Rise of the Hills

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This region close to Adelaide has rapidly become a cellar door destination, writes Nigel Hopkins.

An explosion in the number of wineries and cellar doors in the past decade has made Adelaide Hills Australia's most convenient and varied wine region, as well as one of its most prestigious.

The region's climb to fame as a prestige wine producer took 180 years. Vines were planted in the 1830s and, in 1845, a hock from Echunga was sent as a gift to Queen Victoria, the first wine exported from South Australia.

But tastes change, the industry petered out and, by 1920, had all but disappeared.

A slow resurgence began in the 1970s, notably with winemakers such as Brian Croser, who established Petaluma in the Piccadilly Valley in 1979, followed soon after by Ashton Hills, Henschke, Knappstein and Geoff Weaver - all of them now marquee names in the Adelaide Hills.

These winemakers soon established the Adelaide Hills as one of Australia's premier cool-climate wine regions but until very recently it hardly rated as a cellar door destination.

Planning regulations designed to protect Adelaide's water supply greatly limited winery and cellar door development but in 2006 that changed, with amended planning rules that allowed new wineries up to a limited capacity - and with that came new cellar doors.

Now there are 90 wineries and 50 cellar doors - four times the number of a decade ago - some with distinguished restaurants, some open daily, a few only by appointment and nearly all within an hour's drive of Adelaide.


However, because of the convoluted nature of the Hills and its various access points, visitors with limited time must plan a cellar door tour with care.

The region is made up of a collection of distinctive sub-regions stretching from the Barossa Valley in the north to McLaren Vale region in the south, most of it at an altitude of between 400 and 650 metres.

In the very cool, wet Piccadilly area (the highest part of the Hills) conditions are ideal for chardonnay and pinot noir, while the slightly warmer areas around the Lenswood sub-region are perfect for pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, riesling and merlot.

The warmer parts of the Hills around Paracombe, Birdwood and Gumeracha in the north through to Woodside and Macclesfield further south are well suited to reds such as shiraz - not the big, hairy-chested style of Aussie shiraz found in the Barossa and Clare valleys but a more elegant, spicy and peppery style.

Cellar doors range from the characterful shed-like cellar door at Ashton Hills, where tasters warm themselves in winter around a cast-iron stove, to much grander places such as the Shaw & Smith Tasting Room at Balhannah.

Not far away is one of the newer winery restaurants at The Lane, near Hahndorf, where visitors can tuck in to roast spatchcock or confit trout as they sit on a deck overlooking vineyards, while at Petaluma's long-established Bridgewater Mill cellar door and restaurant, diners can enjoy the view from the deck of the former 145-year-old water-powered flour mill. As well as pioneering new varieties such as gruner veltliner and blaufrankisch, Hahndorf Hill Winery has taken a more quirky approach in providing ChocoVino tastings where single-origin chocolate is matched to its wines.

New vineyards continue to be planted and with them come new cellar doors. On the larger scale is Bird in Hand at Woodside, whose additional attractions include prize-winning olive oil and regular barrel hall concerts for up to 1000 guests. On the smaller side is the recently opened Deviation Road cellar door at Longwood, where the tasting counter is constructed from an old sparkling wine riddling rack.

Some cellar doors emphasise environmental credentials, none more so than Sinclair's Gully at Norton Summit, where wine meets wilderness with black cockatoos and towering candlebark gums.

Further afield is Chain of Ponds, near Gumeracha in the north, which offers a very good daily lunch, while Longview, further south, is one of the few Adelaide Hills cellar doors to offer accommodation - perfect for wine tasters reluctant to return home - as well as providing excellent cool-climate shiraz and nebbiolo.

See adelaidehillswine.com.au.