Guide to wine tourism in Australia: The best places for a wine holiday

It may resemble an unsolved Rubik's cube discarded in frustration at the bottom of a garden but, really, these days it's no puzzle at all as to why a five-storey, twisted box-like building plonked, as it were, in the middle of a South Australian vineyard has been such a vintage success.

McLaren Vale's d'Arenberg winery, home to the Cube, as it's known, was recently listed as one of the world's 50 best vineyards", along with fellow South Australian wineries Penfolds Magill Estate and Henschke Wines.

The instigator of the annual US-based awards, Andrew Reed, managing director of events and exhibitions at William Reed Business Media, says travellers will still want amazing travel experiences.

Happily, the wine industry, with food and wine-related travel in an industry worth $20 billion a year globally, is providing enormous scope not only through traditional cellar door tastings but also vineyard tours, architecture and dining. All in one place.

"Wine is also a big part of the culture of many destinations and it's produced in almost 60 countries around the world, contributing significantly to national economies," says Reed. "In the US alone, some 17 per cent of all leisure travellers engage in culinary and wine-related travel."

In the hungry and thirsty Land Down Under, the engagement is even higher. A study earlier this year by Tourism Australia found that 32 per cent of Australian travellers indicated that food and wine was an important factor when making a decision on where to take holiday.

A NOSE FOR AN ARCHITECTURAL STATEMENT

AFR Magazine - Food - November 2017 - Drinks - The Cube at d'Arenberg Wines in South Australia's McLaren Vale, a multi-storey building housing an interactive visitor centre, restaurant and art gallery.

The Cube at d'Arenberg Wines in McLaren Vale, South Australia.

It's not just winemakers and travellers who are recognising the power and significance of wine tourism - the value of local wine exports fell 4 per cent in the June quarter, according to Wine Australia, and a mercurial China is our number one export market.

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The South Australian government granted $2 million to the state's d'Arenberg label from its State Government Regional Development Fund for the construction of its distinctive wine building.

Love it or hate it, the d'Arenberg Cube appears to have been money shrewdly spent, since the big-statement building, which houses a wine sensory room and something called a virtual fermenter, has become a motif for South Australia and a flagship for the potential of wine tourism in Australia.

Its success couldn't have come at a more opportune, or desperate, time. After a succession of setbacks, including smoke taint from the bushfires, that has injected more wrath in their grapes these days, the great white and red hope of the wine industry is tourism.

No wonder, then, that the new maxim in the wine industry, according to winemaker Chris Tyrrell of the historic Tyrrell's winery in the Hunter Valley, NSW, is that "if you're not in wine tourism, you're not in wine". His winery, which was founded in 1858, is accelerating plans to expand its wine tourism offering in light of the pandemic.

Wineries, with all of those expansive, rolling vineyards and idyllic settings, are perfectly suited for physical distancing in a pandemic. And regions such as the Hunter Valley in NSW have recently been inundated with day and overnight visitors. At its peak, d'Arenberg and its Cube was attracting around 1500 visitors a day.

"Over seven years we have seen tourism shift from being a side hustle to becoming an integral part of our wineries' overall business," says Kate Shilling, executive officer of Ultimate Winery Experiences Australia (UWEA), a group of wineries formed to promote and develop wine tourism.

In 2018-19, research by UWEA showed that 75 per cent of bookings at wineries were from the domestic market, something that augurs well for wineries, in light of the pandemic-induced ban on international travel.

"We're all about offering a diverse range of quintessential Australian experiences that 'go beyond the cellar door' because for high-value travellers, that's where wineries work their magic," says Shilling. "Creativity is key when it comes to unlocking the visitor experience to showcase the Australian way with wine."

HARVESTING A MARKETING COUP

Rodney Harrex, South Australian Tourism Commission chief executive, says with its Instagram-worthy design and acclaimed food and wine, the d'Arenberg Cube has become a South Australian icon and a must-see destination for many visitors.

"Once in the Fleurieu Peninsula, visitors to d'Arenberg will often make stops at other wineries and attractions in the region, they'll visit local shops and see the sights at the beaches nearby," says Harex.

Robin Shaw, the Adelaide-based founder of Wine Tourism Australia, an industry consultancy group, says there are about 1500 cellar doors in Australia, "all ostensibly offering the same product".

"Many wineries don't realise they're also in the entertainment business, and visitors are looking for experiences that are distinctive, informative, fun and social. The South Australian government's investment in wine tourism is the envy of winemakers in other states.

"But bigger isn't necessarily better. Small scale, customer-focused cellar doors that offer bespoke, personalised experiences are just as capable of attracting a loyal following and generating a positive revenue stream."

FOOD AND WINE: STILL A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN


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Spicers Vineyard Estate, Hunter Valley, NSW.

It's not only winemakers who see the benefit of wine tourism. Spicers, the luxury collection of retreats owned by Graham and Judy Turner, founders of Flight Centre, has two properties in the Hunter Valley of NSW, and while there are vines in its Spicers Vineyards Estate property, its objective is purely wine tourism.

The restaurants at Spicers Vineyard Estate and its sister establishment, Spicers Guesthouse, namely Restaurant Botanica and Eremo Restaurant, both appear in the 2020 edition of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Good Food Guide.

Indeed, the regional sections of the so-called "foodies' bible" are star-studded and it may well be that wine regions emerge as the last bastion of fine dining as Australians desert the traditional CBD heartland of such restaurants, due to the home office revolution.

As Shilling points out, most states now have comprehensive food and wine tourism strategies, with the UWEA's nine founding winery members "quick off the mark" seven years ago in developing and delivering winery experiences that go beyond the cellar door.

Ultimately, as the wine industry battles the effects of the first global pandemic in more than a century, it's not amazing architecture alone that will sell wine, says Shaw. Moreover, it's the people factor that remains paramount.

"A fancy venue will definitely create destination appeal for a winery business but success will be dependent on the ability of the people to engage visitors and convert them to loyal, long term customers."

This article was written in expectation of state and territory borders eventually reopening, with some of the experiences highlighted affected by COVID-19 restrictions. Check winery and accommodation websites for updates. See ultimatewineryexperiences.com.au

FIVE OF THE BEST AUSTRALIAN WINERY STAYS

JACKALOPE, MORNINGTON PENINSULA, VICTORIA

Jackalope, Merricks North, Victoria.

Jackalope, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria.

This offbeat, art-festooned newcomer, with its dark looks entered the wine tourism scene with its 45 rooms in sombre toned and featuring private terraces, king-sized beds and even the option of Japanese-style deep-soak baths. See jackalopehotels.com.au

THE LOUISE, BAROSSA VALLEY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

A self-styled luxury culinary retreat, The Louise was among the first in the Barossa to combine food and wine, via its flagship Appellation restaurant, with luxury accommodation See thelouise.com.au

SPICERS RETREATS, HUNTER VALLEY, NSW

Spicers operates not one but two luxurious retreats in the Hunter Valley with its two restaurants, Eremo and Botanica, featured in the Good Food Guide. See spicersretreats.com.au

PORT PHILLlIP ESTATE, MORNINGTON PENINSULA, VICTORIA

Port Phillip Estate's philosophy is predicated on "an alchemy of architecture, food and wine" with its six designer suites delivering panoramic views of both the vineyards and the ocean. See portphillipestate.com.au

MONA PAVILIONS, MOORILLA, TASMANIA

Such has been the feverish publicity surrounding Hobart's MONA that it's easy to forget that the museum is located in the middle of a winery with "super-flash luxury dens", each named after notable Australian architects and artists. See moorilla.com.au

FIVE OF THE BEST WINERY RESTAURANTS

MAGILL ESTATE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

The Penfolds Magill Estate redevelopment, designed by Denton Corker Marshall, won the top commercial and interior architecture awards in SA.

Penfolds Magill Estate, South Australia.

Not only does this celebrated restaurant, located at Penfolds Adelaide Hills winery and rated one of the world's 50 best vineyards in 2020, score two hatsin the Good Food Guide there are also stellar views of the city. See magillestaterestaurant.com

VASSE FELIX, MARGARET RIVER, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

If there's one good reason for heading to the other side of the country, when the time is right, it's this one-hatted restaurant which showcases local culinary delights such as the famed Western Australian marron. See vassefelix.com.au

MUSE RESTAURANT, HUNTER VALLEY, NSW

Located in the Hungerford Hill Winery, the two-hatted Muse is one of Australia's most lauded winery restaurants showcasing the Hunter Valley's finest produce with an emphasis on seasonality. See musedining.com.au

D'ARENBERG VERANDAH RESTAURANT, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Proof that it's not built on an architecturally-arresting building alone, the menu and pairings at the restaurant at d'Arenberg reflects the eccentricities of the vineyard's colourful winemaker Chester Osborn. See darenberg.com.au

TARRAWARRA ESTATE, VICTORIA

Inside one of the nation's most elegant and sensitive examples of winery architecture, the hatted restaurant at TarrraWarra in the Yarra Valley is teamed with art exhibitions staged by the family behind the winery. See tarrawarra.com.au

FIVE OF THE BEST WINERY TOURS

THE ULTIMATE PINOT LOVER'S ROAD TRIP, MONALTO, VICTORIA

Montalto Wines, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria 

Montalto Wines, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria.

 
An unstructured guided tour, via dirt roads, along the "Grand Cru" touring route, to discover the hidden Mornington Peninsula vineyards that grow Monalto's best pinot noir. See monalto.com.au

THE SIGNATURE TOUR, YALUMBA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

An in-depth private tasting tour beginning at this Eden Valley winery's historic Yalumba wine room and concluding with lunch prepared by a local chef with courses paired with the label's rare and fine collection drops. See yalumba.com

THE ART OF SPARKLING, JOSEF CHROMY, TASMANIA

Go behind the scenes to see how traditional-method sparkling wine, a Tasmanian speciality, is created and then head into the winery's laboratory to craft an actual bottle to your own taste. See josefchromy.com.au

SACRED SITES, TYRRELLS, NSW

In this exclusive tour, the current generation of winemakers at Tyrrells host a private and personalised tour of Tyrrell's Sacred Sites vineyards in the Hunter Valley, with the historic winery itself founded in 1858. See tyrrells.com.au

MOORILLA'S POSH-AS DAY AT MONA, TASMANIA

A lavish day-long fusion of food, wine and art including a luxury ferry transfer from Hobart, a private winery tour and tasting, lunch with matched wines and an "art binge" at the Museum of Old and New Art itself. See mona.net.au

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