he doesn’t do wine tourism. These two are serving to the area to realize worldwide acclaim — even when Ray gained’t admit it’s a area. They usually have very respectable back-up from wineries comparable to Scotchmans Hill and Leura Park, in addition to from eccentrics like Bernard and Elizabeth Hooley, who make pretty peculiar wines at their Oakdene vineyard, adorned by Elizabeth with verve and a contact of craziness: teapots line the backyard fence and the tasting room is cleverly clad to appear to be a home turned on its aspect.
There’s a perversity to planting vines in an arid nation the place forest fires are extra widespread than floods. “The soil here is from an ancient volcano,” Russell Watson had advised me. “When it’s dry you can lose crowbars in the cracks, but it’s fertile.” Russell is aware of this as a result of his plot has walnut, peach, quince and cherry timber; it has no vines, however there’s a distillery in a shed.
Russell, a former upkeep man, plans to make whisky, however he and his spouse, Lorelle, have began with gin, and turned a tin shed into a bit timber-lined bar with pizzas and platters, the place all these fruits and nuts find yourself in your plate, serving to to mitigate the consequences of what’s in your glass. The place is known as The Whiskery; no one who’s met the lavishly moustachioed Russ must ask why.
The fats of the land
So many Australian wineries have nice eating places with wide-angle views of rolling vineyards — Hollick Estates, d’Arry’s Verandah, Fowl in Hand Vineyard, to call simply three. All these locations feed me fantastically, and I take pleasure in their wines all of the extra due to it. And that satisfaction in what the land can produce — should you work arduous sufficient — seeps into the conurbations, too. In southeast Australia, I’ve unbelievable meals at Igni in Geelong, Pipers of Penola, and the Royal Mail Lodge in Dunkeld. However nowhere is sort of as unbelievable as Brae, a refurbished farmhouse outdoors the Victorian city of Birregurra, with an expansive kitchen backyard and bread produced from home-milled flour.
Consuming properly is one benefit of travelling by way of wine nation, I mirror, as I pull into Brae, Dan Hunter’s restaurant with rooms. Right here, amid the silver-barked gum timber, elements from the backyard are used to create refined and witty dishes — and in case you don’t assume lunch may be witty, you’ve clearly by no means eaten warrigal greens and herb toast with inexperienced ants, or an iced oyster lurking amid a plate of oyster-shaped rocks. Most of the wines served listed here are native, or local-ish — they embrace Crawford River Riesling and Smokestack Lightning Pinot Gris from the Yarra. I additionally get to attempt Honey & Pink Gum Bitter Ale, which is brewed on the premises in collaboration with Edge Brewing Tasks.
A two-hour drive west, close to the Grampians wine area, I cease on the Royal Mail Lodge, the place Dan Hunter made his identify. It’s fairly a problem to create a fine-dining restaurant so removed from civilisation, and so eager is proprietor Allan Myers to maintain Hunter’s alternative, Robin Wickens, completely satisfied that he’s constructed him a chic, standalone restaurant with a walk-through wine cellar, mountain views and Australia’s largest kitchen backyard.
However, in fact, you’re by no means actually removed from civilisation if in case you have an ideal cellar, and this one is superb. Of Myers’ 26,500 bottles — there’s a cellar tour for many who wish to stare at delicacies they in all probability can’t afford — round half are French, together with numerous vintages from Bordeaux and Burgundy. It’s all very rarified, or can be if the cellar weren’t a corrugated shed, and the marriage venue a former wool shed that also smells, the supervisor assures me gleefully, of sheep.
At dinner, I’m given Foudre Ferment Riesling from Greatest’s Great Western: it’s beautiful. So I determine to go north to the vineyard, intent on taking one thing from this a part of my journey house with me. There are rooms full of dusty bottles, previous pictures and superannuated equipment however the actual museum is simply outdoors: a winery filled with historic vines.
“We’ve got 40 varieties on that plot,” Greatest’s managing director, Ben Thomson, tells me cheerfully, “but we still don’t know what all of them are.” His household has owned the property since 1920 however it was the Greatest brothers who first made wine right here, again in 1867. In the future, because of ever-improving know-how, they’ll in all probability uncover precisely what they’ve (is it perverse of me to view that as a disgrace?). Till then, they chuck the grapes into their Nursery Block purple and white, and reserve refined methods for wines like my Riesling.
Greatest’s and its neighbour, Mount Langi Ghiran, make an excellent distinction: the latter is shiny and trendy, making excellent Shiraz and allowing the workforce’s younger winemakers to siphon off a little bit of juice for their very own experiments. This isn’t widespread behaviour in Europe, any greater than making wine from unknown grape varieties is — however then, this isn’t Europe.
I cross an invisible border into South Australia, the place the Limestone Coast, shaped from a long-vanished sea, begins: a unbelievable array of volcanoes, mountains and caves, to say nothing of the weird soils that make such a cheerful residence for vines. I circle the Blue Lake, within the crater of an extinct volcano, which glows turquoise every summer time however is impressively blue even on the lip of winter, and proceed north to the Coonawarra wine area.
An aged good friend fondly remembers shopping for ‘Coonawarra Claret’ again when each Aussie wine was misleadingly labelled ‘Claret’, ‘Burgundy’ or ‘Champagne’. There’s extra native confidence within the area, now. They’re very pleased with an iron-rich swathe of purple land referred to as ‘terra rossa’, which is especially type to Cabernet Sauvignon.
“This is an incredible area,” says Simon Meares, who began coming right here on vacation and fell so exhausting for the area that he arrange Coonawarra Experiences to run bespoke excursions. He now is aware of everyone within the space, from Dan Redman, a fifth-generation winemaker at Redman Wines, to Steven and Emma Raidis, a younger couple making wonderful wine at Raidis Property. He can plan an itinerary of wineries and eating places, as I did, and he’ll then drive when you drink. Simon can also be a one-man encyclopedia of the area: when the woman behind the counter at Katnook Property stumbles over my questions, he takes over, telling me concerning the previous barrel room — previously a wool shed — the place John Riddoch made the area’s first wines within the 1890s. John, just like the Bests, had made his fortune promoting sustenance to these making an attempt their luck within the Gold Rush; that cash, dug from the land as nuggets, was then planted again into it as vines.
I glamp in a subject beside Bellwether Wines, which sits (together with a kitchen, eating room and tasting room made cosy with carpets and wood-burning range) inside a big, moderately lovely stone shearing shed. It was inbuilt 1868 by Chinese language immigrants, recent off the ship, who walked all the best way from the shore to the goldfields: drained males who had much better purpose than me to show their again on the coast. The tent has a correct mattress, heater, and even a chaise longue, though glamping, to me, shouldn’t contain an outside squelch to the washrooms. Nonetheless, there’s a stunning canine, a grumpy donkey, and I’m woken by the mocking laughter of kookaburras.
Australia’s soil shelters vine roots and, typically, gold, however there’s different treasure beneath the nation’s floor. At Naracoorte Caves, the pocked, chalky earth trapped prehistoric animals after which preserved their bones. Rediscovered within the 19th century, this unimaginable repository of long-extinct creatures consists of megafauna: gargantuan beasts (big short-faced kangaroos, five-metre snakes, marsupial lions) that lived between 500,000 and 40,000 years in the past and should have terrified the early people.
You’ll be able to descend, on guided excursions, into a number of the white caves, the place stalactites meet stalagmites to type bars like dragons’ tooth, and the reconstructed skeletons of historic creatures loom eerily out of the darkness. You may use these caves as a wine cellar, I jest to our information, and she or he takes me critically: “No, any spill develops fungus. But we do hold an opera down here.”
I floor into shiny winter sunshine and, eventually, swap lakes, waterfalls and extinct seas for the fashionable coast, taking a half-hour detour right down to the city and fishing port of Gown to drive alongside the Coorong, an 80-mile stretch of saltwater lagoon, with the Southern Ocean hidden behind sweeping sand dunes.
Doug Collett was a Second World Conflict pilot who flew over French vineyards in a Spitfire; impressed, he got here house and based Woodstock Wine Property. It’s lovely right here, peaceable and sustainable; a big fallen gum tree varieties an uncommon picnic desk, the backyard fence is made out of barrel staves, and there’s an enclosure the place an emu watches inscrutably as kangaroos sure over to be fed. Name me an unreconstructed vacationer, however these loopy creatures are a spotlight of my journey. One little fellow even tries to eat my shoelaces.
Surprises take a really totally different form down the street at d’Arenberg, the place the startling type of a five-storey Rubik’s Dice rears from a winery, full with a reproduction of that eternally irritating final piece, resting within the automotive park. The d’Arenberg Dice is the brainchild of Chester Osborn, who likens winemaking to a troublesome puzzle. To say this A$15m (£eight.5m) construction is odd doesn’t start to convey the florid weirdness of a ‘five senses’ room coated in pretend fruits and flowers, or urinals painted with monumental clown faces.
You possibly can style wine in a top-storey bar or study to mix your personal a few flooring under. There are critical A$100 bottles on the market, however Chester appears decided to intensify the bonkers aspect of wine. It doesn’t fairly work for me: we’re every a unique breed of contrarian. Nonetheless, there’s nothing foolish concerning the excellent lunch served on the Verandah restaurant. Chester’s father, d’Arry, is there, complaining concerning the expense of his son’s undertaking. “I’m still getting bills!” You wouldn’t guess that Dad is 92, Chester 56, and the vineyard over 100 and one among Australian wine’s largest success tales.
The Basic Wine Bar & Kitchen in Mclaren Flat is the Verandah’s reverse in every little thing besides high quality. An unassuming town-centre restaurant collectively run by two native wineries, Mr Riggs Wine Co and Zonte’s Footstep, it has no winery views however loads of wines. There are uncovered brick partitions, leather-based banquettes and lovingly ready meals that pairs properly with a choice of their wines. It’s a really Australian place — casual but rigorous on high quality. My final vineyard, Yangarra Property Winery, is equally so. Right here, the winemakers perversely insist the standard of their Grenache and Shiraz is all right down to a local weather just like that of the southern Rhône, regardless that the 60-million-year-old sandy soil gripping the roots of vines and gum timber right here has nothing in widespread with the stones of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Nonetheless, the wines are actually good, nourished by biodynamic apply, scorching solar and, maybe, sheer pigheadedness.
I depart the calm shade of the Vale for an excellent drive into the Adelaide Hills, my last vacation spot. Mount Lofty Home, inbuilt 1852 as a personal house, perches on a hilltop with fantastic views down into the cool-climate foothills of this viticultural outpost simply half an hour from Adelaide. There are botanical gardens subsequent door and I wish to assume the unique blooms ship infinitesimal perfumed molecules into the Chardonnay vines. There’s an incredible cellar, excavated from strong rock that’s one other layered fragment of Australia’s previous — however then, so is the wine it homes.
Once I attempt a South Australian Riesling, I’m tasting a practice begun within the early 19th century by German migrants who’d fled spiritual persecution however weren’t prepared to surrender their native wines. As Ray Nadeson had defined, winegrowers have been pressured to tug up their vines round Geelong; they fared higher right here, and the descendants of their grapes have made Eden and Clare Valley Rieslings world-famous.
As I pull out of the Fowl in Hand vineyard after lunch, previous rose-pink galah birds pecking between the vines, it happens to me that adversity — cussed soils and homesick immigrants, parsimonious water rations and insanely decided pioneers — has given us the wines we drink right now. I board my aircraft with a suitcase filled with bottles: taking these wines that originated out of a eager for Europe again to fill a European glass.
Getting there & round
Etihad, Qantas, Emirates and Singapore Airways fly between Heathrow and Melbourne/Adelaide by way of their respective hubs.
A automotive is important, however visitors is mild and parking straightforward. Take a delegated driver in the event you’re tasting — the drink-driving restrict is low and keenly policed. Hertz has an outlet at Melbourne airport; the automotive might be returned in Adelaide.
When to go
The temperatures hover round 20C in September-November, when the vines are budding, and March-April, as harvest approaches. These areas get extremely popular in summer time (December-February) and a few, like Coonawarra, may be chilly and wet in midwinter (July-August).
The place to remain
Royal Mail Lodge.
Bell Tents, Bellwether Vineyard.
The Farm Willunga.
Mount Lofty Home.
Learn how to do it
Coonawarra Experiences provides a day tasting, a visit to Naracoorte Caves, two nights in a luxurious bell tent and the A Desk of Twelve wine-matching expertise at Bellwether from A$599 (£334) per individual, based mostly on two. Travelbag provides three nights in Adelaide and three in Melbourne from £1,299 per individual, based mostly on two sharing. Consists of automotive rent and financial system flights (London to Adelaide; Melbourne to London).
Comply with @ninacaplan
Revealed within the October 2018 concern of Nationwide Geographic Traveller (UK)