On the road: Aus­tralia’s Fleurieu Penin­sula

Drive just 45 min­utes south from Ade­laide to dis­cover a laid-back land of ec­cen­tric wine­mak­ers, abun­dant farm­ers’ mar­kets, wild beaches and gourmet bou­tique ho­tels

Olive - - CONTENTS - Words LUCY GILLMORE

Wine-mak­ing is full of com­plex­i­ties. McLaren Vale’s larger-than-life wine­maker, Ch­ester Os­born, pon­dered how to show­case this strange alchemy. His re­sponse was the d’Aren­berg Cube, a daz­zling glass and steel struc­ture that has been dubbed ‘Willy Wonka’s wine fac­tory’ (daren­berg.com.au). A won­der­fully bonkers box of a build­ing, it ma­te­ri­alises, Tardis­like, out of the vines like a half-fin­ished Ru­bik’s Cube. As you ap­proach, eyes en­tranced by an op­ti­cal il­lu­sion at the en­trance, soft mu­sic (ac­ti­vated by weather sta­tions among the vines) lures you in.

In­side the five-storey at­trac­tion, restau­rant and tast­ing rooms, vis­i­tors take a sur­real Alice in Won­der­land trip through a sen­sory aroma room padded with blowsy rose heads and strung with bot­tles of fra­grant fruit and flow­ers, past a psy­che­delic art in­stal­la­tion and a vir­tual fer­menter, emerg­ing into a light, bright rooftop tast­ing area.

There you can sam­ple wines with names as in­tox­i­cat­ing as the vin­tages: The An­thro­pocene Epoch is the com­pany’s first bio­dy­namic wine, all ballsy beet­root and berries. The At­haz­ago­ra­pho­bic Cat (a blend of sagrantino and cin­sault grapes) is squeaky new leather and herbs laced with mouth-puck­er­ing tan­nins, while The Old Bloke & the Three Young Blon­des’ gnarly wood and spice-steeped shi­raz is tem­pered with three flirty flo­ral, fruit-frilled whites (rous­sanne, viog­nier and marsanne). Love it or loathe it, the d’Aren­berg Cube has put the Fleurieu Penin­sula on the map since launch­ing at the end of last year.

Un­til now the Fleurieu has been South Aus­tralia’s best-kept se­cret. In Ade­laide, the state cap­i­tal, lo­cals tend to in­no­cently point tourists to­wards the Barossa and Clare Val­leys, or to tourist hot spot Kan­ga­roo Is­land, which dan­gles off the penin­sula’s south­ern tip. Yet with Fleurieu (pro­nounced floo-ree-oh) just a 45-minute drive away – vir­tu­ally Ade­laide’s back­yard – they’re start­ing to get wise.

The Fleurieu has a Mediter­ranean cli­mate, laid-back vibe, wild, windswept beaches (you might recog­nise the glo­ri­ous sweep of Maslin Beach from Rus­sell Crowe’s film The Wa­ter Diviner), swathes of sil­very olive groves, a clutch of field-to-fork eater­ies and farm­ers’ mar­kets along with more than 70 bou­tique winer­ies. »

Within the penin­sula, McLaren Vale is the birth­place of the South Aus­tralian wine in­dus­try and home to some of the world’s old­est grapevines. This is shi­raz coun­try, the vine­yards rolling right down to the beach. The cool­ing winds flow­ing from the Mount Lofty Ranges to the coast also cre­ate the per­fect cli­mate for caber­net sauvi­gnon and grenache. What it has lacked, un­til re­cently, were char­ac­ter­ful places to stay but that is chang­ing too.

Along with gourmet bou­tique ho­tel The Aus­tralasian (aus­tralasian 1858.com) and rus­tic restau­rant, art gallery, cel­lar door and b&b Red Poles (red­poles.com.au), a hand­ful of new win­ery sleep­overs are open­ing up, in­clud­ing Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia Road, a mi­cro-ho­tel at Inkwell Wines (inkwell­wines.com).

My bed for the night is at The Vine­yard Re­treat, a clus­ter of four lux­ury cot­tages on a 15-acre work­ing vine­yard. Th­ese have a New Eng­land vibe – think wrap­around ve­ran­das, wood-burn­ing stoves, a smat­ter­ing of antlers, tongue and groove, taupe and cream colour pal­ettes, soar­ing ceil­ings and sweep­ing views over reg­i­mented rows of shi­raz and old grenache vines (thevine­yardmv.com.au). In Au­gust, own­ers Anthea and Stu Cross added a lux­ury ‘cadole’ glamp­ing pod to the mix with an­other one to fol­low later in the year (cadoles were small vine­yard huts used for cen­turies in France).

The cou­ple bought the prop­erty five years ago be­cause they fell in love with the views – some of the best are from the hill­top hot tub. The cot­tages’ well-stocked kitchens in­clude wel­come packs of lo­cal pro­duce in­clud­ing smoked ba­con from El­lis Butch­ers (el­lis­butch­ers.com), free-range eggs and a bot­tle of chilled viog­nier from nearby Yan­garra Es­tate Vine­yard in the fridge (yan­garra.com).

There is also a folder of restau­rant tips: among them are The Salop­ian Inn, where chef-owner Karena Arm­strong serves con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian dishes such as soy-braised kan­ga­roo tail with chilli caramel and szechuan salt (salop­ian.com.au), and Piz­za­teca with its gourmet wood-fired piz­zas (pizza-teca.com). You can also or­der lo­cal tast­ing plat­ters from Lisa Robert­son at Way­wood Wines – on my sec­ond night I de­vour goat’s curd, crusty bread, duck, pork and fig ter­rine, a beet­root dip, fig chut­ney, tra­di­tional saucis­son, camem­bert and quince paste (way­wood­wines.com).

But on the first evening I am keen to graze my way round Wil­lunga Farm­ers’ Mar­ket. The first in South Aus­tralia, es­tab­lished in 2002, it hosts around 80 ar­ti­san pro­duc­ers, and was hold­ing a spe­cial night mar­ket with live mu­sic (willun­ga­farm­ers­mar­ket.com.au). Wil­lunga is a pic­ture­post­card her­itage town with just a whiff of the Wild West. Mooching around stalls of or­ganic fruit and veg­eta­bles, lo­cal honey, char­cu­terie and cheeses, I buy a bag of juicy peaches and tiny, crunchy Par­adise pears. There is a long queue at the Lit­tle Acre Foods stand but it is worth the wait. My mor­eish mush­room panini oozes deep, dark mush­rooms smeared with melted raclette and gruyère. Wind­ing back home as the sun starts to sink, I un­cork the cool viog­nier on the deck as a cloud of pink-crested cock­a­toos swoop and swirl over the vines.

There is more drink­ing the fol­low­ing day as I head out on the winer­ies trail. A hand­ful of spe­cial­ist com­pa­nies of­fer wine-tast­ing tours if you don’t want to worry about drink­ing and driv­ing, but if you’d rather go un­der your own steam you can cy­cle The Shi­raz Trail, a four-mile route along an old rail­way line be­tween McLaren Vale and Wil­lunga.

What is McLaren Vale’s USP? I ask Greg Lin­ton of Wine Diva Tours as I clam­ber into his car (wine­di­va­tours.com.au). “Most of the cel­lar doors are fam­ily owned, not com­mer­cial,” he says. “They put more love into the wines.”

This is cer­tainly true of Ch­ester Os­born, the fourth gen­er­a­tion at d’Aren­berg, and of Hugh Hamil­ton, the fifth gen­er­a­tion to over­see one of the re­gion’s most pic­turesque winer­ies (hugh­hamil­ton­wines.com.au). Whether they’re the old brigade or the new van­guard, they’re all one-offs. Bio­dy­namic Wirra Wirra dates back to 1894 and its wine­mak­ers like to »

hurl wa­ter­mel­ons from a me­dieval siege ma­chine – it’s their thing (wirrawirra.com). Sa­muel’s Gorge is a rus­tic cel­lar up a dirt track in an old olive mill over­look­ing the Onka­paringa Gorge (gorge.com.au). The new kids on the block in­clude Al­pha Box & Dice, a young team pro­duc­ing small-batch vin­tages, the cel­lar a ram­shackle old sta­ble strewn with vin­tage arm­chairs, a pi­ano, pin­ball ma­chine and stuffed ar­madillo (al­phaboxdice.com).

For lunch we pull up out­side leg­endary seafood restau­rant, Star of Greece, a rick­ety beach shack tee­ter­ing on the clifftop at Port Wil­lunga (starof­greece.com.au). The Fleurieu is also fa­mous for its fish, the King Ge­orge whit­ing in par­tic­u­lar. We tuck into fish and chips Fleurieu style, along with Kan­ga­roo Is­land salt and pep­per squid, cit­rus aïoli and lime, watch­ing surfers in the waves far be­low.

The next day I jump into Ben Neville’s 4x4 and head off the beaten track, ex­plor­ing the lesser-known side of the Fleurieu (off­pis­te­tours.com.au). We bump along dusty dirt tracks in the Onka­paringa River Na­tional Park, stop­ping sa­fari-style on a hill­side to sip a glass of lo­cal viog­nier as kan­ga­roos hop among the trees, be­fore ca­reer­ing down a dirt track lined with rustling red gum eu­ca­lyp­tus for a river­side pic­nic.

Back on the wine trail, our next stop is the pared-back, sleekly styled tast­ing room at Bekkers vine­yard (bekker­swine.com). Aus­tralian/French cou­ple Toby and Em­manuelle Bekkers pro­duce just three wines: a grenache, syrah grenache and a syrah. I taste the 2016 grenache, which has a hint of aniseed. The 2015 had more clove on the palate, Em­manuelle tells me. The syrah grenache is silkier: adding syrah to the mix changes the tex­ture, she ex­plains. The syrah is in­tense, dense but still silky.

For lunch we swing by an­other starkly mod­ern win­ery. Min­i­mal­ist Mi­tolo looks as though it’s been con­structed out of ship­ping con­tain­ers and has an in­dus­trial vibe (mi­tolowines.com.au). The on-site restau­rant, Bocca di Lupo, com­bines con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian and Ital­ian cui­sine in in­no­va­tive dishes such as baby beet­roots, liquorice sponge, wal­nut and choco­late, and char­coal mal­t­agliati with as­para­gus, le­mon and truf­fle parme­san.

Af­ter a few days in McLaren Vale I ven­ture south to the tip of the penin­sula, jut­ting into the South­ern Ocean. Here you’ll find the old Vic­to­rian sea­side re­sort of Vic­tor Har­bor, 19th-cen­tury town Goolwa (renowned for its cock­les and the mouth of the Mur­ray River) and the Coorong Na­tional Park.

Driv­ing through quaint Port El­liot with its low-slung old build­ings, cool beach bou­tiques, old-fash­ioned gro­cery stores and her­itage trail, I clock the queue snaking out the door of the leg­endary Port El­liot Bak­ery, fa­mous for its meat pies (portel­liot­bak­ery.com). I come back to Port El­liot for a din­ner of scal­lops with wasabi and gin­ger at Fly­ing Fish, a seafood restau­rant on the gen­tle curve of sand at Horse­shoe Bay (fly­ing­fish­cafe.com.au), but first I need to check into my sea­side pad.

The Beach Huts in Mid­dle­ton (beach­huts.com.au), just two blocks from a fab­u­lously wild stretch of sand, are lit­tle clap­board cot­tages, candy coloured and cute. Noosa, my hut, is retro-chic with soar­ing white ceil­ings and a mid-cen­tury vibe. In the fridge I find break­fast pro­vi­sions – along with a com­pli­men­tary bot­tle of bub­bly from Langhorne Creek. Greg had men­tioned the winer­ies there, the fact that they are off the beaten track, undis­cov­ered. Maybe they’re Fleurieu’s next best-kept se­cret...

HOW TO DO IT

Re­turn flights from Lon­don Heathrow to Mel­bourne via Abu Dhabi start at £696 (eti­had.com). Re­turn flights from Mel­bourne to Ade­laide start from £120 (vir­gin­aus­tralia.com). Cot­tages at The Vine­yard Re­treat (thevine­yardmv.com.au) start at £260 per night, and at the Beach Huts in Mid­dle­ton from £90 (beach­huts.com.au). For more info see southaus­tralia.com. Fol­low Lucy on In­sta­gram and Twit­ter @lucy­gill­more.

LEFT: AL­PHA BOX & DICE VINE­YARD

ABOVE, FROM LEFT: D’AREN­BERG CUBE; KING GE­ORGE WHIT­ING AT THE FLY­ING FISH IN PORT EL­LIOT. OP­PO­SITE, CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: THE FARM­ERS’ MAR­KET IN WIL­LUNGA; A WEL­COME PACK AT THE VINE­YARD RE­TREAT; IN­SIDE AN ESCAPOD AT THE VINE­YARD RE­TREAT; THE BEACH AT PORT WIL­LUNGA; WIL­LUNGA TOWN; SCAL­LOPS AT FLY­ING FISH IN PORT EL­LIOT; A VEG­ETABLE STALL AT WIL­LUNGA FARM­ERS’ MAR­KET; BEACH HUTS IN MID­DLE­TON; GRAPES ON THE VINE, READY FOR HAR­VEST­ING

ABOVE, FROM LEFT: LUNCH AT BOCCA DI LUPO; NOOSA AT BEACH HUTS IN MID­DLE­TON

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