Perth local Jacqueline Perry-Strickland goes day tripping through the nearby idyll of the Swan Valley, WA’s oldest wine-growing region.
In Perth and find yourself at a loose end? The Swan Valley, nestled at the foot of the Darling Ranges, has activities aplenty: the Avon Descent, Spring in the Valley and the Lilac Hill Festival cricket match to name just a few. Not to mention wineries to rival Margaret River, breweries to rival Amsterdam and restaurants to rival Melbourne. And all just 20 minutes from the CBD.
Comprehensive maps of the charming district are available at each of the region’s dozen or so wineries, or from the Visitor Centre in the historic town of Guildford just south of the Valley, so take one to plot your course around the Swan Valley Drive, a 32km loop.
Viticulture in the Valley dates back to the 1830s when a couple of botanists, also extensive growers of grapes, started conducting experiments. Those initial assays have led to the region becoming famous for its Chenin Blanc, Verdelho, Shiraz and range of fortifieds. Fittingly, the site of their original collaboration is now the Water’s Edge winery.
Travelling into the Swan Valley along West Swan Rd, you’ll pass Lilac Hill Park, home of the famous Festival Match. An international touring team is pitted against the ACB Chairman’s XI, with Aussie cricketers involved in previous years including Dennis Lillee, Geoff Lawson, Geoff Marsh and the late David Hookes. England are touring in 2006, so it’s a great chance to witness a bit of Ashes revenge.
Nearby Lilac Hill Estate is a quaint boutique winery that does a tasty Zinfandel. Try their range as you browse through the assorted preserves and items of woodwork and pottery on sale. Founded in 1840, Sandalford Caversham Estate – on the banks of the Swan near the intersection of West Swan and Middle Swan Roads – is a doyen among wineries in the Valley. It offers excellent wine that you can learn to savour by taking one of their wine appreciation classes. And to enjoy fine music, wine and food, don’t miss out on tickets to their annual Day on the Green concert.
Craving something sweet? Stop by the Margaret River Chocolate Company further up West Swan Rd and tuck into their samples. There are exquisite handmade choccies, coconut rough, cherry delight, nougat crunch and liquorice on offer to tempt you. Or how about some chocolate massage oil? Chocolate soap? Chocolate sauce for your pudding? Have a hot chocolate in the cafe while you decide.
Continue along West Swan Rd and turn right on to George St. In this delightful rural setting you’ll find Ambrook Wines, whose proprietor, Michele Amonini, will welcome you with a smile and tastings galore. He does a great Verdelho, so take a bottle out to the trellised vines and wile away an afternoon.
George St links back to West Swan Rd where you’ll find Oggie’s Ice Cream Cafe. Enjoy your ice cream on their sprawling front lawn while you study the map and decide on your next stop. Before you leave, pick up some sweeties for the car from their English lolly shop.
At the end of West Swan Rd, turn right on to Great Northern Hwy for the return journey to Guildford and Perth. If anyone is whining about too much wining, turn right onto Haddrill Rd for the Feral Brewing Company: “A true beer oasis in the heart of wine country.” Stop by for lunch, the Sunday afternoon jazz session, or just to sample their award-winning brews. For $12 you can taste their entire range: Organic Pilsner, Belgium White, German Red, Pale Ale, Swan Valley Stout or Monty’s Mild. At the Australian International Beer Awards, Feral consistently scoops silver and bronze, and scored gold in ’03 for the Pilsner. The adventurous may wish to try the monthly specialty. (You won’t believe how good pumpkin beer can taste.)
Wine time again? Head to Baxter-Stokes at the end of Memorial Ave. Greg Stokes is a loquacious chap who’s always on for a yarn as you sample his range. “It’s all kept there in the silver oak,” he jokes, gesturing to the stainless steels vats behind the tasting counter. And how has this year been in the Valley? “The fruit characters are extremely good and the yields have been excellent,” says Greg. “But then, every year is good in the Swan Valley, because it’s warm and not so affected by too much rainfall.”
His Tawny Port and Muscat are winners: “A few years back I made too much of the Tawny, so there it is in those two vats, waiting for my daughters’ 21st birthdays. I can’t wait to supervise.”
Take your next right off Great Northern Hwy for Houghton Winery, another doyen of the Valley. Set on 50 hectares, the homestead, cellars, parkland gardens and vineyard make for a charming setting, and one of the best ways to enjoy it is by getting along to their annual Jazz Wine Picnic in November, or presentation of Shakespeare in the Vines in February (see below for details).
April sees the jollity of the Taste of the Valley festival, coinciding with the grape harvest. Over five weekends, different venues offer gastronomic indulgences, premium wine sampling, food and wine appreciation talks, and special art exhibitions. The merriment reignites over the second weekend of October for Spring in the Valley, one of Australia’s largest food and wine festivals.
If you’re there the first weekend in August, you’ll be treated to the splash and dash of the Avon Descent. Paddlers travel from far and wide to compete in this gruelling 134km event. Spanning from the town of Northam to the Perth suburb of Bayswater, the Avon sees a field of 500 paddle over and through grade two and three rapids, weirs, and ti-tree thickets. Novices and hardened internationals compete alongside one another in canoes, kayaks, surf skis and sit-ons as individuals, duos or quads. Power dinghies also get to race but, sensibly, at a different time.
So you see, there’s a veritable cornucopia of activities awaiting you just a stone’s throw away from Perth. And if life is, as they say, a series of peaks and valleys, there are few better troughs to wallow in than the Swan.
DETAILS: Swan Valley
Swan Valley and Eastern Region Visitor Centre
Guilford Courthouse, cnr Swan and Meadow Sts, Guildford
Phone: (08) 9379 9400 Website: www.swanvalley.com.au
Lilac Hill Festival Match
A Day on the Green
Sandalford Caversham Estate, 3210 West Swan Rd, Caversham
Phone: (08) 9374 9300
Houghton’s Shakespeare in the Vines presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream
6-8pm, Feb 17-18, Houghton Winery, Dale Rd, Middle Swan
Tickets: $40, includes 187ml bottle of Houghton wine
Phone: (08) 9274 9540