Wineries & Vineyards
As the birthplace of South Australia’s thriving wine industry it’s no surprise that McLaren Vale has over 80 cellar doors and wineries to explore. The Mediterranean-like climate creates near perfect growing conditions for most grape varieties, so while it’s renowned for producing some of Australia’s best red wines – notably shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, and grenache shiraz mourvedre (GSM) blends – you’ll also find a wide variety of chardonnay, tempranillo, marsanne, rousanne, sangiovese, fiano and vermentino to taste along the wine trail.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a winery that doesn’t deliver a memorable experience, but there are a handful that should make it onto your itinerary. Coriole Vineyards, a Tuscan-inspired estate founded in 1967, is a farm shop, cellar door and award-winning restaurant in one. The five story cellar door at d’Arenberg winery is fashioned after an unfinished rubik’s cube and features a wine sensory room and 360-degree video room in the Alternate Reality Museum, a panoramic tasting area, and an art gallery. Wirra Wirra offer a seated tasting experience at their recently-renovated cellar door. Exposed brick, brown leather seating and oak timber tables create a warm and inviting space to enjoy one of the curated tasting flights – one of which includes a tasting plate by Chef Tom Boden.
Still want more? Sample the organic and biodynamic wines at Gemtree Wines; see what six generations of the Oliver family have accomplished at Oliver Taranga; stop by Hardy’s Tintara for the history – the first vintage was bottled back in 1857; and visit Mitolo to gain insight into the Italian heritage that underpins everything they do, from the grape varieties to the winemaking techniques.
Breweries & Distilleries
Once you’ve sampled McLaren Vale’s exceptional wine offering, it’s time to make your way along the region’s brewery and distillery trail.
There’s the popular ale and lager at Vale Brewing in McLaren Flat. Goodieson Brewery sources local ingredients to create seasonal brews – think Christmas Ale and Chocolate Stout. Swell Taphouse makes a delicious Cloudy Apple cider. And Ekhidna Wines have struck gold with a ginger beer that has fast become a local hit. Nearby in Willunga, you’ll find South Coast Brewing Co. is as much about the brew as it is the food and the views. Its neighbour, Shifty Lizard Brewing Co., excels in crafting small batches of beer onsite that run the gamut of Pale Ale to IPA. Finally, stop by Victor’s Place for a brew, kitchen and winery in one in Old Noarlunga.
A unique distillery offering has emerged in the Vale, with brothers Lachlan and John Rochfort leading the charge with the McLaren Vale Distillery. The boutique distillery produces gin, vodka and premium whiskey – which is aged in 100-year-old McLaren Vale fortified wine barrels. Ideally set among the region’s best vineyards, stop by for a tour, tasting or masterclass on the weekends. Chalk Hill is home to Never Never Distilling Co. Stop by the cellar door for a distillery tour, cocktail experience, a gin flight – and an espresso martini. Settlers Spirits is the other major player in the region. Find their flagship gin range, single-malt whiskey, rum, vodka and liqueurs available for tastings at the Maximus Wines cellar door. Splurge on a masterclass or pair the tasting with a platter to round out the experience.
Nature & Beaches
Jump from the vines to the coast to enjoy long summer days spent at any of the six sprawling beaches that fringe McLaren Vale’s wine region. Snorkel at Port Noarlunga or dive the 127-year-old Star of Greece shipwreck at Port Willunga; surf or fish at Sellicks Beach; Aldinga, Moana and Port Noarlunga are all patrolled during the warmer months; relax on the sand at Moana; and go for a (skinny) dip at the south end of Maslin Beach – Australia’s first ‘clothing optional’ beach and the site of the annual Nude Olympics. Driving on the sand in a 4WD is permitted at a number of beaches. Pick up a permit and beach access pass at Onkaparinga City Council.
Follow the Shiraz Trail along the old railway line between McLaren Vale and Willunga on a bicycle or opt for an easy two-hour walk. The eight-kilometre trail will weave along the coast through vineyards, past restaurants and fields – spot the sheep and llamas grazing. Stop by the Visitor Information Centre for a map before setting out. Continue on for another optional 30 kilometres along the Coast to Vines Rail Trail to see more of the region’s wine country.
Drive 12 minutes outside of town to arrive at Onkaparinga River National Park. There are a number of diverse hiking trails to suit varying levels of fitness throughout the park. If you’re visiting towards the tail end of winter to the start of spring, opt to hike the Nature, Echidna or Hardy’s Scrub trails to spot the orchids and wildflowers in full bloom – the Echidna Hike also leads to a heritage hut from the 1800s and connects to a trail that leads to a waterfall. Alternatively, take the Sundews Ridgetop or Sundews River hikes during the warmer months to appreciate the vast size and beauty of Onkaparinga Gorge. Take a dip in the Punchbowl – the spectacular rock pool in the gorge – and admire the surrounding cliffs and rock formations that hem you in before taking the trail up to Sundews Lookout to admire it all from above.
Follow the locals to Willunga Farmers Market every Saturday morning to stock up on the best produce to cook with throughout your stay. Market stalls overflow with freshly cut flowers and countless edible delights – think local cheeses of every description, homemade chutneys, chocolates, organic fruit and vegetables – from more than 80 farmers and artisan food producers. The markets operate from 8am to 12 noon.