Aussie Christmas, Sevenhill Cellars

View west from the Blickinstal B&B

Coming north through the Adelaide Hills, the windy roads straighten and flatten out and you arrive in an entirely different landscape, the broad, open, sunny and fertile Barossa Valley. This is the epicenter of the SA wine industry, which was begun by Prussian/ German immigrants in the 1840s. Many of the wineries are still owned and worked by the 6th Generation of the original settlers.

Heritage Building, Williamstown

Chateau Yaldara

Although the Barossa is home to many of the giants of the Australian wine industry; Jacob’s Creek, Wolf Blass, Peter Lehmann, Penfolds and Kalleske, it never feels crowded or overly commercialized. It’s a very large landscape, full of wonderful food and wine opportunities, but adamantly rural, similar to Sonoma in California. Arriving in early summer, mid-week, we had the place almost to ourselves.

Getting down to business, Chateau Yaldera

One feature that gives the Barossa such a distinct ambience are the many stone heritage buildings built over 150 years of settlement from the local bluestone. Beautiful stone churches stand sentinal in every hamlet.

Irrigated vineyards backed by golden hills.

The famous German church at Gnadenfrei, surrounded by vines

Gnadenfrei vineyards

The rows of palms leading to Seppelt Winery

Tawny Port casks from the 1930’s

The Seppelt Winery, est 1851, is an Australian icon. The family made it’s fortune shipping fortified wines, Ports and Sherrys, throughout the British empire at it’s zenith. They still produce fortified wines and possess the world’s largest collection of ancient wines, with an unbroken lineage back almost to the founding of the winery. They are famous for their DP90 Tawny, which is only released when it is 100 years old!

Barrel detail

Seppelt Winery

The pathway to the relatives

Generations of Seppelts are buried in the family crypt, a Grecian-style mausoleum that sits on a beautiful knoll above Seppeltsfield, the family…!

Seppelts Mausoleum

View over the valley

Shorn for summer…lambchops..!

Settler’s gravestone, many in German

German church, Gnadenfrei

A working agricultural landscape

Wheat harvest

Restored heritage farmhouse

A rare, unrestored farmhouse

Blickinstal B&B garden and gum
Ferment Asia

We had dinner in Tanunda at a fabulous Asian fusion restaurant, set incongruously in an 1840’s German farmhouse. It’s an interesting place…

Driving home in the evening, the golden hills deepen dramatically as the sun sets over the verdant valley floor. Magical…!

The road home to Blickinstal

The road towards Tanunda

Barossa Valley sunset

Next morning, we were up early to hike the gravel road that snakes up onto the hills that back up behind the B&B. The sense of mystery just pulled you along, higher and higher, and we soon found ourselves in a different world. Wilder, tumbled and rumpled…nothing like the manicured vineyards below.

A misty morning rain

We started out in a refreshing, misty rain, but in these parts rain never lingers. The sky cleared as we moved higher, and the heat began to rise.

The road ahead

A rough back valley, no grapevines here

Ancient Eucalypt, aka “Gum”

A curious local

As we moved higher into the bush, the birdlife became amazing in numbers and diversity. Sudden bursts of rocket-fast Lorikeets, a multi-colored blur, hoarse calls of Cockatoos and Galahs, hawks riding thermals overhead. On this five mile walk, we had some of the best birdwatching we’ve experienced in Australia, which is really saying a lot!


The subtle play of light on prairie

The road back down to reality…

Galahs willing to pose patiently

A satisfying hike…

Blickinstal B&B vineyards, overlooking Tanunda

Stephanie, in the vines

Soon enough it was time to hit the road, moving further north, another 1 1/2 hours to the Clare Valley. Higher, cooler and famous for its white wines, esp. Rieslings. But of course, always time to stop at a few wineries along the way.

Old vines, self supporting

Australia, being so isolated, has some of the oldest commercial
vines on the planet. In fact, after Phyloxera and other diseases decimated vineyards in Europe, grafts of some varietals were sent back from Australia to their countries of origin to help re-establish the vines.

The tastemaster is actually English

The William the Conqueror Shiraz was a real eye-opener!

Turkey Flat also makes an excellent Grenache Rose

Dense lavender planted as a hedge and pruned

Stephanie at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop
Leaving Barossa vineyards

Recently harvested wheat field

We took a rural side road north though undulating, extensive wheat and barley fields, now being harvested. Bleached almost white under the intense sun, I actually had to put on sunglasses because it was hurting my eyes. Driving on a two lane blacktop for miles, the effect is hard to capture on camera, but like being immersed into a vast golden tapestry, that you drive over and around for hours. Very uniquely beautiful experience….

A fixer-upper

Signs of past wealth, middle o’ nowhere, SA

Marian vineyard sculpture

A Clare Valley must see is the Australian landmark of Sevenhill Cellars. The oldest winery in the Clare Valley, and one of the oldest in Australia, it was founded by the Jesuits in 1851 and is still run by them as a parish and retreat center. We learned that Sevenhill makes 80% of the sacremental wine used in Australia; as well as a wide range of highly regarded, world-class varietals.

Sevenhills vineyards

Post bushfire ruin, with bicycle

Retreat Center

The spacious grounds and European-styled stone architecture feel very non-Australian, and it’s hard to believe you are in rural South Australia at all.

Sevenhill is most famous for it’s arched stone-ceilinged wine cellars, which are from the 1800s and unique in Australia.

Am I really still in Australia…?

A bottle of the local drop….

Final resting places

It gets even more unusual, as adjacent to the wine cellars and under the church are the crypts where the Order has buried it’s brothers since arrival.

Room for three more….

Saint Aloysius Church

The Clare Valley Hotel Baby…!

After the monied, somewhat posh Barossa , Clare Valley came as a bit of a surprise. Firstly, as you drive up the main route north, it’s hard to tell you’re in a valley at all; kind of low and rolling. Also, while you see some vines, it feels much tighter and more forested than the open expanses of the Barossa. And the main town Clare, feels like a down to earth working ag town. Nothing fancy at all, just all the services you need. So after all the upscale food and wine since landing in SA, we embraced it. Had dinner at the Clare Hotel downtown, among all the local farmers and their wives. Pork roast dinner with roasted root veg, and the salad bar for $9.95…which is a screaming deal in Australia,, believe me, less than McDonald’s. And it was awesome….And funnily enough, this country pub had a world-class wine list of high-end SA wines; $7 a glass, filled generously, almost to the rim. I commented to the bartender, that I’d been eating and drinking half, for twice the price, all week. He seemed very pleased….

Tucking into dinner, Clare Hotel.

Clare Valley Hotel

Clare room service

The Clare Valley Hotel was similarly down home. When told the room came with complete cooked breakfast, the matronly Aussie owner asked if we’d like it in the dining room or brought to our door. I asked what the charge was for room service and she just laughed and said, “No worries, we’ll just bring it over.”  Which they did, and right on time.. My kind of place…!

Escarpment overlooking Clare Valley

Gum detail

After our awesome brekkie, we got out on a hike where you could get a better idea of the vastness of the Clare region. As always in Australia, more vast, strange and intriguing than expected…

Golden plains of SA

Getting onto the back roads, we explored some of the wineries for which Clare is world famous, esp. the Polish Hill River and Watervale areas.

A high-tech, closed wine dispenser. Just press the button!

Pike’s Winery Heritage building

View from Paulette’s Winery

Country road to Mintaro

The famous Magpie and Stump, Mintaro

We took a back road to the heritage-listed hamlet of Mintaro. Very much lost in time, it’s becoming something of a destination on the wine-tourist path. Surprisingly, many of the buildings are not yet fully renovated. But it is a fascinating glimpse into the not-so-distant past of SA.

A slightly odd renovation…

Country chapel

Slate walls and door detail


Trimming the lawn bowls lawn,the scooter flows back and forth sideways…

Reilly’s Winery, Mintaro

Roses everywhere

A fixer-upper…

Pretty quiet out here…

Martindale Hall

A major feature near Mintaro is the stunning Martindale Hall, an intact English Pastoral estate from the 1800’s. It’s been featured in several movies and earns it’s upkeep today as a  high-end B&B. Unfortunately, time was tight, Adelaide waiting two hours further south. Perhaps on the next visit….

Princess Stephanie welcomes you…

Martindale Hall stables

SA wheat fields, outside Adelaide

So, back on the road it was, heading south into Adelaide and, finally my Emergency Medicine
conference, and a bit of honest work…! Cheers! Part 3 will take you on a tour of “Radalaide”, a fascinating, hip city and the Adelaide Hills for some hiking, or bushwalking, as it’s called in Australia. January will find the good doctor hiking on the south island of New Zealand, including the famous Milford Track.  Surely, the stuff of an epic DDU series. Stay tuned!

I’m finishing Cheers! Part 2 on Boxing Day, after a solo Aussie Christmas, very festive….but eerily quiet without the kids… Stephanie and they are back at Fairview Farm for seven weeks. If you are in Cooperstown and reading this installment, please call and try to stop in to say Hi. Until our next meeting, I wish all family, friends and loyal readers a wonderful, healthy New Year in 2014. Cheers! DDU

Old Vines…cheers!
Airbourne, sans children!
More than 3 times closer to the South Pole than NY!!

Stephanie and I recently had a chance to get out and see another part of Australia, the vast and dry state of South Australia. I had a five day EM conference in Adelaide and Stephanie came along for five nights leading up to the event. We spent four wonderful nights B&B exploring the world-renowned wine districts of McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Barossa and Clare Valleys. A fertile arc running north, east and south, all are within a two hour drive from central Adelaide; making them popular weekend destinations for Adelaidians. These are some of the oldest and best vineyards in Australia, dating back to the arrival of German missionaries and settlers in the 1830’s.

It’s a dry country off the coastal strip

We found a sitter crazy enough to stay five nights with the Nolan kids, and were on our way… Adelaide is a green, graceful city of around 1 million , laid out by British military engineers in the 1830’s. The CBD is completely encircled by a wide swath of parklands containing the Torrens River. The Gulf of Saint Vincent presses along the western edge of the city, providing residents a long stretch of pristine beaches twenty minutes 

from downtown. The overall sense one gets on landing is similar to the central coast of California, with fertile valleys backed by sparsely wooded, low golden hills to the east. It gets pretty rural 30 minutes out of the airport and you suddenly feel you are somewhere out near the very edge of the planet…which you are.

Not feeling very Christmas-sy at 75 degrees

Feeling swell at the Victory Hotel…

We sort of started the trip backwards, getting right on the road from the airport, south to the McLaren Vale, beginning on the coast 45 minutes south of town. It has a cooler, maritime climate with refreshing ocean breezes from the SE sweeping up into the hills. With the elevation changes, it has multiple micro-climates and is the home to some legendary Aussie wineries. The diverse climate also allows a wide variety of grapes to prosper, Shiraz, Grenache, Chardonney, even Pinot Noir.

Local oysters two ways; natural with lime or soy and seaweed…

Lavender trimmed as a hedge

The first night, we got a taste of the howling SE winds off the vast Great Southern Ocean…It was throwing sand up off the beach at us. We ducked into the well-regarded Victory Hotel for the first of many great meals in SA.  The coastline is wild and ruggedly beautiful, but remains a memory only, due to a camera malfunction.

SA has a Mediterranean climate, and is often referred to as the Sonoma of Australia. The food and wines are local, diverse and world class; seafood, lamb and beef, charcuterie, cheeses, olives, fruit and veg of every variety.

Coriole Winery
Chapel Hill vineyards

Kangaroo pelvis antlers…or something…

Canine friend, Samuel’s Gorge Winery

Local lunch platter

Coriole tasting room

Wine tasting is the big activity in all these regions. They start around 1000 and end by 1700 . At no charge, the wineries pour small amounts, but you’ll sample 6-8 wines per stop, so a full glass. Most will pour some pretty high end stuff, $75-90 a bottle. So, it’s an awesome real-time education on the various styles grown in each region. The variations are startling. After 4 or 5 stops you can begin to get a bit tipsy, so a DD is recommended. Many wineries also have adjacent high-end restaurants.

Funnily enough, most only serve lunch. After a few days I began to realize that most everyone was probably back home napping by 1800, after a long day sampling the local hootch..So, if you go, plan on lunch, probably not dinner.

McLaren Vale from d’Arry’s Veranda, d’Arenberg Winery

Asian style  Duck Confit, d’Arry’s Veranda

d’Arenberg is the largest family owned winery in the Vale, where small family wineries are the norm. Fourth generation, and still very innovative, the wines are sublime and well priced.  We had one of the best meals ever  at their d’Arry’s Veranda restaurant. The staff was awesome and laid back, as we arrived almost two hours late for lunch, waylaid by a hike and various tastings…no worries…! Highly recommended.

Grilled Snapper with some crazy salad top…

McLaren Vale from d’Arry’s

d’Arenberg Winery

Chapel Hill Winery, built around an old abandoned country chapel

Clearing skies at Kay Brother’s Winery

Chilling out after a long day among the vines

Coriole Winery garden

Baby grapes

Sampling “The Absconder” Wirra Wirra Winery. Very good Shiraz…!

Big Bottle, made of wine corks..                                                

The famous “Church Block” vineyard, Wirra Wirra

Golden Coastal ranges hold in the moisture

 After two nights in the McLaren Vale we headed north through the Adelaide Hills. Home of over 50 smaller boutique wineries that specialize in cooler climate, lighter-bodied wines, we had lunch in the old German settlement of Hahndorf. Dating back to the 1830-40’s, it’s an unexpected delight; full of stone heritage buildings and interesting shops.

Getting in that Bavarian mood…Frauleins beware…!

Hahndorf Church

This can’t be Australia, or can it…?

I’m willing, but the horse appears startled…and alarmed!

Well-tended countryside everywhere

As charming and varied as the Adelaide Hills are, we had miles to go before we slept, and drove further north into the “Big Kahuna” of SA wine regions, the Barossa Valley; where we had dinner and B&B reservations waiting. That will be the subject of Part 2 of SA wine Regions. In part 3, we will finally make it to Adelaide proper, and back to the Adelaide Hills from the western side. Stay tuned (and sober !), I think it will be an interesting ride. Until then, Cheers!  DDU