Swap four wheels for two and get a closer look at the Clare Valley wineries in South Australia.
“Oh, it’s mostly flat,” says Darren at the Riesling Trail Bike Hire shop when we call in to pick up some wheels. My mother, daughter and I are in South Australia’s Clare Valley for the weekend, pottering about in a hire car doing a spot of sniffing, swirling and spitting. After dinner last night at the pub, a local suggested we abandon our car and hire some bicycles. “The valley is just beaut when it’s seen from the trail,” he had said. “Get yourselves some bikes, it’ll put you in the vineyards, not just the tasting rooms.”
The Riesling Trail follows the former railway line from Auburn to Clare past vineyards, farms and bushland. There are 37 wineries in the valley, such as Sevenhill Cellars, Skillogalee, Knappstein, Paulett Wines and Annie’s Lane, and the Riesling Trail is suitable for cyclists of all levels (even prams and wheelchairs, according to the brochure).
Darren hands us a map and colours in the route with a pen. “Mmm…seven plus nine plus seven to get back…maybe 23 kilometres.” Twenty-three kilometres? Does he think we’re as fit as Cadel Evans? As we roll out of the shop there are vines to my right covering all the contours and curves of the land. To my left there are small historic cottages tucked away behind thick, gnarled gum trees. Ten minutes into the ride and we’ve already found numerous picture-worthy scenes, but my backside will no doubt remember this for a week.
Fortunately there are history storyboards dotted along the way, providing an excuse to break the ride every five minutes or so. It’s another oxygen-sapping 30 minutes before we arrive at Sevenhill Cellars – the oldest winery in the valley, seven kilometres from Clare. Sevenhill is a good spot to embark on a liquid safari and, for the wine novice, an ideal place to begin a viticulture education, while also learning about the only remaining Jesuit-owned winery in Australia.
Winemaker Brother John May, who has completed 48 vintages at the winery, takes a twice-weekly tour of the property that includes the underground cellar, old-vine vineyards and St Aloysius Church with its underground crypt – all for $7.50 a person. The winery, named after the seven hills of Rome, was originally set up to produce altar wine in the 1850s. Sevenhill still sells this wine to churches in Australia, plus many other varieties.
I’m not after sacramental wine but an award-winning drop to drink on a less solemn occasion so I purchase the delectable pale straw-coloured 2011 riesling, a delicious drink that has scrumptious orange and lemon overtones. But enough of stocking up the cellar, we suddenly have an insatiable urge to eat. Driven by gluttony we pedal as fast as we can until we chance upon the Artisans Table, a restaurant with an elevated front deck that has fabulous views of the surrounding blue gums.
An antipasto platter, tapas-style meatballs and a warm duck salad later and we’re ready for a nap. Unravelling the map to assess how much further there is to ride – 16km – we decide to back-track and abandon our bicycle adventure. As we career into Darren’s bike shop, we’re too out of breath to explain that we only made it up the road to Sevenhill.
“We do like cycling,” my mum says to Darren after she catches her breath. “It’s lovely to pedal through the vines. But we’ve got 36 wineries to cover in two days so we need four wheels instead of two.” Then, in haste we climb back into the car and carry on.
Clare is about 140km north of Adelaide, along the Main North Road. There are several places to hire bikes.