Wine, food, heart and soul: Discovering the Adelaide Hills
A short drive from Adelaide, a long way from anywhere, home to some of Australia’s best cool climate wines and with pride and passion at every turn … discover a world where local matters in the Adelaide Hills.
Listening to our host Christine explain the marriage of creative flair and tried-and-tested principles that underpin the boutique winery’s creations, I ask whether the delicious Gruner Veltliner in my hand is equal parts science and art.
“Good, but you forgot the most important ingredient,” she smiles. “Heart”
Visiting the postcard towns of Hahndorf and Stirling over the course of a warm, sunny October weekend, heart emerges time and time again as the secret ingredient that makes the Adelaide Hills one of Australia’s most charming wine regions.
Less than half an hour from the relative bustle of South Australia’s capital, the Hills rise steeply to a cooler climate where vineyards, cellar doors, market gardens and a stunning botanic garden – as well as the friendly towns around which they’re set – provide a welcome contrast to the Barossa Valley and McClaren Vale, which bookend the Hills to the north and south, and far handier for a city-based daytripper.
In contrast to many of Australia’s other major wine-growing regions, the Adelaide Hills has the strong community atmosphere of a place where people live a life unrelated to tourists. Perhaps that’s the legacy of the Prussian migrants who settled here in the 1830s and named their new village after the captain of the ship that brought them to Australia – Dirk Hahn.
Learning some of the history and culture behind the region adds further fun (and education) to tasting the wines it produces, which is a wonderful result of sharing a day touring the cellar doors with wine expert and host Jason Miller – a sober pair of hands behind the wheel is the least of the thorough service he offers through his bespoke touring company Rich & Lingering.
Jason’s tour doesn’t just ensure we taste the best of the region’s wines, including the aforementioned chocovino and the Shaw & Smith wine and cheese flight, he’s a bonafide local attuned to the latest developments, even taking us with him on his reconnaissance visit of Red Cacao in Stirling, a brand new heaven for the passionate chocolate lover hidden behind the Stirling’s understated shopfronts.
And while those newest arrivals proudly carry the torch for all the Adelaide Hills stands for, the region’s marquee institutions – the likes of Mount Lofty House and Bridgewater Mill – retain the same passion for doing the little things that make a customer’s visit special.
Bridgewater Mill’s restaurant deck provides a the perfect setting for visitors requiring respite from the wine tasting, the historic mill wheel trundling tirelessly and the occasional mist blowing from it to take the heat out of the day. The food is the equal of the setting, and for those determined to continue at pace with sampling the regions reds and whites, the wine list is all you’d imagine.
Mount Lofty House, set between a botanic garden and scenic lookout (and with an impressive garden and view of its own) is a landmark of the region and has the sort of story to tell you’d expect of its 150-plus-year history.
Built in the 1850s by businessman and politician Arthur Hardy as a family retreat, it served as a private residence until 1983, when it was gutted by the Ash Wednesday bushfires.
Like a phoenix from the ashes, it was reborn, after a tireless restoration, as a boutique hotel. In the 30 years that have passed it has grown and developed, today offering the same historic boutique service and atmosphere despite having become a major wedding, function and dining hotspot.
That tireless hard work and commitment to providing something memorable is echoed down the road at Sticky Rice, a cooking school popular with ambitious amateurs and dedicated professionals alike looking to add an exotic new cuisine to their repertoire.
Our class is a four-hour tour de force in preparing, cooking and ultimately devouring a fragrant Thai feast. Knife skills and combining flavours, the art of getting that curry just spicy enough and the secrets of achieving restaurant flavour are all shared by a very patient expert chef.
Our handiwork is impressive, and as always in this neck of the woods, a glass of wine is never far away.
The question of where to lay your head after the intensive class is easily solved by Sticky Rice’s latest development – three architect-designed villas offering Balinese, Japanese and zen themes, and each appointed in décor sourced from the country being replicated.
A night in the understated class of the Japanese villa with an open fire in the private courtyard and yet more of the Adelaide Hills’ cool climate shiraz is a fine way to end our stay in the region.
Must-visit in the Adelaide Hills:
Mount Lofty House
Stunning heritage hotel in a stunning location – the perfect retreat after a long day’s wine tasting.
74 Mt Lofty Summit Road, Crafers, South Australia
Phone: 08 8339 6777
Sticky Rice Cooking School and Villas
Learn how to make restaurant-quality Asian food, eat it, and then wander over to your private and exquisitely furnished villa for a luxury stay you won’t forget in a hurry.
96 Old Mt Barker Road, Stirling, South Australia
Phone: 08 8339 1314
Lunch doesn’t get much better than a meal on the balcony of this divine restaurant, housed in an historic 1860s flour mill alongside Petaluma’s Cellar Door.
Mt Barker Road, Bridgewater, South Australia
Phone: 08 8339 9200
Hahndorf Hill Winery
The chocovino chocolate and wine tasting is a must!
38 Pains Road, Hahndorf, South Australia
Phone: 08 8388 7512
Rich & Lingering
Choose from a selection of popular itineraries or create your own personalised tour of the region with wine expert Jason Miller.
Phone: 1300 707 000
Shaw and Smith
Another excellent winery with tastings paired with local cheeses.
136 Jones Road, Balhannah, South Australia
Phone: 08 8398 0500
Hand-crafted artisan chocolates with hot drinks to-die-for in the picturesque town of Stirling.
Shop 3, 41 Mt Barker Road, Stirling, South Australia
Phone: 0434 938 107