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Wine

Coonawarra - the Cult of Consistency

While other Australian regions may have caught up to Coonawarra in the red wine stakes, the commitment of this region’s passionate locals will see it shine well into the future.

Coonawarra is an enigma wrapped in a red dirt riddle. We all think we know Coonawarra because it seems like it’s always been there.

When you set out on the journey to discover Australian wine, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the first checkpoints you reach, a foundation stone for building an understanding of what this country can do with its vineyards.

But does familiarity breed contempt? And where do the classics sit when the market seems obsessed with the cool cutting edge? Is it enough to continually do a few things well when the consumer has the all the loyalty of a stray cat and the attention span of a goldfish?

Is Coonawarra’s glorious past impeding the region’s push into a bright future?

A famously close-knit community

Coonawarra is a place where many of the names on the bottles have been there for generations. While its biggest players are corporate, Wynns most notably, the majority of producers are family owned, including names like Balnaves and Bowen Estate.

Vineyards are tightly held and rarely change hands and its comparatively small size – just 5,500 ha – ensures the region’s prized fruit is all taken up by those domiciled there and virtually nothing is available for winemakers from other regions to have a crack at making Coonawarra wine seen through outsider eyes.

There are obviously benefits in a strong sense of community.

“There’s certainly a combined sense of purpose,” says Peter Bissell from Balnaves, a transplanted Kiwi and relative newcomer, having arrived in Coonawarra in 1989.

“There’s also a long collective memory of winemaking traditions going back to the 1950s and beyond, that gives us as winemakers a real sense of carrying on something important.”

Dan Redman is as Coonawarra as they come, having joined the family business exactly a hundred years after his great-grandfather made his first wine from grapes grown in the famed terra rossa soil. It’s been his nursery, his playground, his backyard, his home.

“To me, this community is a source of great friendships and some pretty good times with people I’ve known all my life,” he says. “One of the real strengths of this place is the shared common goal we all have to promote Coonawarra. There’s a united front when any of us talk about the region.”

But Redman is not totally blinkered.

“It’s probably fair to say that some of the ideas and thinking from the wider wine world might take a bit longer to get here than some other places,” he admits.

That’s pretty understandable in a way. You can’t talk about Coonawarra without considering its physical isolation. It’s halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne, but not on the direct route to either. New blood flows through Coonawarra the way it does through a statue.

Kate Goodman is uniquely placed to comment on the region’s uniquely singular focus. She makes wine under her own label in the Yarra Valley and was appointed consultant winemaker at Coonawarra’s Penley Estate a couple of years ago.

“The Yarra is vast with a huge diversity of sites, while  Coonawarra is a small area with a tight focus on carefully defined vineyards,” she says.

“I’m not saying one is better than the other, I’m just saying the diversity of the Yarra’s landscape lends itself more easily to a diversity of winemaking approaches.”

Goodman relishes the opportunities Coonawarra presents, and has quickly learned what makes the place special. “Dear God, the fruit this place can produce is just bloody sensational,” she says.

Evolution, not Revolution

It would be wrong to see Coonawarra as a wine region trapped in amber. There has been significant change over the last decade, but those changes have been subtle and have taken place within the well-established framework of the classic Coonawarra style.

Most notable of these has been the widespread reworking of the region’s vineyards, a sustained exploration of how best to manage its most valuable assets with fruit quality the singular aim. This focus certainly underpins winemaker John Innes’ philosophy and, he says, he spends time in his vineyard, “continually tasting the fruit for optimal flavour and textural ripeness.”

The minimal pruning regimes that dominated the region in the 1980s have given way to practices more conducive to vine health and various flirtations with both over and under ripeness have given way to a more comfortable middle ground.

A wider clonal mix is now present in the region’s vineyards, offering new angles from which to view the Coonawarra Cabernet picture we think we know so well.

Coonawarra has so far been immune from invasion by hipsters who harvest while howling at the moon, so remains untouched by the outer extremes of winemaking methodology, but that doesn’t mean the place is all ‘set and forget’ when it comes to winemaking approach.

But it’s all about refinement rather than re-invention. Concrete fermenters are back in vogue, larger format oak and softer fruit handling are helping shape red wines that are more medium-bodied and supple, yet still retain the region’s famed capacity for ageing. Nick Zema explains it best.

“We’re always looking to improve, but we never forget what this place has always done best,” he says.

“You can go chasing market trends and change up everything you do, but by the time those changes come through to the wine in the bottle, the market’s moved on and you’re just chasing your tail. When you’ve got something that’s considered a classic, you just keep polishing it.”

Looking into the future

So where does the famed terra rossa fit in the Australian landscape? The status Coonawarra once had as arguably Australia’s finest red wine region has slipped – more through the competition catching up than Coonawarra going backwards – but the core of what has made this place great remains and, if anything, the future looks brighter now than it has for a long time.

Coonawarra’s biggest challenge is making the market fall in love with Cabernet again, and with the ongoing refinement of the style – small, considered steps rather than radical reinvention – the region’s winemakers are set to take that challenge on.

Once that’s been done, the story of the region’s outstanding Shiraz, hugely underrated Chardonnay, and affinity with other members of the Bordeaux brotherhood like Cabernet Franc can be told, too.

It will always be a place of traditions and tightly woven community ties and may that always be the case. In a world that flutters on the fickle winds of fashion, some certainty, classicism and Cabernet Sauvignon can prove to be welcome respite.

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Life
17 Must Do Hunter Valley Experiences
Words by Shonagh Walker on 8 May 2017
The Hunter Valley isn't just about cellar doors. Shonagh Walker uncovers a host of activities that may well see you extend your stay. While it's widely known as the destination to uncover  boutique cellar doors  and  world-famous wines , the Hunter Valley has another face that it's worked hard on showing to the world. From balloon rides to nature walks, festivals to art amongst the vines and even animal sanctuaries that will melt your heart, you're spoiled for choice when it comes to filling your itinerary on your weekend or family holiday. Here's a list of some of our getaway inspirations. Be Cheesy Cheese lovers should make a B-line for  The Sebel Kirkton Park  on Saturday June 17 and Sunday June 18, which mark the annual Cheese Lovers Festival. Highlights include 50 exclusive stalls featuring cheese, beer, wine and assorted cheese-related food stalls, cooking with cheese workshops, beer and cheese workshops and cheese making classes. Preceding the official start of the festival is the Classic Cheese Dinner on Friday June 16. cheeseloversfestival.com.au Get Cooking Millfield Hall Cooking School caters for corporate and private groups of eight to 20 people. All produce used is local and seasonal, with citrus and herbs grown in the Hall's garden and eggs coming straight from their own chook pen. Prices are usually around $145 per class, which includes a glass of wine, however, bespoke tutorials can include anything from roasting an entire beast and beer tasting, to matching courses with local wines, which might up the price a bit. millfieldhall.com.au Organic Fare Run by partners Matty and Jimmy Kerr, Nanna Kerr's Kitchen is a mostly organic restaurant and is a huge favourite with locals and tourists alike. Famed for dishes taken from the Kerr matriarch's menu and its farm to table ethos, this restaurant also boasts a retail space where you can purchase the pickles, relishes and jams served on site. Don't miss the Dirty Chai Pannacotta, which was created to celebrate Nanna Kerr's recent 80th birthday. nannakerrskitchen.com.au Be Proud You'll have a blast during the second annual Pokolbin Pride Festival, which this year again sees local businesses band together with wine tasting tours, live entertainment, fine dining and cocktail parties, community markets, guided bike riding winery tours and more. The festival runs from October 20-22. pokolbinpride.com.au A Day On The Green Hit Bimbadgen for this not-to-be-missed event where you'll get your fix of local and international acts teamed with a great selection of wine. This year has already seen rock icons Blondie and Cyndi Lauper entertain, with more acts every summer. When major celebs aren't singing, you can enjoy Esca restaurant and sip a generous wine selection at the cellar door. bimbadgen.com.au Take To The Skies If you fancy yourself a bit of a pilot, then Hunter Valley Joy Flights is for you. Located at Cessnock airport, the company offers Tiger Moth adventure flights where you man the cockpit and fly the plane solo once in the air (an experienced pilot is there to guide you at all times). A less adrenaline-inducing way to get elevated is by Hot Air Balloon. Hunter Valley Ballooning offers exclusive and group flights out of its Lovedale HQ every day and is a peaceful and unique way to take in the views of the region huntervalleyjoyflights.com.au Inspire Your Green Thumb With over 60 acres of international display gardens, you can easily while away a day or two in the lush haven that is the Hunter Valley Gardens, situated conveniently in the Pokolbin region. There's over eight kilometres of walking paths to explore, which reveal 10 individual feature gardens each with a unique theme. The Storybook Garden with its topiary animals including horses, teddy bears and ducks will delight kids of all ages. The Lakes Walk will take you past waterfalls, babbling brooks, Weeping Willows, a chapel and rotunda and stunning seasonal flora. The Rose Garden features over 150 varieties of roses, with around 8000 fragrant and beautiful roses in bloom and the Formal Garden, a nod to French and British garden designs, will transfix you with its manicured hedges, evergreen magnolia and 3000 bushes of Rosa chameleon roses. Make sure you stop by the Wishing Fountain - all proceeds from your wish are donated to local charities. A favourite of this scribe though, is the Italian Grotto, with its Statue of Saint Francis of Assisi (Patron Saint of Animals and the Environment), its lush lavender hedges and incredible bougainvillea. Winter marks the annual Snow Time festival (June 24 to July 16), with a giant ice-skating rink, mega ice toboggan and tubing. You can also build a snowman at in the man-made Snow Play Zone. huntervalleygardens.com.au The Block Four luxury self-contained villas and a three bedroom guesthouse comprise the secluded but stunning accommodation and winery of Block 8. Soak up views of orchards, olive groves, grapevines, open fields and distant mountain ranges as you meet kangaroos and wallabies, sugar gliders, swans and goannas. You can even pat a couple of pigs and handfeed the ducks. Guests also receive bottles of the estate-grown single vineyard wines, generous breakfast hampers and home-baked treats for afternoon tea. blockeight.com.au Get Artsy Sculptures in the Vineyards happens throughout November, stretching across Undercliff Winery and Gallery, Stonehurst Cedar Creek Wines, Wollombi Wines and Noyce Brothers Wine. Works are by renowned local and national artists, with an estimated 100 pieces planned for 2017. sculptureinthevineyards.com.au On Your Bike As the original bike hire company in the region, Grapemobile Bicycle Hire and Tours really know their stuff. Rent from the centrally located vineyard and hire shop in Pokolbin, where you can take a private off road self-guided tour amongst the vines, sampling wines from up to nine vineyards on the way (some even provide free delivery of your purchases to the bike's hire shop). You can also choose to have the Grapemobile bus pick you up and return you from your accommodation or meeting place. All tours include mountain bikes, retro cruisers or tandems, helmets, sunscreen, bottled water, numbered VIP access pass, maps and tour options. grapemobile.com.au Organic Spa Experience There's a plethora of day spas peppered around the Hunter. UBIKA spa at the Crowne Plaza in Lovedale is noteworthy, thanks to its alliance with certified organic skin care brand, Eminence Organics. Hailing from Hungary, this nurturing range relies on ingredients such as blueberries, Arctic berries, and pomegranate. Choose from an array of facials and body treatments including Vichy showers, wraps and exfoliation. Other fantastic spa experiences include iconic Spa Elysia Golden Door, which has partnered with Certified Organic skin care range, Divine Woman and Chateau Elan at The Vintage, where you can enjoy a glass of bubbles in the outdoor Jacuzzi before or after your treatment. crowneplazahuntervalley.com.au goldendoor.com.au ,  chateauelan.com.au Luxe Getaway Just Desserts Sweet tooth? Book a table at Sabor. Famed for its Portuguese Chocolate Mousse made from owner Fernando's grandmother's recipe from 70 years ago, there are over 50 desserts on the menu and each can be paired beautifully with local wines. There are gluten-free options too, as well as Glinelli coffee and a selection of teas. saborinthehunter.com.au A Berry Nice Time Few things taste as sweet as organic, bio-dynamically farmed blueberries, fresh from the bush. At Misty Valley Farm, you can pick your own punnet and enjoy the intense flavour straight away, or freeze your harvest for up to two years. Berry picking season is Dec/Jan, but at other times you can lap up the farm environment in the boutique accommodation, which sleeps up to four people and includes organic farm fresh eggs in the breakfast hamper. mistyvalleyblueberries.com Take A Stroll If you're still feeling energetic and want (or need) to walk off a few calories, take one of several walking trails through Barrington Tops National Park. Choose from easy walks, overnight hikes, or simply enjoy a picnic by the stunning Barrington Tops Falls. Those after more action can 4WD. nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/barrington-tops-national-park See Pigs Fly Where Pigs Fly is a registered charity and sanctuary located in the Lower Hunter region, dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and caring for farmed animals that have been treated cruelly, abused or neglected. With various open days and sanctuary tours (bookings essential) throughout the year, the team is committed to educating guests about the importance of treating all animals with compassion and respect. An open day will see you mingling with pigs, lambs, chickens and cows, living life as they should be - free range and organically. wherepigsfly.org Lush Lavender Daniela Riccio bought Little Valley Lavender Farm five years ago and while she still grows over 100 lavender bushes, the farm is mostly an organic garlic producer, alpaca breeding base and fleece retailer, bee keeper and miniature cattle grazier. It's is also a part of the Department of Primary Industries' Visit My Farm program, whereby city slickers can spend a day learning about farm life. littlevalleyfarm.com.au
Wine
5 of the Best King Valley Wineries and Cellar Doors
Words by Ben Hallinan on 5 Oct 2017
Discover the best King Valley wineries and cellar doors to taste and experience the region’s delights with our guide and interactive map. When Italian migrants arrived in the King Valley after World War II to work on the Snowy Hydro Scheme and to farm tobacco, they planted vines to help them feel at home. Today, the region is arguably the leader in alternative wines, especially Italian styles like Arneis , Barbera , Nebbiolo , Sangiovese and more recently, Prosecco . And the classic Italian trio of great wine, superb food and warm hospitality is on show every day in the region’s wineries and cellar doors. The best way to visit the region is to start at either Brown Brothers in Milawa or Chrismont in Cheshunt and then track along the Wangaratta-Whitfield Road, known affectionately as the Prosecco Road. The King Valley introduced Prosecco to the nation in the early 2000s and now the very mention of Australian Prosecco is synonymous with the region. You can find out more about  Prosecco and its difference to traditional Sparkling wine here . To help plan your trip, we’ve selected a collection of King Valley wineries we feel provide the best cellar door experience, plus we’ve included a handy interactive map down below . King Valley Cellar Doors List Brown Brothers
The perfect place to start or end your visit to the King Valley is in Milawa at the winery that started it all, Brown Brothers . There is little question that this family-owned operation has had a remarkable impact on the wine industry with a consistent focus on introducing new wine varieties and winemaking techniques to Australia.  In the friendly cellar door, there is a vast range of wines to taste from approachable everyday styles through to their flagship Patricia range. There is also a great selection of cellar door only wines made from the Kindergarten winery, where their winemakers experiment with and nurture a wide range of new wine styles and winemaking techniques. If you can, make sure you book ahead for a tasting tour of the winery and the Kindergarten to learn more about what tomorrow’s wines will be. 244 Milawa-Bobinawarrah Rd, Milawa – view on our map Open daily 9am–5pm Visit the Brown Brothers website Sam Miranda Wines
Once you turn onto Snow Road, it's hard to miss the Sam Miranda Wines cellar door with its striking 10-metre tower, which acts as a giant periscope, funnelling natural light down into the modern tasting room and underground wine cellar. The cellar door restaurant focuses on sourcing ingredients from within a 50km radius and serves up an authentic Italian menu that matches perfectly with their superb range of Mediterranean varieties available to taste, including Prosecco , Pinot Grigio , Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. And, if you’re touring the King Valley by bike, you’ll find a very warm welcome as Sam, a self-confessed cycling tragic, hosts a full calendar of cycling events and competitions each year.  1019 Snow Rd, Oxley – view on our map Open daily 10am–5pm Visit the Sam Miranda Wines website Pizzini Wines
This charming winery is a must visit for any trip to the King Valley. As a pioneering specialist in Italian varietals, there’s a great range of Pinot Grigio, Arneis, Verduzzo, Prosecco, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo available to sample. And, with a boutique guest house among the vines , regular events, winery tours and cooking classes at Katrina Pizzini’s A tavola! cooking school , this family-run operation has something for everyone. 175 King Valley Rd, Whitfield – view on our map Open daily 10am–5pm Visit the Pizzini Wines website Politini Wines
Like many in the King Valley, the Politini family started in tobacco farming in the 1950s before moving into wine in the 1980s. Today, they specialise in the varieties of Salvatore Politini’s Sicilian roots with Nero d’Avola, Grecanico, Vermentino, Sangiovese and more. The idyllic two-bedroom Casolare (Italian for ‘cottage’) accommodation on the property is the perfect base to explore the picturesque King Valley. Or, you can take your love of Italian food and wine to the next level as you learn how to prepare the perfect Sicilian dish to pair with your Politini wines in Nonna Josie’s Cooking Experience classes. 65 Upper King River Rd, Cheshunt – view on our map Open daily 10am–5pm Visit the Politini Wines website Chrismont
At the southern end of the Prosecco Road is the new Chrismont cellar door, restaurant and larder. With its sleek lines, sophisticated architecture and idyllic position among the vines, there is little wonder it took out the coveted National Building Design of the Year Award in 2016. Inside, you’ll find a great range of old world varieties to taste, such as their cool climate Rieslings and premium Sparkling through to the King Valley’s famed Mediterranean varieties in their fantastic La Zona range of Prosecco, Arneis, Sagrantino and more. The Chrismont restaurant focuses on the flavours of Italy's north and south, the perfect match for their wines.  And, with  their elegant boutique guest house overlooking the vines, it’s the perfect place to base your adventures in the region or as your final destination after a day trekking and tasting your way along the Prosecco Road. 251 Upper King River Rd, Cheshunt – view on our map Open daily 10am–5pm Visit the Chrismont website King Valley Winery Map Planning a trip to the King Valley? Download our interactive King Valley winery map. To save on your browser or device, click here For more information on visiting King Valley, be sure to visit the official King Valley website or stop by the visitor information centre on Murphy Street in Wangaratta. But, if you'd like to sample some of the wineries listed in this guide before you visit, explore our selection of King Valley wines and find out more about the wineries listed here in our Meet the Makers section . And, with the Wine Selectors Regional Release program, you'll experience a different wine region each Release with all wines expertly selected by our Tasting Panel, plus you’ll receive comprehensive tasting notes and fascinating insights into each region. Visit our wine plans section to find out more!
Wine
Cycling the Clare Valley Riesling Trail
Words by Elliot Watt on 6 Nov 2017
Discover the fun of cycling the Clare Valley Riesling Trail with Wine Selectors Membership Consultant, Elliot Watt, as he shares all his tips for touring through this spectacular wine region . Exercise and wine don’t usually go together, but, when you think about it, it's actually a genius combination. You are essentially cancelling out the damage done by one with the other. Well, in theory, anyway. Now a word of warning. We’re in no way suggesting you empty a bottle of wine into your drink bottle and hit the gym. There are far more attractive and much more appropriate places to achieve this symbiotic activity. A leisurely two-hour drive north of Adelaide will see you in Australia’s epicentre for Riesling , the Clare Valley, where you’ll find the Riesling Trail. This 35-kilometre-long cycling and walking track follows the path of the old rail line that sliced through the hills before it was irreparably damaged by the 1983 Ash Wednesday Bushfires. Today, the trail takes you past some of the region’s finest Riesling producers, so get ready to sip, sweat and cycle your way through the Clare Valley.  Clare
It all begins with a visit to the Riesling Trail Bike Hire to collect your trusty steed. Kent will size you up with the perfect bike and give you the local lowdown on the trail. Once in the saddle, an easy 12-minute ride north on the trail will take you to your first destination, Knappstein Enterprises Winery and Brewery . Originally established as the Enterprises Brewery in 1878, the current winery was installed by Clare Valley icon Tim Knappstein in the late 1960s. In 2006, 89 years after the original taps went dry, the brewing of beer started up once again in this heritage building. For Riesling lovers, definitely look to the Single Vineyard range, which is a perfect expression of the diversity in Clare Riesling. However, if you prefer a beer, then the delicious Knappstein Reserve Larger will quench your thirst and replenish the tank for the next leg of the journey.  Sevenhill and Penworth
Now you need to put in some hard yards and work off that wine and/or beer. Head south, 6km from Clare, and you’ll arrive in Sevenhill where it’s time to take a detour. John Horrocks Road is off the trail and runs through some seriously beautiful countryside, which will take your mind off the fact your legs are on fire. More importantly, it leads you to one of the jewels of the Clare Valley, Mitchell Wines . Andrew and Jane Mitchell established their winery in 1975 and have created something really special, showcasing a true Australian family-owned and run winery. On arrival, Jane welcomes you like you’re one of the family and you can tell her and Andrew are proud of their wines and vineyards and so they should be. Within their quaint cellar door, they present stunning single vineyard Rieslings, as well as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon. Now, it’s awfully hard to transport wine on a bike, trust me, I ride to work at Wine Selectors and constantly attempt to juggle wines home. However, not to worry, Jane will personally deliver any purchases direct to your accommodation that very same day.  Watervale
Departing Mitchell Wines, with a few more turns of the cog, you’ll be off the detour and back on the trail. This is where things start to go downhill, literally, not figuratively, as you’re now over the incline and can give the legs a rest as you glide through the rolling hills towards Watervale. As soon as you arrive, it’s essential to restore your energy with some carb loading and there’s no better place to do so than the Watervale General Store . It’s one of those charming country icons that is part café, part grocery store, part post office. The food is simple and delicious, but heed my warning, it's not wise to consume a full pizza and then carry on the trail as if you are riding in Le Tour De France. That pizza will come back to haunt you. Leasingham
With a full stomach and renewed energy, it shouldn’t take long to reach the next town of Leasingham and the home of Claymore Wines . Here you can wash down lunch with a glass of Dark Side of The Moon or Bittersweet Symphony . No idea what I’m talking about? Cleverly, the majority of their wines are labelled after hit songs from a bygone era . However, there are no gimmicks when it comes to the wines with some seriously good juice going on here. Sing your way through the range, find your favourite and sit down with a glass accompanied by a board of local South Australian Cheese. For a second in time, you will completely forget about your aching muscles and the fact you still have to ride home.  The Riesling Trail comes to an end a further five clicks south at the town of Auburn. Unfortunately, I cannot tell the tale of Auburn as Leasingham is as far as my legs would carry me. Some say, namely my wife, it was the pizza that lead to my ultimate demise however that’s neither here nor there.  Now begins the journey home, although it's not over yet. As any good bicycle wine tour strategist knows, you’re going to get thirsty, so Stone Bridge in Sevenhill is the perfect rehydration stop. Crafting not only exceptional Riesling but another 14 wines from 7 different grape varieties, Stone Bridge has something to quench any thirst. The aftermath Once off the bike if you stop moving things begin to hurt, the wine wears off and the lactic acid sets in. The only solution is to manoeuvre yourself directly to Seed Winehouse and Kitchen in Clare . Immersed in the simplistic stone and natural timber of the old chaff mill, you begin to imagine you are somewhere in rural Italy about to dine on local rustic cuisine. However, Head Chef Guy Parkinson is no Nonna, he may be better. Offering sophisticated A la Carte and degustation options, the menu highlights local produce with a wine list to reflect. Nearly 200 local and international wines will make the decision hard, add in 47 Gin choices and the mind begins to boggle. Whatever your decision there is no doubt any indulgence is guilt free. You have literally burned off three Big Macs during the ride so sit back, reward yourself and reflect on the beauty of the Clare Valley and the amazing wines it has to offer. Your Quick Guide to the Clare Valley Riesling Trail Wineries Knappstein Enterprises Winery and Brewery Mitchell Wines Claymore Wines Stone Bridge Restaurant Seed Winehouse and Kitchen in Clare Watervale General Store Bike Hire Riesling Trail Bike Hire
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