Short on time but in serious need of a break with that special someone? Australia’s wine regions offer the perfect solution – a relaxed escape with nature’s finest drops only a hop, skip and jump from the city.
1. Margaret River
A few hours south of Perth on the remote West Australian coastline sits the town of Margaret River where sea, salt air and vineyards collide. The result is a region adored by nature loving surfers, foodies and wine buffs alike. Who can resist the allure of wild beaches filled with private spaces and sparkling waters and served up with a bottle of wine?
The original commercial grapes were planted here in 1967 and now account for fifteen percent of Australia’s premium production. Today over a hundred and fifty wine producers call this region home including the big names of Leeuwin Estate, Evans & Tate and Vasse Felix.
Margaret River’s boutique wineries give guests the opportunity to get up close with multi generational wine making families and purchase coveted limited edition wines. Sandalford Wines is one of the pioneers of the area, Amelia Park Wines features the wine making talents of Jeremy Gordon (ex Evans & Tate) and Blackwood Meadery is wine with a difference, made from honey not grapes.
Lunch is big in Margaret River, dinner is only served in a handful of the winery restaurants. Better to spend dusk supping on your day’s purchase on one of a plethora of beaches as the sun sets on the ocean horizon.
Come midday fine dining foodies head to the West Australian Regional Restaurant of theYear at Vasse Felix or the West Australian two star Leeuwin Estate restaurant and the award winning biodynamic local produce at Cullen Wines.
All good food names start somewhere and many make an appearance every Saturday at the Margaret River Farmers Markets. Our market tip for the sweet tooth is Two Fat Cows natural ice cream, Lady Marmalade old world cakes and Bahen & Co stone-ground chocolate.
Yoga loving surfers have led a raw food revolution in the arts hub of Dunsborough. Expect day beds for reclining amongst an organic garden made from love at Samudra Raw Café, Surf Community and Yoga School or trial the delights of Wild RAW at one of their workshops.
We recommend sitting back and letting Jamie Batrick-Nolan lead the way on an organic Harvest Tour to get a good overview of the wine and artisan produce of the region. Be warned, you may want to ask Jamie if you can stay longer in the truly impressive kitchen garden at Providore at Coward and Black.
2. Southern Highlands – NSW
A mere ninety minutes south of Sydney sits the Southern Highlands, known for English inspired hamlets and a distinct four seasons. Oft known as Australia’s Cotswolds, expect manicured gardens, winter log fires and tulips in spring. Romantic accommodation options range from quaint bed and breakfasts to country lodges, horse studs and wineries – a mere stumble from the cellar door to the guest bedroom.
Many of the region’s land owners have in recent times turned to planting grapes, contributing to a burgeoning wine industry with sixty vineyards and sixteen cellar doors.Try Mt Ashby Estate run by Chris Harvey and Sally Beresford, head to Southern Highland Wines for vineyard vistas from the in house restaurant, Tertini Wines for international recognition, and celebrate Italian heritage at the family owned St Maur wines.
Centennial Vineyards in the gateway town of Bowral boasts an impressive restaurant menu with local produce. Check the calendar as international artists often perform in the grounds – Lionel Richie performed at their Day on the Green.
Gourmands should head straight to Biota Dining in Bowral. Chef James Vile’s destination dining establishment features a kitchen garden, fine dining restaurant and casual tapas bar. His cuisine earned him a Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide chef’s hat in the first year of opening and two in the second year. This is romance on a plate.
Foodies won’t get a better insight into the local produce than local epicure, Jill Dyson’s Food Path tours for workshops with local chefs, long table dining and private farm tours.
If roses be the flower of love then take a turn around any of the region’s public gardens. Get lost in the maze with your lover at Harper’s Mansion’s grounds in Berrima and Greenbrier Park Garden in Mittagong combines English style with Australian native.
Head to the heritage town of Berrima for some old world charm and channel your inner Darcy and Elizabeth at Berkelow antiquarian book barn, grab a bite to eat in the café and sup of the Bendooley Estate Wine cellar door while you are there.
3. Hunter Valley – NSW
This pocket of vineyard love two hours north of Sydney features cute cottages for two, luxe resorts, quirky boutique vineyards and restaurants where produce is plucked straight from the garden.
A hundred and twenty cellar doors will keep couples well and truly satiated.Try Brokenwood, McGuigan and Hungerford Hill for the bigger names.
Did we mention Tamberlaine for an organic drop, Mount View Estate for Brokenback Mountain Range vistas and the secret Tintilla Estate for wines, vinegars and olives?
Then there’s Lisa McGuigan, a fourth generation wine-maker of McGuigan Wines fame. Her TempusTwo vineyard is home to the most impressive cellar door in town and regularly hosts concerts from the likes of Elton John, Rod Stewart,The Beach Boys and KD Lang.
Grab a bike and map out your own vineyard tour for two. Grape Mobile offers bike hire complete with water, map, sunscreen and roadside assistance should you get a flat tyre or imbibe too much.
Where there’s wine there’s food. The Hunter Valley has it’s own share of Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide hats. Book ahead for one hat Bistro Molines at theTallavera Grove Vineyard and fine dining Muse at Hungerford Hill or for a romantic casual long lunch head to Leaves and Fishes on the shores of a lily pad lake.
Better yet, coincide your trip with the annual Lovedale Long Lunch on May 18 and 19. The progressive lunch celebrates seven local wineries all showcasing the best produce and grapes on offer.
History also abounds in the Hunter Valley from the majestic heritage sandstone of WollombiValley town to the Great North Road hand built by convicts in the 1800s and part of the World Heritage Australian Convict Site List. National parks surround the area with some excellent, and remote, bushwalking trails filled with wildlife.
Soothe the burning thighs or wine weary head with a spa treatment at Australia’s only purpose built health retreat, The Golden Door Elysia. The stunning spa is open for day treatments and is next door to Cypress Lakes golf course for some time on the green.
4. Yarra Valley – VIC
Victoria’s first wine growing district, the Yarra Valley, is spitting distance (wine pun intended) from Melbourne. A mere forty five kilometres from down town, urban couples looking for loved up wine time can be at their accommodation of choice within an hour of leaving the city.
The Yarra Valley has been making international wine waves since 1889 when Yering Station won a Grand Prix at the Paris Exhibition, the only wine from the Southern Hemisphere to do so. Today the valley boasts just under a hundred and fifty wineries, sixty cellar doors and is also home to Moet et Chandon’s Australian base, Domaine Chandon.
Tick the big names off the wine list – James Halliday’s Coldstream Hills, family run De Bortoli andYering Station where the sculpted art work and restaurant valley vista is as impressive as the prestigious wine label. Then seek out the boutique labels with a difference.
Punt Road Wines are also home to Napoleone & Co Cider in pear and apple fermented flavours and Maddens Rise specialize in artisan wine making. With so many wineries on offer it may pay to hand over the car keys and the wine choice to Grape Escape Tours or visit during the Shortest Lunch weekend in June when the regions small wineries host a progressive lunch.
Speaking of lunch (or breakfast), Belle Vedere relies on local produce, a daily changing menu and comes with an on-site bakery and a dedicated slow food organic philosophy. Add an on-site cooking school and you may never leave.
For a romantic dinner you don’t get better than Eleonore’s at ChateauYering.Awarded one hat by The Age Good Food Guide, expect white table cloths, velvet chairs and a dress code, so frock up.
Stones of the Yarra Valley offers exotic lunch platters in a renovated 1850s barn with guest chef Greg Malouf offering Middle Eastern delights on the occasional Sunday. Hargreaves Hill micro brewery and Coldstream Brewery both offer an alternative to wine matched cuisine with full craft beer tasting and a menu to match.
5. Kangaroo Island – SA
The uber cool super lodge, Southern Ocean Lodge, announced Kangaroo Island to the world and won a cabinet of hotel design awards in the process, but South Australians have long known the true beauty of this once secret island.
Picture an island chipped off the Australian coast, add a plethora of wildlife from fur seals to penguins to the namesake kangaroos, throw in some rolling green hills and rugged coastline and dot the island with home style hospitality with a dash of the eccentric thrown in. This is Kangaroo Island.
The burgeoning wine industry of Kangaroo Island sits side by side with bee keepers, cheese makers, fishermen, abalone divers, organic devotees and a thriving arts community. With only five thousand residents couples can expect plenty of hidden places for alone time.
There are thirty wine grape growers on the island and around eighteen labels on offer. Locals support locals so expect to find Kangaroo Island wines on the menu at most dining establishments.
Revered wine writer James Halliday awarded Islander EstateVineyards five stars in 2012 for good reason. French winemaker Jacques Lurton has over sixty vintages under his wine-making belt and brought his expertise to Kangaroo Island in 2000 planting his first vineyard.
Also try Bay of Shoals Wines cellar door for views over the bay for which it is named. Dudley Wines was founded by fifth generation Islander, Brodie Howard, and the family run cellar door perches on a spectacular cliff top. Take some time at Two Wheeler Creek Wines and Andermel Maron Farm.The rural café served up fresh maron from the farm with matching wines from the vineyard. Bliss.
When you’ve had your wine fill then head to South Australia’s first boutique distillery, Kangaroo Island Spirits.The wild gin, vodka and liqueurs use native juniper, wild fennel and ligurian honey to produce bang for your buck that has been heralded worldwide.
Anything is possible on Kangaroo Island from dining in a fig tree at LifeTime Retreats to adventure caving and surfing sand dunes. Don’t go past Fish in Penneshaw for gourmet takeaway seafood, the Rustic Blue Art Gallery in a shearers shed, the community markets and the farmers markets both on the first Sunday of the month.
Synchronise your trip with the Kangaroo Island Feastival in April and dine with local providores in their own homes, go fishing with the best, join pop up restaurants and food safaris with local and visiting chefs.
It would be rude to visit Kangaroo Island and not indulge in some wildlife play. Fish at Emu Bay, trek the national parkland at D’Estrees Bay, sail the waters of Nepean Bay, take a night tour with penguins or simply put your feet up and lose yourselves in the sunset.