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Cycling the Clare Valley Riesling Trail

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

Restaurant

Bike Hire

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Words by Dave Brookes on 28 Dec 2017
While South Australia’s riverland region has always been famous for bulk wine production, innovative local winemakers are changing the landscape by planting a range of grape varieties perfectly suited to the hot, dry climate. As I sit down to pen this brief piece on the Riverland , I’m reminded of the words of that great American philosopher LL Cool J who rhymed, “don’t call it a comeback; I’ve been here for years; I’m rockin my peers; Puttin’ suckers in fear”. Mic drop from Queens. Perhaps I’m getting carried away. I’ve always been told I have a fertile imagination, but who would have thought a decade ago that boutique winemakers from Margaret River to Coonawarra would be sourcing fruit from the Riverland and proudly displaying that fact on their wine labels? The Riverland has always been, along with several other regions that lie along the life-giving artery of the Murray, the engine-room of the Australian wine industry. The Riverland accounts for over 50% of South Australia’s wine crush and around 30% of the national total, some 470,123 tonnes in 2017. It is a very important region for Australian wine. One winery alone, Berri Estates, is the largest grape processor in the southern hemisphere, crushing some 220,000 tonnes of grapes annually or around one-third of the total grape crush of South Australia. Several years ago, I recall driving with the Berri Estates winemaker to the crushers; a journey through a huge truck marshalling area complete with traffic wardens. He turned to me and said, “Can you feel the romance?” Funny, but the sheer scale of the operation was astounding. The Riverland is also a region well aware of the hardships of farming; of extended droughts and the plunging grape prices of boom & bust cycles. But the droughts, while devastating for growers already struggling with low grape prices, have forced some changes for the better. Included among them are sustainable irrigation, drought hardy rootstock and clonal research, and the planting of alternative varieties, or, as one local winemaker described them, “appropriate varieties.” King of grapes
One of the larger producers is Kingston Estate, established by Greek immigrants, Nina & Steve Moularadellis in the mid-1980s after they met picking grapes in the early 1960s. Today, you can still find them in the winery most days, but it is son Bill who steers the ship. Kingston Estate produce a range of wines that offer great value for money and drinking pleasure. Their portfolio centres around the European classic varieties, but for me, when I think of the estate, it is their Petit Verdot that springs to mind and it is certainly a variety they have hung their hat on. Deeply coloured and laden with rich fruit and spice, it possesses an ample structure with plenty of ripe tannin and is a variety that seems to thrive in the warmer climes of the Riverland. Salena Estate, another of the larger operators, has around 520 acres under vine, roughly half of which is certified organic. Their range includes classic varieties, across different price points that provide great drinking, and their ‘Ink’ series concentrates on the ‘appropriate’ varieties with some great examples including Montepulciano , Graciano, Bianco d’Alessano and Vermentino . The Banrock Station cellar door is top-notch with the complete range of wines available for tasting, a great little restaurant if you are feeling peckish and the amazing wetlands ecosystem with walking trails if you need to stretch your legs. The Angove cellar door in Renmark is another must visit for the quality and diversity of their range of wines with fruit sourced from the Riverland and further afield across South Australia. In recent times, the interest in sourcing fruit from the Riverland by winemakers based outside the region has been pleasing to see. There are several factors at play here. Better farming practices and increased interest in some of the varieties that end in ‘O’ that seem well suited to the region are certainly in the mix. Another is the tireless efforts, boundless energy and great farming nous of Ashley Ratcliff of Ricca Terra Farms, who has done much to raise the profile of the Riverland as a source of well-farmed, alternative varieties. Part of this nous was knowing when to take a risk on doing something new. As he explains, “During the boom times in the Riverland, grape prices were up and getting people to change their practices was hard. Why would you decrease your yields and plant new varieties? When things turned, however, others panicked, but we were brave; buying up vineyards and planting alternative varieties that now fetch sustainable prices.” Ashley’s Ricca Terra Farms is just outside Bamera and is planted with many of the varieties that are now sought after in the region – Nero d’Avola , Fiano , Vermentino , Montepulciano , Zibbibo, Muscato Giallo and the curiously named, Slankamenca Bela. As well as supplying grapes for other winemakers, Ashley has his own ‘Ricca Terra’ label featuring inventive blends of these varieties. Another producer riding the wave of the alternative varieties that are well-suited to the Riverland is Alex Russell Wines. Viticulturist and winemaker Alex Russell crafts a range of delicious wines from Montepulciano, Vermentino, and Lagrein to Nero d’Avola, Saperavi and Graciano. Alex’s range of wines hold true to the tenet that a wines ‘raison d’etre’ is to be above all else, delicious to drink and they have picked up a swathe of awards at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show in Mildura . small names, big impression
Other small local producers who farm in a thoughtful, sustainable fashion to seek out include Whistling Kite, whose biodynamically farmed range includes a fantastic Petit Manseng and a Montepulciano that is a benchmark for the region. The organically farmed Bassham Wines is another, with delicious, racy whites including Vermentino and Fiano, along with lovely examples of Lagrein, Nero d’Avola and Graciano. Also check out 919 Wines, whose range of table wines provides beautiful drinking across both the classic and alternative varieties, including a killer Pale Dry Apera style. And last but not least, the Delinquent Wine Co has a fantastic range of funkily packaged wines for “drinkin, not thinkin”, featuring new wave varieties, including the very drinkable Bianco d’Alessano Pet Nat Sparkling. Of the producers from further afield who proudly source fruit from the Riverland, the list is growing. Sue Bell from Bellwether Wines in Coonawarra produces a fantastic, award-winning Nero d’Avola Rosé and crisp, textural Bianco d’Alessano; Margaret River based winemaker Brad Wehr of Amato Vino produces a dangerously drinkable Riverland range including a wonderful Slankamenca Bela. In the Adelaide Hills, Unico Zela features amazing Fiano, Nero d’Avola and an enchanting skin-contact white blend. And from McLaren Vale, ex-NYC sommelier Brad Hickey of Brash Higgins Wines crafts a heady, textural Zibbibo using grapes from Ricca Terra Farms vineyard. a bright future
Riverland is on the up and up and if you haven’t sampled its wines, now is the time. Perhaps its reputation has been unfairly tarnished as a source of lower-end, bulk wine offerings, but today the wines have never been better and there is an undercurrent of innovation, sustainable viticulture and experimentation that bodes very well for its future.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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