The first time I … went on a wine tour.
As part of a work trip to South Australia recently I had the opportunity to go on a wine tour and visit some lovely wineries, stay at gorgeous hotels, and eat exceptionally good food.
At least that’s what came to mind when I first saw my itinerary about a week before the trip organised by Tourism Australia. I was to travel with a small group of journalists from around the world and we were to go on guided tours of South Australia’s famous wine regions: the Barossa Valley and Adelaide Hills.
I had imagined that we would be whisked away in a fancy convertible car, and we’d be driving through vineyards with the sun in our sunscreened face, wind in our hair and wine glasses in our hands.
Well, we actually did experience most of that. Except it was less romantic … but still memorable.
I have been to the Napa Valley, California’s wine region before, but we only managed to visit one winery there (the Domaine Chandon, ooh la la!), so technically, this South Australian wine tour would be my true first-time experience.
And what a tour it was.
We visited a total of seven wineries in three short days. If you were to go on an actual wine tour, you probably would not want to go to that many but since we were there for work, we had a whole variety of places to check out. This was a good thing as the Barossa and Adelaide Hills are homes to many wineries and each one seems to offer something different from the next.
Our visits were handled by two companies – Barossa Unique Tours and Rich & Lingering – so our activities were quite diverse. Barossa Unique Tours took us around the valley in a restored 1966 Mustang convertible and a trike, a big three-wheeled motorcycle that carries two passengers in the back seat.
Sitting in the convertible with my hair down was not a good idea as it went flying everywhere, covering my face! By the time we stopped, my hair was badly tangled and out of place. Our guide Tony handed me a hair tie and said that he keeps a whole bag of them in the glove compartment because “it always happens”.
Okay, so that’s a no on the “cool Instagram photo” plan.
Riding on the trike was better for my hair because we had to wear helmets but I got stung by a wasp so I only rode it once. Besides, the two men in my group seemed to prefer the trike as it was more … macho.
Our group visited five wineries with Tony and his associate. We learned about how wine grapes were first brought into South Australia at Murray Street Vineyards, and which grape varieties thrive in the area at Pindarie Wines. We went to Yalumba, Australia’s oldest family-owned winery that was established in 1849, and to Artisans of Barossa, which is made up of six individual wineries.
There was also a visit to the beautiful Seppeltsfield Wines, a certified historical village that has so many interesting stories to tell. It is the only winery in Australia, and possibly the world, to release a 100-year-old Tawny port called Para Liqueur Port every year.
At Seppeltsfield, we got to taste a glass of our “birth year wine” straight from the barrel in its Centennial Cellar. On top of that, we went on a Segway tour of the vast vineyard. We did this before lunch so no one drove under the influence, and nobody crashed into a grape vine.
Speaking of lunch, almost every tasting we went to came with snacks like cheese and olives. This was meant to enhance the taste of the wines and to cleanse our palate between tastings, therefore we only needed to take a bite or two. However, since we were wine noobs and the locally-produced fare was delicious, we gorged on everything.
With Rich & Lingering, we took some time out from drinking alcohol and visited the Gorge Wildlife Park, where we got to hug a koala. We also picked some strawberries at Beerenberg Farm and realised that it is actually back-breaking work.
Later, we went to Lane Vineyard and Hahndorf Hill Winery. Lane Vineyard is so pretty that it looked like it would be perfect as a wedding venue. It turns out the company actually does rent out its space for special occasions so if you’re planning to have a nice destination wedding do, check out this place.
At Hahndorf Hill we did a ChocoVino tasting – pairing wines with chocolates. The top quality chocolates are from Australia and France; the wines are of course by the winery itself. ChocoVino is a well-known travel experience, having been featured a few times in international media.
Jason, our guide with Rich & Lingering is a professional wine taster. I was a little worried about what he would think of me guzzling down all that wine instead of taking small, delicate sips and spitting it out into the spitoon like a cultured person.
He would ask questions like, “Do you think this has some floral hints?” or “Do you prefer the red or the white?” and I would try my very best to lie to his face.
“I feel like the red has a nicer finish for me, Jason.”
Honestly, even after visiting the wineries and getting all that information about wine, I still do not know how to describe or rate it. I can’t tell if one is oak-ey or citrus-sy, or whether it goes down smooth or not.
But I think for true aficionados, going on a wine tour is a good travel option.
Although I did not become a full-blown wine lover, I did appreciate the wonderful experiences, education and especially all the fantastic stories each one of the wineries had to tell.
And if you’re reading this, Jason, I’m sorry I lied.