Nestled in the Mount Lofty Ranges, just two hours from Adelaide CBD, the picturesque Clare Valley wine region is typified by historic villages, rambling homesteads and cellar doors in charming stone cottages. While wine production is small – around 50 boutique wineries producing less than two percent of Australia’s wine – it has a mighty reputation, with Clare Valley wines featuring prominently on wine lists and in private cellars around the globe.
The first vines were planted in the 1840s, and the first winery established in 1851 – by Jesuits, who grew grapes for sacramental wine. You can still visit Sevenhill Cellars today, with its stone cellars and historic church set in tranquil gardens. These days though, Clare Valley is best known for its distinct, citrusy riesling that tastes zesty while young and ages beautifully too. The climate is warm – not generally conducive to riesling, but with much of the region at altitude (up to 500 meters) nights are cool, and the variation in temperature adds complexity to the ripening grapes. Other varietals worthy of mention include fragrant shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and semillon.
The focus here tends to be on tradition, sustainability and regional authenticity, but Clare Valley winemakers are also known for innovation. In 2012, the Barry family planted the first assyrtiko vines in Australia – after discovering the Greek varietal in Santorini (try refreshing Jim Barry Assyrtiko for the perfect seafood partner – selected stores only.) And remember when screw tops first appeared on Riesling back in 2000? The shift away from corks was instigated by Clare Valley wineries driven to better preserve the freshness and vitality of their riesling.
A wonderful way to discover the region is to walk or cycle the legendary Riesling Trail which links the five sub districts, Clare, Sevenhill, Watervale, Polish Hill River and Auburn. Pleasantly flat, the 33 km trail follows a disused railway through timeless rural scenery, dipping in and out of atmospheric wineries, cafes and enticingly-stocked providores.
For a fully immersive experience, the Clare Valley SCA Gourmet Week is Australia’s longest running traditional food and wine festival, with a slew of fabulous events taking place between 13 – 22 May in 2023.
An enchanting 1860s building sets the scene for a sophisticated locavore experience with a weekly changing menu based on the freshest seasonal Clare Valley produce. Expect dishes like kingfish tataki, crispy black mussels, kohlrabi, hot and sour rhubarb (above), steamed flathead with zucchini flower, finger lime and almond cream, and beef striploin with potato & tarragon, broad beans and sauce soubise.
This lovingly restored pub with a sunny beer garden offers a genuine farm to plate experience, with many ingredients sourced from their own organic farm. Enjoy a la carte dishes like sautéed Spanish style SA prawns, or go the full monty with a Six Senses Penobscot Farm Tour which includes a six-course degustation menu and matched wines.
Epitomising the emerging gourmet food scene in Clare, this contemporary bistro with rooftop bar specialises in shared plates – think kingfish sashimi with barrel aged tamari and wasabi, and quail saltimbocca with polenta and grapes. You can also stock up on artisanal goods in the deli.
For a quirky yet very comfortable Clare Valley experience, this upscale bed and breakfast overlooks vineyards and countryside. The owner is an artist, so expect eclectic artwork and a creative layout. Feeling nostalgic? One of the sheds comes with a funky 70s record player and records.
An iconic Clare Valley property, spacious self-contained sandstone heritage cottages have wood fires and are located within a picturesque landscape. Ideal for families, this is a working farm with opportunities to feed the animals, explore scenic walking trails and spot kangaroos and wild deer.
An idyllic rural retreat set amidst towering gums adjacent to the Riesling Trail. Restored, self-contained 19th century cottages have names like Kookaburra, Galah and Rosella and there is no shortage of bird life to admire from your patio. Generous breakfast supplies come from the best local producers.
Enjoy themed tastings including limited release, museum back vintages and cellar door exclusives within the heritage-listed Enterprise Brewery Building, a major landmark in Clare.
Ever dreamed of being a winemaker? Get a taste for the art with hands on wine blending sessions. Try Knappstein Riesling for the classic taste of the Clare Valley, and Knappstein Cabernet Sauvignon brimming with ripe plum and rich dark chocolate. Available in selected stores only.
Set on 100 acres of rolling slopes, Pikes Wines is best known for riesling but you will also find memorable shiraz such as Pikes Eastside Shiraz characterised by dark fruits, hints of chocolate and liquorice, and a touch of spice. The Pikes Brewery is here too if you want to change things up with a craft beer, while Slate restaurant serves up award-winning modern Australian cuisine.
Join a fascinating estate tour, learn about the winery’s history and sustainable practices with a guided wine tasting in the 1890s cellar door, or simply relax in the tranquil garden with a generous cheese board and a glass of wine. Top tip: Mitchell Watervale Riesling can be enjoyed immediately for a long lingering fruit finish, but will develop rich toasty characters with age.
Have a picnic
Pop into the onsite providore at Shut the Gate Winery for an extensive selection of cheeses, cured meats, dips and dukka – great accompaniments to an earthy Shut the Gate Ripple Iron Sangiovese. Enjoy your feast in the shady garden, or pack a picnic blanket and drive out to Lake Bumbunga – a salt lake famed for its vibrant bubble gum pink waters.
Discover the colourful landscape
One of the richest megafauna sites in Australia, Redbanks Conservation Park has an interpretive walking trail that leads through rugged red earth gorges where diprotodon (giant wombat) once roamed. Keep an eye out for smaller modern-day inhabitants like echidnas, southern hairy-nosed wombats and red kangaroos.
Step back in time with a visit to Mintaro – a perfectly preserved 19th century village filled with stone cottages, rambling gardens, rustic pubs and several cellar doors. Film buffs can visit nearby Martindale Hall – the 1880s Georgian-style sandstone mansion that featured in Peter Weir’s classic Picnic at Hanging Rock.