A taste of heaven in the Clare Va lley
I’m propped at the bar of Good Catholic Girl Wines’ new tasting room in an old stone cottage stuffed with huge chandeliers, icons and ecclesiastical bling. Behind the bar of this self-styled “vestry” in the tiny town of Sevenhill in South Australia’s Clare Valley, Julie Barry is pouring wine and dispensing a little local history while we sample her excellent “Teresa” Riesling. The area to the north of the Clare was known as Vatican Valley and it was Austrian Jesuits who founded this settlement in 1851, says Barry, daughter of pioneering Clare winemaker the late Jim Barry.
The good brothers still make sacramental and table wine just across the way at Sevenhill Cellars and it’s here I repair next, dodging blessed cyclists wobbling in from the Riesling Trail that follows the old railway line through the vineyards (kind of a mini Camino de Santiago on wheels). A soft sun plays across dappled lawns; pilgrims drift into the chapel and crypt. In the cool cellar of the oldest winery in the Clare, visitors are sampling the brothers’ very fine single vineyard riesling. There’s definitely something in the
air here, and what with the spring sunshine and quiet, the bird song and wine, a kind of alchemy is conjured that seems a million miles from the 21st century.
Three decades ago, the urbane David Hay and Michael Speers fell under this same spell and purchased a derelict homestead on the outskirts of the village, transforming it into a handsome country guest house that garnered a dedicated following.
Nine years ago they decided to downsize, selling the homestead to the “Jessies” and building a contemporary retreat, Thorn Park by the Vines, tucked away among tall gum trees on a tea-coloured dam where Walker the kookaburra wreaks havoc with the fly screens and Maniacal Cackle tree frogs serenade guests to sleep. David is a fantastic cook and Michael the host extraordinaire – every afternoon he crafts personalised menus in a lovely copperplate. They have the whole house party thing down pat, rustling up nightcaps or early morning coffee with an intuitive ease that’s never intrusive.
With an unerring eye, David and Michael have seamlessly combined all mod cons in this light and airy home with a relaxed English country house vibe. Think properly comfy chairs and handsome antiques arrayed across a large open plan living area, running one entire side of the building and opening onto a terrace overlooking the dam. Prop at the long bench in the kitchen for a cuppa or cocktail or retire to one of the many squishy sofas with a book or magazine from the large library. Three very large double bedrooms with en suites afford privacy and quiet.
It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and as luck would have it I’m the only guest. After drinks on the terrace where the low light makes a honeyed oil painting of gum trees reflected in still, gold-flecked waters, we move indoors for dinner, the perfect time for the usual handful of guests to swap notes while Michael pours and David rattles the pans in the kitchen.
There’s generally too much talk and quite a bit of wine (perhaps I have that back to front) so a lie-in the next morning is recommended; breakfast is ready when you are. Then a walk or cycle through the vineyards past rippling fields of wheat, wild irises growing on red earth creek banks and stone cottages smothered with wisteria. Divine.
Perfect for: Couples who enjoy meeting like-minded travellers; friends or families in party mode.
Must do: Drop by Martindale Hall, a lonely outpost of pastoral empire and familiar to anyone who’s seen Picnic at Hanging Rock. The grand interiors include a billiard room with its original griffin-entwined gasolier, and the fantastical Smoke Room stuffed with trophies of empire and the globetrotting adventures of an Edwardian gentleman.
Dining: Lunch with a view at Bush Devine at Paulett Wines’ cellar door; dinner at Seed Winehouse + Kitchen in the Clare township. Getting there: An easy two-hour drive north from Adelaide.
Bottom line: Rooms from $425 per couple per night including breakfast, wine and beverages. Dinner with wine: $125 per person.
Vine recline: Thorn Park, outside and in; main pic and bottom, Sevenhill Cellars