The third and final part of our stunning sojourn around South Australia continued the theme of the trip being that “It’s not what you know but who you know that counts”. The ‘family’ element of the trip was reduced to just the Venue Managing German husband, 5 and 3 year olds and myself as the niece and great niece sadly had to return to Melbourne for work. (Why does life have to get in the way of wine tasting?). After sadly packing up the Air BnB holiday home-away-from home (we quite fell in love with Henley Beach and all its noticeably new waterfront bars and restaurants) and took the relatively short drive to McLaren Vale.
As we had with Shaw + Smith the husband had organised a wine tasting at Yangarra, which felt more like being inside a luxurious lodge than a cellar door. Again, we were warmly greeted by name and made to feel welcome in a luxuriously comfortable leather sofa accompanied by a unique wooden coffee table that tripled as firstly a base for our wine flight, secondly a display case of the wine varieties and the soil that they grow in and thirdly, much to the delight of the children a drawer full of toys. (Also, not so secretly a delight to the German husband and I as having the children occupied meant that there was more opportunity for us to truly relax and enjoy some outstanding wines.) Like the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale also produces some stunning Shiraz however Grenache is probably the most well known variety for this particular wine region. It goes without saying that Yangarra knows how to showcase these two varieties perfectly with their GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre or Mataro, depending on where you’re from). As if we hadn’t been spoilt enough by the extensive range of wines that we were able to try we were also given the opportunity to taste The Whole Bunch Shiraz (perfectly resealed with a Coravin) and then generously gifted a bottle of GSM to take home.
Speaking of ‘home’ our digs for the next two nights was at Mick O’Shea’s in Hackman, a 10 minute drive from McLaren Vale. Situated on the the main road this Irish-style bar is huge with a typical bistro bar reminiscent of Dublin’s Temple Bar district (only much bigger) and a massive garden bar with an actual garden, so large that many patrons and their children were able to play ball games without being a nuisance to other guests. Having the newly renovated hotel part of the complex separate from the main building meant that the rooms were quiet and self contained while still providing the convenience of being able to quickly walk from the pub to ‘home’ which we most certainly took advantage of.
The final day of our South Australian holiday was greeted with more of the same remarkable weather that we had quickly become used to (coming back to Melbourne’s four-seasons-in-one-day was something of a shock.) More wine cellars, some sensory sensations and the anticipation of an outstanding lazy Sunday lunch booking at The Current Shed all added up to a grand finale.
D’arenberg was high on the German husband’s list of McLaren Vale vineyards to visit and having a prior curiosity to check out The Cube we made this our first stop for the day. The outlandish Rubik’s cube style 5 storey building plonked in the middle of multi generational vineyards is certainly eye catching (and understandably garners some criticism from some of its more ‘traditional’ neighbours). With a maze of multi sensory rooms on the ground floor and a museum on the second this was undeniably a unique way to try some wine in a similarly unusual ‘cellar door’ (located on the fourth floor above the exclusive restaurant and below the roof top terrace accessed by a lift that allows guests to walk through the service area of the bar). In stark contrast to the excessively spick and span Shaw +Smith stemming from the orderly nature of Martin Shaw’s mind the weird and Alice In Wonderland like Cube is clearly a reflection of the mind of Chester, the current owner and 4th generation descendent of the founding Osborn family. He is also the brain child behind the, for want of a better word, weird names for the D’arenberg range of wines.
To name but a few there is The Dead Arm (referring to the disease that rots the arm or trunk of a grapevine.) The Solipsistic Snollygoster (the egotistic politician.) The Athazagoraphobic Cat (the cat who has a fear of being forgotten), the well-known Stump Jump and The Cenosilicaphobic Cat (meaning the fear of an empty glass and the name appropriately given to D’arenberg’s wine club.)
Not only is this one of the most unique cellar doors that I have been in it is also one of the busiest yet our tasting host delighted in taking the time to tell us about the equally unique history of D’arenberg. Starting with the story of horse racing and football loving Joseph Osborn (born 1852) and partner of Thomas Hardy (later director of Thomas Hardy Sons and Ltd) who made the vineyard’s first plantings in 1912. Followed by the tale of Thomas’ motorcar loving son Frank whose first vintage of 100 tonnes of harvested grapes fetched the then unheard of price of £20 per tonne (at a time when the average yearly wage was £157). It is from his marriage to Helena D’arenberg that the estate eventually got it’s name.
Our last but by no means least ‘wine tastery’ (as the children had now named our wine tasting stops) was at Maxwell Wines. The German husband had recently been visited by their Melbourne wine rep and Jeremy Maxwell, the son and grandson of the vineyard’s founders. As luck would have it Jeremy was working in the cellar door when we arrived and was genuinely delighted to offer to show us around as “Everyone says that they will come and see us (at the vineyard) but nobody ever does”. After another fantastic flight of beautiful wines, expertly explained by their viticulturist cellar door manager, Jeremy proudly presented the washing machine engines that his grandfather had ingeniously used to run one of the original wine presses and then took us into the Maxwell cave. Built by the original owner of the land to hide out during WW1 the hidden treasure’s space is now used to grow mushrooms for the vineyard’s restaurant. We were again looked after when it came to purchasing some wine to take away and then headed off to our lunch booking.
The previous day while at Yangarra it was suggested that we go to The Currant Shed for lunch. We had called in to find that without a booking we were out of luck. To avoid disappoint a second time we had this time booked ahead and disappointed, we were not. As the name suggests the restaurant is located in an old currant shed where the removal of one external wall creates a dining experience like no other; the restaurant, lawn, lime trees and vineyard blend into one. With a limited set menu to make the decision of what to eat simple (we had one of each to share), the integration of grown-onsite fruits into the menu including homemade lime cordial for the children and space for the children to run around outside while remaining connected to our table all came together to provide us with an amazing lazy Sunday lunch that was well worth the 24 hour wait. The evening was spent back at Mick O’Shea’s ending with an early night in preparation for another long drive back home to Melbourne.
After a week and a half of sunshine and wine in Hahndorf, the Adelaide Hills, the Barossa Valley, Henley Beach and McLaren Vale we had truly had an opportunity of a lifetime. As the saying goes ‘It’s not what you know but who you know that counts’ and it was the reality of this expression that turned a family holiday into a stunning sojourn around South Australia.