On a recent stay in the McLaren Vale wine region of South Australia I decided to find some previously untried places to visit. There are more than 70 wineries in this region and others seem to pop up every so often so you can guarantee that the next time you visit you will find another favourite. We stayed at the McLaren Vale Lakeside Holiday Park with a group of friends and this friendly, green park didn’t disappoint. Just be prepared for the evening and morning chorus of noisy corellas that come to roost in the trees. Nothing like natures alarm clock to start the day!
My top picks from the last visit are:
- Ekhidna Wines
One visit to the website of this winery had me in. It appeared to have everything we look for in a winery, top wines of course and not too expensive, food on offer, an outdoor seating area, incredible views and this one had the bonus of a brewery too. What we didn’t expect was to find such a friendly wine maker and brewer like Matt Rechner who is completely hands on in the winery and leading the way with friendly and genuine customer service.
Matt has been in the wine industry since 1988, working both in Australia and California before returning to produce his own first vintage in 2001. After a minor hiccup with the first wine label name he launched the differently spelt ‘Ekhidna Wines’ label in 2003. This Ekhidna refers to the ‘she viper’, half woman half snake in Greek mythology, the mother of all monsters.
It didn’t take long for the wines produced to start winning awards with a 2006 Shiraz winning a ‘Best Australian Shiraz’ award. When you visit the bright and breezy cellar door you can taste 3 sparkling wines, 3 whites, 2 Rose and up to 10 different red varieties of which this region is mostly known for. But it doesn’t end there, you can also try 2 dessert wines and a selection of handmade beers, a cider and Ginger Beer. Every persons taste is catered for and with the hospitality and ambiance at the cellar door it’s a hard place to leave but one you’ll surely want to return to.
- Goodieson Brewery
Another one that I picked for its location but again we were very taken with the hospitality and relaxed surroundings. Jeff Goodieson is the head brewer in this family owned and run brewery and he began his brewing experience working for Lion Nathan, (probably the biggest company name in Australian brewing), in 1999.
The draw of a quieter less hectic lifestyle brought the family to McLaren Vale a couple of years ago and the Goodieson Brewery was born. At the Cellar Door you can see the brewery in action, select a range of beers for a tasting paddle then relax on the terrace, taking in a gorgeous view overlooking vineyards. What I loved about being here was of course the great tasting brews, but you felt like you were in someone’s backyard, relaxing on the deck, watching their old red dog wander around the grounds. It’s a very family friendly place to go with kids welcome and lots of lawn area for them to play, you can bring your dog (on leash) and bring your own picnic or snacks too – that is refreshing, there aren’t many places you can do that now. This is another Goodie for sure! Oh and if you get the chance, try the Christmas Ale – I loved it.
- Alpha Box and Dice
This one has a high quirky factor going on, where the idea behind the winery is to make 26 different wines, all starting with a different letter of the alphabet. This is one of those cellar doors where you find it hard for your eyes to settle, there is something of interest high and low, inside and out, all before you start to tasting wines. A bit of an ‘any find from the second hand shop thrown on the walls’ approach but interesting nonetheless.
The staff at the cellar door were bubbly bouncing and friendly and knew their unique wine varieties well and the stories behind them and the equally unique labels. The names each of the wines are given are definitely conversation starters and the labels are heavy on graphic design elements. This is a fun winery and good for grabbing a bottle, sitting outdoors and enjoying a food platter. It may pay to book ahead though because it’s a popular spot for sure. Hopefully, unlike our experience though you won’t get dropped like hot potatoes during the tasting experience if a group of ‘young and beautifuls’ arrive. We just bought a bottle of rose and made a hasty retreat.
- Wirra Wirra Winery
An impressive and unique giant timber fence, as in made out of massive tree trunks, guides you into this winery and gives you the impression you are in for something good here. We weren’t disappointed as the cellar door buildings made of Ironstone loom into view. There is also a wide green garden area that you notice before entering the building. Perfect for families and big groups.
Into the cellar door tasting room and more friendly Vales staff are there to guide you through the tasting. These wines are pretty well known throughout Australia with Wirra Wirra Church Block Shiraz a label used for four decades a favourite, affordable and reliable red. While at Wirra Wirra you can also eat in Harry’s Deli, a casual café that offers really tasty regional produce, small plates and platters at reasonable prices. The café was named after Wirra Wirra’s one time carpenter in residence, who worked there for many years and was responsible for the amazingly intricate wooden features throughout the building.
- Jungle in Willunga
This is a little oasis unlike anything else in the area and as the name suggests you will feel like you are walking through a cool tropical jungle. This garden centre is a destination on its own and can keep you busy for quite a long time. Kids will love it too with the jungle area, plantings of palms, bamboos and lush tropical plants also dotted with hidden wild animals to try and find.
The garden centre has a huge variety of lush and healthy plants to buy as well as planters, garden art, landscaping features and more but even if you just want to visit the ‘Jungle’ you can. It’s worth dropping a couple of dollars in the collection tin to wander through and enjoy this tranquil garden and you may even want to bring out your inner Tarzan and have a play in the climbing web.
So there are just a few more ideas for a weekend away in McLaren Vale but stay longer if you can. There is so much more to discover. One big tip would be to go and visit the wineries and other places on a week day if possible because they can be way too crowded on weekends but if that’s not possible the tip is, if one winery is busy, move on to find another less crowded one, they are out there!
And as always if you are around on a Saturday don’t miss the Willunga Farmers Market for passionate enthusiastic local producers selling their wares as well as buskers and fabulous ‘day after’ food to buy.