Clare Valley: Calling all wine lovers
If you want to visit Jeffrey Grosset's cellar door, you have to time it right.
Clare Valley's best-known winemaker opens his cellar door in September each year, and shuts it again when he has sold his stock, which is usually just five or six weeks later.
Few winemakers sell out so quickly but few winemakers can match Grosset's reputation.
Since he established his Clare Valley winery 33 years ago, Grosset has built an international following, being hailed as one of the Top 10 white winemakers by Britain's Decanter magazine.
However, Grosset has determinedly kept things "small and focused", as he tells me when I talk to him at his cellar door.
"We only have five vineyards, which means we can handpick them all," Grosset says. In a good year, Grosset will make around 12,000 cases of his award-winning wines, including his Polish Hill riesling and Gaia, a blend of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. No wonder they sell out fast.
The holistic, handmade approach is a cornerstone of Grosset's winemaking. "We were doing organic viticulture before people started using the word organic: no chemicals, no organic mulch, no pesticides," he says.
That intimate approach is one of the Clare Valley's most appealing traits. Located just 90 minutes north of Adelaide, the Clare Valley is often overshadowed by the Barossa's big guns. However, if you're after a wine getaway that includes scenic villages, small scale vineyards and superb wines - particularly its delicious rieslings - Clare Valley is made to order.
There are plenty of big name cellar doors to visit - along with Grosset, other favourites include Annie's Lane, Tim Adams and Mount Horrocks - but the Clare is a welcoming place for young winemakers. Adam Barton, who is winning acclaim for the wines he makes under the Atlas label, says that thanks to the investment in the wine industry over the past 20 years, "Any young winemaker can work hard, save hard and get together enough money to buy some fruit."
That's pretty much what Barton has done. In addition to his popular riesling and shiraz, he has just made his first vermentino. "I'm really, really happy with it," he says, describing it as sitting somewhere between a riesling and a lean chardonnay. He describes the wine as crisp and fresh, with a range of notes including oyster shell and sea spray, as well as citrus fruits and floral notes.
Although Barton doesn't have a cellar door, visitors can sample his wines at local restaurants such as Terroir in Auburn. The Clare Valley's most memorable dining experience comes courtesy of chef Dan Moss, a South Australian who worked in Canada and London before heading back to the Clare Valley to open his first restaurant.
Moss is a dedicated locavore and a chef who likes to get his hands dirty. When I ask where he sources his tender asparagus - steamed for two minutes and served with a polenta-crumbed duck egg glowing like the sun - he replies, "I picked that yesterday morning in Mr Slugget's garden."
Mr Slugget is just one of his local suppliers; as we chat, another keen local gardener walks into the restaurant with a box of mixed greens for Moss to peruse.
"I get everything I can within a 100-mile basis, although the butter comes from further afield," he says. "I'd love to get it down to five kilometres."
It's not just the food that's local at Terroir, Moss's new restaurant. The airy homestead is decorated with antiques, as well as striking artwork by local artist Jen Prior.
The pared-back dishes showcase his farm-fresh ingredients. "I want to keep the integrity, keep the taste," he says.
The chicken terrine - made from scratch using the whole bird - is served with smoked, spiced almonds and a few drops of lemon cream. Delicate stalks of tempura broccolini and a turnip and carrot pickle, accompany the beef carpaccio, made from scotch fillet.
"For me, flavour trumps tenderness every time," Moss says.
After lunch at Terroir, it's time for some exploring. Auburn lies just around the corner from Clare's prettiest village, Mintaro, which is graced with an extraordinary collection of 18th century bluestone houses. Stop in at Reilly's Cellars to try the aromatic rieslings and rich shirazes, or enjoy a snack in its dining room.
Jen Prior's gallery, Iron Gate Studio, is around the corner. Also in the area is Martindale Hall, a grand Georgian mansion that featured as the boarding school in the film, Picnic at Hanging Rock. If you're planning a picnic, the township of Clare is the place to stock up on quality food.
Try the homemade chicken liver pate at Artisan's Table, or pick up some gourmet sausages at Mathies Meat, where you'll also find a selection of game as well as house-cured ham.
Sevenhill is home to the area's oldest winery, Sevenhill Cellars. Established by the Jesuits in 1851 to make sacramental wine, the winery is still going strong.
Take a stroll through the tranquil grounds, taking a peek inside the imposing St Aloysius church while you're there.
Alternatively, at Sevenhill you can hire a bike to ride the Riesling Trail, a former rail track that links a series of vineyards along its 35-kilometre trail.
The best local accommodations share the intimate, hands-on atmosphere that defines the Clare Valley. Those who like a touch of the city with their country experience will love Thorn Park by the Vines. Set on a lovely bush block just outside Sevenhill, a stay in this chic, three-room retreat feels like visiting friends. David Hay and Michael Speers are welcoming hosts, offering not just a superb library but also plenty of cosy corners in which to curl up with one of their books.
Dinner is a highlight of any stay, with Hay cooking up an extravagant repast while you watch.
Alternatively, if you prefer a touch of grandeur, North Bundaleer homestead makes up for its more remote location with spectacular interiors. Beautifully restored by its owners, Marianne and Malcolm Booth, this magnificent pastoral property is an enchanting relic of the area's heyday.
The writer travelled with the assistance of South Australian Tourism.
Thorn Park by the Vines, 37 Quarry Road, Clare. See thornpark.com.au. Superb degustation dinners are part of the attraction at this boutique hideaway with just three rooms.
North Bundaleer Homestead, RM Williams Way, Jamestown. See northbundaleer.com.au. At the far end of the valley, this grand pastoral homestead is a hidden treasure.
Terroir Auburn, Main North Road, Auburn.
Skillogalee Restaurant, Hughes Park Road, Sevenhill. See skillogalee.com.au.
Grosset Wines, King Street, Auburn. See grosset.com.au.
Sevenhill Cellars, College Road, Sevenhill. See sevenhill.com.au.
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