Ups and Downs Along the Riesling Trail
After almost eight weeks of continuous wine tasting in New Zealand and now Australia, I am finally growing a little tired of the swirling, smelling, and sipping routine and having to constantly tell our story to inquiring, though friendly tasting room people. I keep thanking Bacchus, the God of wine, that we chose New Zealand as our wine e-book destination because the sheer amount of wine regions and wineries in Australia is mind-numbing.
Australia is sub-divided into six Texas-sized states, all with distinct personalities. South Australia is in the lower-middle part of the country and is the current state we have been exploring while in a wine-soaked state of mind. It is home to the heavy hitting Barossa Valley along with numerous smaller valleys and regions like Adelaide Hills, Clare, McLaren Vale and Coonawara. If you are coming to Australia to taste wine, this is the place to be.
On a crisp and sunny Monday, we decided to leave the van behind and explore the Clare wine region by bicycle. The valley is known for Riesling and has a cleverly named bike path after the varietal.
It was a day of ups and downs, both along the Riesling Trail and in the bike saddle. The owner of the bikes we rented fitted me to my bike and helmet and off we went down the hill toward the trail entrance. All was well until a 10 kilometer gradual incline clearly outmatched my sub-par mountain bike. Not even two kilometers out of town we turned up the road to our first winery and my legs were on fire. I went down to the lowest gear on my bike and wondered why I felt so out of shape. I tried to ignore my burning quads as we stood at the tasting bar at Tim Adam’s cellar door (where we tasted some lovely bigger wines, including a Cabernet-Malbec blend).
Back on the bike, we headed up the trail on our way to Sevenhill Cellars. Started by Jesuit Priests in 1851, Sevenhill Cellars intrigued me having gone to graduate school at Loyola and having worked at Holy Cross. A winery run by Jesuits seemed like my kind of place. I was cursing the priests though as we wound our way back through the Sevenhill trails up to the cellar door. Did the winery have to be at the top of the hill? Couldn’t they just put the church there?
The history on the property and in the winery tells the story of wine in the Clare region. Sevenhill was the first winery in the area and produces a pretty impressive line-up of wines, including huge barrels of sweet altar wine purchased by churches. The winemaker is now a woman and unfortunately there aren’t any Jesuit brothers running the operations of the winery. Our pourer said they haven’t had a brother as a winemaker for a very long time since most men who go into the brotherhood are doing it for religious reasons. I think they may not know they can also be a winemaker. Cats out of the bag now.
A semi-sunny picnic and church visit later, we were back on the Riesling Trail and it felt like I was peddling through mud. I kept looking at my tires to see if I had a flat because I was getting nowhere with each peddle stroke. Dave kept looking back at me and when he heard, “I hate my life right now,” come out of my mouth, agreed to switch bikes for a while.
A fresh saddle, better gears and an upgraded bike made me a new woman happily searching for a new winery. Dave fortunately has sheer willpower to get him through difficult physical challenges (and the next glass of wine) so him disliking my bike was far less disruptive to our day than me hating my bike.
We found the next winery – no surprise, up a hill.
Kilikanoon was awarded the 2013 Winery of the Year award by Australian wine writer James Halliday, and although we had to bike up a hill to get to it, the wine and the tasting lived up to its hype. About 15 delicious wines and at least an hour and a half later, we jumped back on the bikes with heavier backpacks and a waning interest in searching much further for outstanding Clare wines. Every winery we passed that sparked some interest quickly got ignored as we eyed the uphill driveway to the cellar door.
Dave’s bike treated me a little better as we traversed back roads up and over a hill, but it was still slow going. I haven’t had to walk my bike up a hill in a long time, but I had no shame in doing so with a heavy mountain bike after a day of wine tasting.
With the sun starting to dip in the sky, I put on my big girl riding pants and made the best of the ride back into town. What seemed like a daunting incline on the way out didn’t provide the much-anticipated downhill glide I had hoped for. Eventually though, I parked Dave’s bike back in the shed, tore off my helmet and made a beeline for the local brewery. After that day, I needed a beer.