If the way to a traveller’s heart is through the stomach, then surely this must be the most beloved of South Australia’s fabulous drives, The Epicurean Way.
I’m prepared to wait when it comes to good food. I’ve walked across Tokyo for the best ramen. I’ve queued for hours in Portland for just one jam-filled doughnut. I’ve even dabbled in fermentation, patiently waiting days for my vegies to pickle.
But when it comes to exploring the feasts of my own backyard, it’s been my longest wait yet: 27 years. I’ve lived in Adelaide for most of those years, but for some inexplicable reason, I’ve never really ventured to the regions beyond the city.
Sure, I’ve enjoyed a wine tour around McLaren Vale and been to a couple of wineries in the Barossa, but I’ve never really scratched beyond the surface to see what makes these spots the epicurean hubs for which they’re known.
So, with my partner Leigh in the driver’s seat, we’ve planned a four-day road trip to eat and drink the best of the Barossa, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, and Adelaide Hills on the Epicurean Way.
Day One: The Barossa
We’ve been lucky enough to catch a break in this year’s spring storms, with golden morning light beginning our journey. The recent rains have created a vibrant and lush landscape as we skirt around the fringes of the Adelaide Hills, heading one hour north to the Barossa.
Loved for its bold and robust red wines, with shiraz the definite hero, the region is home to 100-year-old vines that still bear fruit for historic vineyards such as Yalumba, Seppeltsfield and Saltram.
This morning we’re headed to Apex Bakery in Tanunda, opened in 1924 and now owned by third-generation Corey Fechner whose family migrated to the Barossa from Polish/German Silesia in the early 1800s.
Corey makes pretzels the Silesian way, just like his grandfather did: baked, not boiled, and topped with crunchy rock salt and caraway. With carb-lined stomachs, we’re on to the essential Barossa activity of wine tasting.
There are so many wineries to choose from – more than 160 in fact – but we’re aiming for the north-west pocket at the end of iconic palm-lined Seppeltsfield Road, famed for some of the region’s most high-end reds.
At Hentley Farm, owner Keith Henschke sells six wines over $100 a bottle, topping out at $850 for his 2006 Clos Otto shiraz.
A boutique winery and restaurant with an emphasis on quality, Hentley Farm won the coveted James Halliday Winery of the Year award in 2015. Keith credits the quality of his wines in part to his single-estate vineyard.
“I can show you what the wine tastes like by that creek, or I can take you 100 metres up the hill and tell you how that wine tastes. We can dissect this vineyard and really show you what’s happening in the different microclimates,” says Keith.
This same philosophy is infused into the Farm’s restaurant, where head chef Lachlan Colwill focuses on produce foraged or grown from the farm’s 60 hectares.
“It gives a real sense of place,” says Lachlan. “You can’t leave here and not feel you’ve had a Barossa experience.”
Day Two: Clare Valley
Leigh is infatuated with Sevenhill Winery’s resident cat, Maisie. She’s lying in a cosy sawn-off wine barrel filled with hay, and despite Leigh’s desperate attempts to raise her from slumber, she’s not moving.
“A lot of wineries have dogs but we seem to have mostly had cats! The Jesuits have always had cats,” says Paul McKee, the winery’s marketing manager.
Sevenhill was established in the Clare Valley in 1851 when two Austrian Jesuits, who had settled in the area, planted vines to make sacramental wine. With the wines still made using traditional methods, Sevenhill provides fascinating and authentic insight into the past.
The original cellar door, mini museum and the still-functioning cellar – excavated by hand – are all available for visitors to peruse.
Clare is a small town, surrounded by beautiful native scrub and open, grassy fields. These landscapes are best viewed on the Riesling Trail: 35 kilometres of walking and cycling tracks that follow the old railway past rows of endless vineyards and, of course, some excellent riesling.
“Riesling is really well suited to the conditions here,” explains Paul. “We’re around 460 metres above sea level. That elevation is important during summer because we get very cool nights, which gives the fruit a good recovery period.”
We follow the trail from Sevenhill into the heart of Clare, just in time for dinner. Catching the last of the sunlight in their newly opened courtyard, we take a seat at wine bar and restaurant Seed. Whether it’s a slow-cooked lamb shoulder, or squid ink crab spaghetti, head chef Guy Parkinson aims to make his menu as relaxed as possible.
“At the end of the day Clare is very regional; it’s very ‘country’,” says Guy, who owns the restaurant with partner, Candice Leighton. “A lot of our regulars aren’t just winemakers, they’re farmers, too. We have to be truly approachable.”
Clare is a little further from the city, located about a 90-minute drive from the centre of Adelaide, and I’ve always seen it as the road less travelled, with most visitors favouring the Barossa instead.
But Guy believes that attitude is steadily changing both outside and around town.
“You can certainly feel that something’s about to tip,” says Guy. “There are some pretty cool things happening in Clare – we have a lot of new-generation winemakers coming through. It’s a small region, and not over-commercialised – it’s unique in that aspect. It still has a really beautiful beating heart to it.”
Day Three: McLaren Vale
The best thing about McLaren Vale is you can drive almost anywhere in less than 10 minutes. The drive from Main Road – undulating, vine-covered hills with glimpses of the nearby Fleurieu coast – is something I’m yet to see anywhere else in my travels through Australia.
The beachside hubs of Aldinga, Silver Sands and Willunga offer plenty of shopping, food and ocean activities, including the bustling Saturday Farmer’s Market in Willunga.
We kick things off with a trip to d’Arenberg, a winery that continues to innovate since it was established in 1912. Although grenache is the superior varietal of the Vale, d’Arenberg are known for their Dead Arm shiraz – an earthy, sweet and subtly spicy wine that’s won a series of accolades.
“We use very old vines and very old-fashioned techniques,” explains fourth-generation family member and chief winemaker Chester Osborn. “Not putting fertiliser on the vineyards for many years means you can get a true representation of the soil and the geology of the region.”
I haven’t been here for years, not since a quick wine tour took us to their cellar door and, while their d’Arry’s restaurant is still continually booked out, there’s now much more to be discovered.
Book into a Blending Bench session in the old stables to blend your own bottle of Dead Arm, or join a tasting masterclass.
The most exciting new venture is among the mourvèdre vines, where construction has begun on the much talked-about Cube. A five-level, puzzle-shaped glass building, the Cube will host a brand new tasting room, restaurant and wine-inspired art galleries, all just 45 minutes from the CBD.
Day Four: Adelaide Hills
Blue skies have grown grey, but the rain hasn’t stopped visitors to Hahndorf, with plenty of tourists braving the elements to explore Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement.
It’s a food-lover’s theme park: candy shops sell traditional fudge and old-school sweets, bakeries slice warm apple strudel, while dirndl-clad girls pour beer at the Arcobrau Brauhaus.
After a quick pretzel break, we drive to Woodside, home to some of the best cheese in Australia as Woodside Cheese Wrights plate up tastings of their broad range of cheeses.
Owner Kris Lloyd tells me that Prince Charles and Camilla’s favourite is the Monet, topped with a layer of pretty violets, but I love the Foragers Feast: a funky triple-cream washed rind flavoured with porcini.
Kris is passionate about sourcing her milk from Adelaide Hills suppliers, and buys her cream from the Cadell correctional facility.
“Cadell has a dairy farm and they separate the milk so the inmates can have skim milk and we buy the cream,” she says. “It’s 100 per cent raw South Australian cream. It’s so thick and fresh.”
There’s so much going on here – more than I ever really knew existed in the Hills, from roadside orchards to venison farms to chocolate factories to some of Australia’s best wineries.
“The diversity of people, products, climate, the terrain… it’s unbelievable. And we’re only 30 minutes away from the city!” she says.
Kris puts the growth of the popularity of Adelaide Hills produce down to the developing interest in where our food comes from.
“The ‘cellar door’ doesn’t just belong to wineries anymore; foodies have really claimed it, too,” she says, listing Harris Smokehouse, and Buzz Honey as other gourmet stops with tasting rooms.
“Consumers want to know who is making the food, where it’s from and how it’s made.”
As new tourists in our old home, I can see Kris’s point. I’ve felt pride listening to incredible stories, and seeing first-hand the passion behind each brand. It’s something, I think, we should all do a little more of, sooner rather than later.
The Details: The Epicurean Way
Eating there: Seppeltsfield – Set on a 170-hectare estate, Seppeltsfield is a hub of food, wine and culture. Taste the range of fortifieds at the cellar door, spend lunchtime dining al fresco at Fino, on a modern, produce-driven menu, or wander through the JamFactory gallery to shop for artisan pieces.
Playing there: Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop – Navigate past roaming peacocks to stock up on Maggie’s famous quince paste, jams, chutneys and more, or sit on the waterfront deck with a basket of her rich Pheasant Farm pâté and a loaf of crusty bread.
Staying there: Stonewell Cottages – With lake views and a cosy wood fire, these relaxing little cottages make a comforting retreat after a day of eating and drinking.
Eating there: Skillogalee – A boutique, family-owned winery, Skillogalee also offers an intimate restaurant in their cellar door. Book a spot for lunch and take a seat on the verandah, which overlooks the vines and colourful cottage garden.
Drinking there: Knappstein – Situated in a 19th-century brewery in the heart of Clare, the Knappstein team not only make some of the best wines in town, but have continued the brewing tradition, bottling their Bavarian-style Reserve Lager in their on-site microbrewery.
Staying there: Bungaree Station – Settle for the night in this historic sheep station, built in 1841. There is a range of room sizes available, including the Shearer’s Quarters, which can fit up to 25 people in a rustic camp set-up.
Eating there: Star of Greece – An institution of the Fleurieu, this cliff-top Willunga restaurant is named after the 1888 shipwreck on the shores below. It’s famous for incomparable waterfront views and serves some of the best seafood in the peninsula.
Drinking there: Samuel’s Gorge – Overlooking the incredible depths of the Onkaparinga Gorge, Samuel’s Gorge specialises in grenache, tempranillo, and a spicy young Spanish graciano.
Staying there: The Vintage – This luxurious bed and breakfast is just a five-minute drive from town and features two private suites with a crackling fire, a bottle of wine and views of the vines.
Eating there: Penfolds – Choose from a nine-course fine dining experience at Magill Estate Restaurant, or swing past the Magill Estate Kitchen, a more casual cafe that serves everything from a glass of Grange to a house-made pastry.
Drinking there: Shaw + Smith – With a stunning tasting room set upon their Balhannah estate, Shaw + Smith sets the benchmark for cooler-climate Adelaide Hills wines. Sit down for a wine flight of five tastings, including their signature sauvignon blanc and cheese from Woodside Cheese Wrights.
Playing there: Beerenberg – Sweet, plump and ruby-red, there’s nothing quite like a strawberry straight off the bush. It’s $9.95 a kilogram for whatever you pick, and while you’re paying, have a taste of their range of jams, chutneys and sauces.
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