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Published: December 22nd 2006
Bottoms Up !
Cheers ! Tasting the drop on offer at the first winery on our trail. Apologies for the ever-present stripey jumper. It's the only "cool weather" piece of clothing I have !
We make our way off the ferry back onto the Fleurieu Peninsula - next stop, McLaren Vale. One of South Australia's several world-famous wine producing areas, McLaren Vale is located only half an hour's drive south of Adelaide. The region is centred around a small town of the same name, and it's 60 or so wineries churn out bottles sold all over the world. The jewel in McLaren Vale's wine crown is a ruby by the name of Shiraz - this variety represents over half the production of the area. The remaining half is not to be sniffed at (unless it's just before drinking it), including Cabernet Sauvignon and some lesser-known varieties such as Viognier and Sangiovese.
Naturally, it would be highly disrespectful to South Australians to drive through their state without sampling some of their best-known produce, which is why we have planned a day or so in the area to visit some of the local wineries.
The drive from Cape Jervis gets us into McLaren Vale too late in the day for any visiting so we simply settle down in the campsite for the evening. The following morning we take a stroll in town. Wine is not
The Coriole Winery is the most beautifully located in the area, atop a hill overlooking the rolling vineyards. The wine isn't bad, either!
all McLaren Vale has to offer, it would seem. The town's main street is awash with cafés, delicatessens and art galleries. Let us not forget the David Medlow chocolate shop which the town is famous for and where we spend a not-inconsequential part of our morning. The shop's speciality is coating a variety of goodies - dried fruit, fruit jellies and the like - with chocolate, while-u-wait. We opt for a bag of passionfruit-flavoured fruit jellies (essentially giant Rowntree fruit pastilles) which a nice lady lays out on a conveyor belt at the entrance to the machine. The sweets pass through a curtain of molten chocolate before being cooled down to harden the coating. The result is absolutely delicious.
Down the street is a wonderful café and cheese shop going by the name of Blessed Cheese, which organises cheese and wine trails through McLaren Vale. In short, the shop provides you with a selection of local cheeses, together with crackers, olives and the like, and dispatches you to a number of local wineries, where you taste bottles supposed to complement each cheese. It's a wonderful idea and we can't resist - armed with an esky (what the Australians call
The colourful gardens around the cellar door shop reminded us strongly of home...
a cool bag) full of fromage we head out to four of the Vale's wineries to begin a thoroughly glorious afternoon of swilling, sniffing, sipping (spitting - sorry, I'm driving...grrrr) and nibbling. The weather is beautiful and the rolling hills, stone winery buildings and rows of tall trees bring to mind the Italian countryside - for a moment I felt like I was on the set of Much Ado About Nothing
, half expecting Beatrice and Benedick to emerge at any moment.
The many cellar doors we visited were wonderfully laid back, happy to let you taste every wine on the list (often twenty or more) with no pressure. The afternoon was a resounding success - in addition to converting me overnight into a goat's cheese fan, we discovered Viogner, a rather unusual grape variety that we had never heard of but which produces a wonderful, peachy wine. By the end of the day we must have tasted almost two dozen wines, and made away with three bottles for dégustation
with our evening meals in the campervan. Slumming it indeed...
We had realised some days before that we weren't making as much progress on our route towards Uluru as
Inspecting the range of tasty morsels on offer at the cellar door - salamis, cheese, olives...
we should have. We therefore make an executive decision to skip a second night in McLaren Vale and drive straight through Adelaide en route towards Port Augusta. It's an exhausting drive through a suburban environment I'm not used to any more (we haven't seen any traffic lights since we left Melbourne), and somewhat dampens our enthusiasm after such a wonderful afternoon touring the wineries. After a rather frustrating wrong turn and a "map-reading" incident in the town of Gawler, we arrive completely exhausted in the rather drab and unexciting mining town of Kapunda. Dinner and sleep beckon.
The scenery has drastically changed since McLaren Vale - the countryside here is dry, scrubby and the shades of green we have been used to are replaced by browns. Not the same Australia. A stark reminder that much of Australia is enduring its worst drought in decades - a drought of such scale that it has claimed the lives of many Australian farmers this year, driven to despair by the lack of rain. A reason not to complain about wet weather if ever there was one.
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