Planning a trip to Australia? Most visitors tend to head towards Sydney and Melbourne or perhaps the Great Barrier Reef and Ayers Rock, but Australia is blessed with an abundance of natural, home-grown attractions that offer travelers a tastier, more indulgent vacation.
Although wine grapes are grown in large numbers in several other states in Australia (Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales), nowhere are the vineyards more abundant and lucrative than in South Australia. The state produces some of the country's best known and most award-winning varieties. With a number of different regions to choose from including the Barossa, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, the Fleurieu Peninsula, Limestone Coast and the Adelaide Hills, it is unlikely that you'll be able to sample all of the state's offerings on a single trip.
If you are restricted by time and can only visit one area, it would have to be the Barossa. Perhaps Australia's most famous wine region, the Barossa is less than an hour's drive from Adelaide and is home almost 100 wineries. Some of the oldest Shiraz vineyards in the world are here, alongside acclaimed Rieslings and iconic wine brands like Penfolds. Choose between taking an organized tour or picking up a rental car in the state's capital, Adelaide, and explore the Barossa on your own.
Penfolds (tel. +61/8-8568-9408; www.penfolds.com.au/experience/cellar/barossa.asp) offers a unique experience where you can join the winemaking team on their "Make Your Own Blend Tour". Begin with a walking tour of the winery and its cellars- including the largest red wine barrel hall in the Southern Hemisphere. Next you move on to tasting some of Penfolds fine wines and then you get down to learning how to blend your own wine, to suit your personal taste in the Penfolds Winemaker's laboratory, using Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre. At the end of the tour you get to take your wine home, in a personalized bottle with your name on it as Assistant Winemaker. The tour is priced at $50 per person and takes place twice a day. Reservations are required. If you are a fan of Penfolds Grange, you can participate in a Taste of Grange tour for $150 per person. The price includes tastings of this highly sought-after and extremely expensive wine plus a range of other Penfold varieties, a tour through the southern hemisphere's largest premium red barrel cellar, a $30 gift satchel, a $100 (Australian) Grange voucher, exclusive access to museum wines and free freight within Australia.
One of the most rewarding ways to see the Barossa is from above. Balloon Adventures (+61/8-8389-3195; www.balloonadventures.com.au) offers one-hour balloon rides from a meeting point at Peter Lehmann Wines (www.peterlehmannwines.com.au), about 45 miles north east of Adelaide. The tour starts an hour before sunrise and finishes approximately five hours later with a champagne gourmet breakfast featuring a selection of the fine Barossa foods and old fashioned home cooking at a nearby picnic spot. Adults are $275 per person and children six to16 are $195.
Barossa Daimler Tours (tel. +61/8-8524-9047; www.barossadaimlertours.com.au) has numerous tours for the everyday drinker to the wine connoisseur. Their "Luxury Liquid History Wine Tour" in a 1962 Daimler limousine is priced at $333 per person and includes tastings of 26 different wines. Highlights are a private tasting at Penfolds Barossa Winery, a Penfolds Kalimna Vineyard Tour, a first class flight wine tasting at Wolf Blass Visitor Centre, structured wine tasting at Saltram Estate, Seppeltsfield Winery and museum tour including fortified wine tasting, morning tea, a gourmet lunch with wine at Salters Restaurant and 20% discount on wines purchased throughout the day.
Wine is only one of the lures of the Barossa. It also boasts gourmet restaurants, farms, produce markets and numerous cafes. The Barossa tourism association offers a sensational brochure that you can download called the Barossa Butcher, Baker, Winemaker Trail (PDF file: www.barossa.com/webdata/resources/files/BBW_trail_brochure.pdf) which outlines routes and information about wineries, food outlets, restaurants, farms, dining options, tours and accommodation.
If you are touring on your own and would like to take home some liquid souvenirs, a $92 ($99 Australian dollars) Cellar Door Pass (www.cellardoorpass.com/australia/south_australia.html) may be a worthwhile investment. The Pass lets two people choose six bottles of premium wine from wineries visited to the value of $139 ($150 Australian dollars); experience VIP treatment at the best wineries in a selected region; choose the wineries you want to visit; have the privilege of exclusive wine tastings and winery tours; receive a winery directory; and send 12 bottles of wine collected on the trip to any Australian address.
There are over 100 bed and breakfasts, self-contained cottages and guesthouses located throughout the Barossa in case you decide that a day is not enough time to enjoy the region properly. For example, Cabernet Cottage is a traditional hundred year old stone house in Tanunda with three double bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with spa baths and even the quintessential Australian BBQ out the back. Spend a weekend here (two nights) for $315 for up to six people. Or Lanzerac Country Estate Spa Suites in Tanunda which offers accommodation in romantic antique filled rooms with a home cooked breakfast served in the barn dining room overlooking the vines and the Barossa Ranges. A two night stay for two people is $324. Visit www.bnbbookings.com/links.htm for reservations and further details.
To complete the South Australian wine touring experience, visit the National Wine Centre (tel. +61/8-8303-3355; www.wineaustralia.com.au) at Adelaide's Royal Botanic Gardens. Run by the University of Adelaide, the center showcases a large selection of Australian wines, state-of-the-art multimedia displays, a major exhibition including interpretation of the winemaking process using actual winery equipment, wine appreciation courses and a working vineyard on the premises. Even if you can't do one of their official tasting sessions or attend a course, you can still dine at the center's Concourse Cafe and partake in fine Australian wines to taste and purchase while enjoying a meal from a seasonal à la carte menu.
Talk with other Frommers.com readers on our Australia Message Boards.