Sim­ply di­vine

A taste of heaven in the Clare Va lley

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - LIFE - By Chris­tine McCabe

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

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