Yesterday I got up to the night we had a great fire and a warm night in the van (I'd drank too much wine while I was doing the blog at our friend Chris's flat in Bondi and had to stop and concentrate on watching Heroes - anyone else into that too?)
Anyway the next day (Thursday 1st May) we woke early and drove to the small town of Heywood, grabbed brekkie and headed to Mount Gambier on a very very long straight road. Stupidly we didn't check the petrol and realised halfway along this very very long road that we, possibly, didn't have enough petrol to get to the next town. After a very anxious half an hour our trusty campervan got us to the petrol station at Mount Gambier, the gauge read after empty so we were very lucky and we always made sure we checked the petrol. Due to lack of time we didn't go and see the Blue Lake at Mount Gambier which apparently appears like a lush oasis built on the slopes of it's extinct volcano. The crater - Blue Lake - is a stunning sight and at certain times of the year looks sapphire in colour.
From Mount Gambier we drove North to Penola and then onto Coonawarra, Cabernet Sauvignon area, to sample the wine which is a product of Terra Rossa soil. There's basically one long road with the wineries on either side. First we stopped at Parker Estate and tried six wines including Chardonnay, Cab/Merlot, Shiraz, Merlot and Cab Sauv. Next was the family run Hollick Wines and then we went onto Bowen Estate were we chatted to the winemaker, Emma Bowen. Emma recommended that we go to Brands Laira next were Jem had a chat to the winemaker, Peter Weinburg.
Naracoorte was our next stop. We bought local beef burgers from the butcher for our barbie and stayed the night at Naracoorte Holiday Park ($28).
On Friday we got up early for the long drive to Clare Valley for the Gourmet Food and Wine Weekend. We past through the many vineyards of Padthaway (mainly Lindemans and Wolf Blass), had a laugh at the funny road signs about tiredness - "Survive this Drive" and "Drowsy means Die" and then stopped in Keith to get petrol and stretch our legs. Once we were back on the freeway we lost 5th gear and had to pull over and call the roadside assistance (it's times like this that you're pleased you have a mobile because we where in the middle of nowhere!) were we discovered that we didn't have reverse either! Roadside assistance said we could go to Adelaide and collect another van on Saturday morning at 10am and that was the best they could do. We were a bit gutted because we'd planned to go straight to Clare but we decided to spend the night in, the beautiful, Adelaide Hills, and drive to Adelaide the following morning. So we drove to the land of Sauvignon Blanc and cool climate Shiraz and Cabernet Merlot - in 4th gear, which was quite hard on the freeways with huge trucks (or road trains as they call them, see picture) right behind you but we got there in the end and just had to deal with no reverse in a town, but it was well worth the visit.
Adelaide Hills, centred in Mount Lofty Ranges, are a 30min drive from Adelaide. Windy, narrow roads lead you to villages, leafy hills, olive groves and vineyards. The countryside has a very English feel about it which is lovely. Wineries are dotted throughout the hills and have views to die for. We visite a number of them including The Lane, Hahndorf Hill Winery, Nepenthe and Petaluma, Bridgewater Mill which is situated in a beautifully restored 200yr old flour mill.
We also visited the town of Hahndorf, located 28km South East of Adelaide and is the oldest surviving German settlement in Australia. The main street is tree lined and has plenty of cute shops including a sweet shop were we got some delicious homemade caramel fudge. Settled in 1839 by Lutherans who left Prussia to escape religious persecution, the town took it's name from the ships captain, Hahn; dorf is German for village. We bought the best sausages ever in the local market which we had for tea and while we were deciding where to stay for the night we met some fellow wicked campers who recommended the campsite they were staying at - so we spent the night at Hahndorf Resort.
Early Saturday morning was spent packing up the van before we drove to Adelaide to collect our new home. We arrived at 10am, or so we thought, until the lady at the depot told us it was only 9.30am and we realised that we had forgotten to put our watches back half an hour (time difference in South Oz), so we had a coffee and waited for our van. When it arrived the people who had been driving it ad smashed the front light so we couldn't take that one (thankgod because it was really rude) and we got an automatic called the blindman which was quite nice - not as good as southpark though which people actually took photo's of and stood next to! We transferred all our stuff and the nice blankets we'd had in the Southpark van, cheeky I know, and drove the 3hrs to Clare Valley. It was wierd getting used to an automatic but I soon mastered it and sat back to enjoy the scenery.
Our first stop in Clare Valley was a winery called Mount Horrocks Wines in the Southern town of Auburn. The vineyards owner and winemaker, Stephanie Toole has been labelled as a name to watch. The town is also home to the richly accoladed winery Grosset Wines which unfortunately for us is only open for tastings 5 wks of the year and it wasn't the time that we were there!
We drove seven kilometres north of Auburn to the hamlet of Leasingham and from here we drove through the small town of Watervale. A Riesling from this town is regarded as the best in Clare Valley. Nearby is Clos Clare cellar door, based in the historic Florita Vineyard homestead. We popped into do a free wine tasting and there was a marque in the grounds, great atmosphere, homemade pizza's on the go and live music - all part of the Gourmet food and wine festival.
We drove through Penwortham which sits within a picturesque valley and continued on to the village of Sevenhill which is the turning point to exploring Skilly Hills. This is the home of three cracking wineries which we visited, the first was Kilikanoon Wines, next door Penna Lane Wines was at capacity but the guy at the cellar door at Kilikanoon took a liking to us and snuck us in through the backway! The final tasting was at Skillogalee Wines which is owned by Dave & Diana Palmer. Jem had a very positive chat with Dave, the winemaker about possible vintages. He is a British guy who bought a vineyard and makes great wines - a real inspiration. Along the way the wineries were selling expensive lunches of cheeses, hams, salami, bread etc and so we decided to buy our own 'ploughmans' locally for our dinner which we had with a nice bottle of 2006 Skillogalee Shiraz!
That night, to save on campsite fees, we decided to find a quiet spot to sleep in the van so we ended up down a dirt track with only a couple of houses for miles. A lady came out of her house to ask if we were lost and when we told her what we were doing she told us we could stay in her landlords disused barn next door, which we did. All very Wolf Creek but much appreciated! Straight after we'd parked up a guy in a ute asked us what we were doing and Jem told him and he said we looked genuine so it was fine to stay. All part of the fun hey! We watched the stars, which were so bright, and then hit the sack!
The Sunday of the gourmet weekend in Clare is the biggest day with coach loads of people turning up at the wineries that can cater for lots of drunk people. We decided to head to the cellar doors that didn't have events on so that we could taste the wine in peace - god I sound old don't I!!! We got up early and book into Clare Caravan Park for the night and started the day with a lovely hot shower and fresh clothes (I'd slept in my clothes that night because it was so cold). Had the luxury of a camp kitchen so made the most of it with a good brekkie to start the day - it's very hard cooking on a single gas cooker which we get with the van. The rest of the day was spent tasting wine (I was the driver so spat out!). We visited Phoenix Estates, Knappstein, in the regional centre of Clare,who had a good selection of older wines on tasting as part of the weekend and who make a brilliant beer which is brewed on site, and then drove to the historic town of Mintaro , a beautiful 11km drive north-east from Leasingham. Here Jem tasted the wine at Mintaro Wines, I wanted a break, and wasn't very impressed with the useless guy on the cellar door, so we didn't stick around. From here we drove to the Polish Hill River Valley, were we tasted 10 wines at Pikes, and had a quick stop at Paullett Wines, with lots of drunk bus loads and no wine on tasting. On the way home we popped into Skillogalee's event to show our support to Dave & Diana, these are people to keep in touch with, and then dumped the van at the campsite and went over the road to the Clare Showgrounds for some proper drinking - I was dying for a glass of wine that I didn't have to spit out. We got given two nice wines glasses which came in very handy in the van (drinking a good wine out of a beaker just doesn't feel right!) That night, while standing in front of the campsites lovely open fire, we met a great group of couples from the Barossa who plied us with wine and were great fun.
All in all we've had an amazing time in the Clare Valley and we've tasted some fantastic wines - all for free and with a very friendly service.