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The Ultimate Guide to the Best

McLaren Vale Wineries & Cellar Doors

While it couldn’t feel any more removed from city life, the McLaren Vale wine region is actually inside Adelaide’s metropolitan area. And although the township itself is only 40 minutes by car from central Adelaide and vineyards brush up against ever-encroaching housing, McLaren Vale remains unaffected by the urban sprawl. With deeply etched history, the Vale has a slow-paced sense of calm and an extraordinary wealth of untrammelled beauty. It is home to some of this country’s most beautifully pristine beaches, as well as some of the world’s most forward-thinking grape-growers and winemakers. And with over 80 cellar doors, it is an essential destination for wine lovers – and anyone else, for that matter.

History

McLaren Vale can lay claim to being South Australia’s first wine-growing region, pipping the Barossa Valley by a few years. And while they were settled at similar times, the Barossa was largely founded by German immigrants, while the pioneers of McLaren Vale were overwhelmingly English, with the cultural echoes strongly felt to this day.

Thomas Hardy and John Reynell planted the first vines in the new colony, putting down roots in 1838 and 1839 respectively. Both men had sustained success, with Hardy becoming the region’s most significant vineyard holder and wine producer in the latter half of the 19th century, and eventually acquiring Reynell’s vineyards, too. Many of the original plantings actually spread into what is now suburban Adelaide, with much vineyard land lost to housing over the years, though with a declining industry in the early 20th century, housing was a much more lucrative market than grape growing.

Mirroring much of the Australian wine industry, McLaren Vale was initially supported by an export market that favoured somewhat rustic dry table wines, with a significant shift towards fortified wines in the early 20th century pushing many growers to adapt or go out of business. Unlike regions like the Yarra Valley, whose cool climate grapes were largely unsuitable for making Port and Sherry substitutes, McLaren Vale had the advantage of ripe, sun-kissed grapes that could be fashioned into the popular wines of the day. That period, leading up to the resurgence in the 60s and 70s, saw a general decline in table wine production, with much juice blended away with grapes from other regions.

Like much of Australia, post-war immigration, starting from the late 40s, saw Italian immigrants imprint their culture on the Vale, introducing olives as major crops for both the table and olive oil production, as well as reframing attitudes to wine production and consumption. It was around this time that prominent McLaren Vale makers started to push back into the table wine market. Kay Brothers bravely established a cellar door in 1956, though purchases were four flagons at a minimum, as dictated by law.

Building on the foundation laid by those early tendrils of a renaissance, the late Greg Trott rebuilt the ruin of the Wirra Wirra winery (two walls and a slate fermenter was all that remained), thus landing one of the most significant counterpunches to arrest the decline of the Vale and help send it on an ever-upward trajectory. Wirra Wirra was originally founded by Robert Strangways Wigley in 1894, and the connection between one purported eccentric and a readily verifiable one in Trott (see below) was established when the latter brought the estate vividly back into play in 1969.

Trott, along with other modern pioneers, like the Lloyd’s of Coriole, championed the distinctiveness of the region and its wines, relegating homogenisation to the bin of history. Since then, McLaren Vale has had its fair share of champions, even if it still seems to sit somewhat in the shadow of the Barossa.

The truth is that the Vale has its own distinct personality, with the Mediterranean climate favouring both the long-established varieties – shiraz, grenache, cabernet – and representing vast potential for those less tested – nero d’avola, fiano, sagrantino. Indeed, the championing of so-called alternative varieties has solid history in Mclaren Vale, with Mark Lloyd (Coriole) largely, if not solely, responsible for the popularisation of sangiovese in this country. One of McLaren Vale’s other significant assets is a wealth of old-vine material, with the region never succumbing to the vine louse phylloxera.

Today, McLaren Vale has also become a leader in organic viticulture, with the highest number of certified organic and biodynamic vineyards of any Australian region. The Paxton vineyard was converted to biodynamic viticulture some time ago, with certification coming in 2011, and that’s over nearly 100 hectares. The slightly larger Yangarra is similarly certified, as is d’Arenberg and Wirra Wirra, along with a legion of smaller growers, helping to make McLaren Vale Australia’s benchmark region for organic and biodynamic viticulture.

Makers like Steve Pannell (S.C. Pannell), Toby Bekkers (Bekkers) and Pete Fraser (Yangarra) are pushing the boundaries of the Vale, combining innovative organic farming and their intimate experience of the great wines of the world to propel the region to greater heights. They are joined by generational Vale makers who are recasting the future of their properties, like Corinna Wright (Oliver’s Taranga), Chester Osborn (d’Arenberg) and Duncan and Peter Lloyd (Coriole), as well as a new wave that are capturing the territory through their own unique lenses: Rob Mack (Aphelion), Brad Hickey (Brash Higgins), Andy Coppard (Lino Ramble)… The history is deep, and the future is ever so bright.

Geography, Soils & Climate

McLaren Vale has many subregions that producers reference, such as Blewitt Springs, McLaren Flat, Seaview, Sellicks and Willunga, but these are not enshrined in law, with as many as 19 posited by the McLaren Vale Grape Wine & Tourism Association, who produced a detailed geological map of the region in 2010. The established subregions are both distinct from each other and far from homogenous within themselves. The Vale is said to have over 40 distinct geologies, with the oldest dating back 500 million years, and the youngest a mere 15,000-year-old pup. Red-brown sandy loams, grey-brown loamy sands, distinctly sandy soils, patches of red or black friable loams and yellow clay subsoils interspersed with lime are all part of the picture.

McLaren Vale is characterised by a Mediterranean climate with hot summer days and low rainfall in the growing season, making it particularly resilient to disease pressure. That warmth and lack of humidity no doubt has been a great aid in the Vale being able to establish the most certified organic vineyards of any region. Those warm days are meliorated by cooling breezes from the Gulf of St Vincent and air filtering down from the flanking Mount Lofty Ranges, while typically good winter and spring rains set the vines up for the coming season. While some vineyards are dry grown (about a fifth), a reclaimed water network accounts for the irrigation requirements, making McLaren Vale viticulture sustainable without employing groundwater or river water resources.

Grape Varieties & Wine Styles

Ask a McLaren Vale winemaker to nominate the region’s most emblematic variety and you’ll often hear the word grenache. Which is odd really. Following the overwhelming national average, shiraz is comfortably the Vale’s leading grape, but there’s something about grenache from McLaren Vale that is undoubtedly special. In volume, it languishes a little above chardonnay (not exactly a regional specialty) on 7 per cent of the crush to chardonnay’s 4 per cent, but when handled well, it has that dimension that see the t-word (terroir) dropped with seeming wantonness. For some time, it was a second-string variety to shiraz (and on numbers still is), and was made without priority given to its distinct needs and personality. Much has changed, and a more lithe, more elegant and far more detailed side had been given voice. With an extraordinary resource of old vines from a variety of soil types, and a dizzying array of macroclimates, grenache from McLaren Vale has world-beating potential.

For the winemakers that didn’t answer grenache to the earlier question, and they would still be in the ascendancy, yes, shiraz is the stalwart of the Vale, occupying over half of the total harvest each year. Cabernet sauvignon comes second at 21 per cent, and though it sits in the shadow of both the aforementioned varieties and more celebrated regions for the grape, like Coonawarra, McLaren Vale makes some exceptional pinnacle bottlings, as well as some everyday wines that represent exceptional value.

McLaren Vale growers have been reasonably early adopters of varietal diversifications, with the Italian grapes sangiovese and barbera long-term residents. They have also taken the lead with climatically and geographically apt varieties, like nero d’avola, motepulciano, tempranillo, vermentino and fiano, and to a lesser, but somewhat interesting degree, the Sicilian white grape grillo (the experimentation with white grapes is eagerly watched, especially when you consider that only 9 per cent of the annual crush is white) and Portugal’s bastardo (trousseau).

McLaren Vale in numbers*

  • Elevation: 0–417 metres above sea level
  • Annual rainfall: 606 mm
  • Mean temperature (Jan): 23.1°C
  • Area under vine: 6,209 hectares
  • White grapes: 9%
  • Red grapes: 91%
  • Average yield: 6.8 t/ha

Top five varieties crushed (2018)

  • Shiraz 57%
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 19%
  • Grenache 7%
  • Chardonnay 5%
  • Merlot 4%

*Statistics courtesy of Wine Australia

TOP WINE PRODUCERS TO KNOW

The Iconic Wineries

Coriole

Coriole has cemented itself as McLaren Vale royalty since its founding in 1967 by Hugh and Molly Lloyd. The estate’s oldest plantings (1919) and the homestead (1860) trace their roots back considerably further, with additional evidence that vines existed on the site as early 1873. The old vines on the property were shiraz, and a shiraz labelled ‘Claret’, as was done at the time, was released under the Coriole name in 1969. Shiraz still occupies most of the vineyard space, which is planted to terra rossa soils over limestone. There is also a smattering of grenache, mourvèdre, cabernet sauvignon and chenin blanc, with Mark Lloyd’s (Hugh and Molly’s son) interest in so-called alternative varieties accounting for the rest. Fiano, barbera, piquepoul and montepulciano feature, but it is with sangiovese that Coriole have made their biggest gambit. They have produced a varietal sangiovese for over 30 years now, and it is one of their most successful wines. Coriole’s wines are intense but sophisticated, with a general lightness of touch in the winery.

A: 79 Chaffeys Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8323 8305
W: coriole.com

d’Arenberg

Tracing its history back to the first 8 hectares of shiraz planted in 1912, d’Arenberg may not be the oldest vineyard, but it is about as iconic as it gets. Although his father had made wine for export prior, d’Arry Osborn launched the d’Arenberg label (sporting the famous red sash) in 1959. d’Arry’s move was a successful one, with a Jimmy Watson following in 1969. In 1984, fresh from university, his son Chester took over the winemaking role, and later became the General Manager. All d’Arenberg vineyards, whether owned or managed under lease arrangements, are now certified organic and biodynamic. The winemaking here is super traditional, with all wines, including whites, basket pressed. It’s near impossible to wrap up the d’Arenberg wine offer in words. Osborn pays homage to the past as well as delving into the possibilities of the future, with traditionally cast cuvees set against imaginative ones, with eccentric names to match. A visit is the only way to get the full picture, and there’s also a wealth of dining, snacking and wine experiences at the dazzling d’Arenberg Cube or on the legendary d’Arry’s Verandah.

A: 58 Osborn Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8329 4888
W: darenberg.com.au

Hardys Tintara

One of the oldest McLaren Vale producers, Tintara was founded in 1861, with Thomas Hardy buying the vineyards in 1876. The stone Tintara winery is on the main street (which is actually Main Street) of the township of McLaren Vale, which had served as a flour mill before Hardy converted it. Today, it is the home to the cellar door for all the Hardys wines, as well as a museum and various other activities. Tintara remains the base and spiritual home for Hardys, whose forays into big company winemaking have resulted in a large holding of vineyards, both owned and leased, across the Vale and beyond.

A: 202 Main Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8329 4124
W: hardyswines.com

Kay Brothers-Amery

The oldest continuously family owned McLaren Vale winery, Kay Brothers was founded in 1890, with the legendary Block 6 planted to shiraz in 1892. Vine cuttings were largely purchased from Thomas Hardy’s Tintara winery, with riesling, cabernet, malbec and mataro also being planted at Amery. In the 1960s, much of the Kay’s output was sold as bulk wine, though they had a cellar door as early as 1956 (with a four-flagon minimum purchase). The making here is traditional, with basket pressing and open fermenters employed, while the wines are aged in small oak, up to 500 litre puncheons. Classic McLaren Vale varieties are on show, with a little nero d’avola thrown in to test future waters. The ‘Block 6’ is one of Australia’s iconic shirazes, a very collectible wine that rubs shoulders with the greats. Kay Brothers also make some highly regarded fortifieds.

A: 57 Kays Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8323 8201
W: kaybrothersamerywines.com

Primo Estate

Joe Grilli catapulted the family estate, founded in 1973 by his father, Primo, into the spotlight by combining Italian techniques with the modern Australian methods he had studied at Roseworthy (he was the Dux of his year). Today, Primo Estate is celebrated for some ground-breaking wines, as well their Italian-in-spirit entry-level range – some Italian varieties, like sangiovese, and some that just knit into the food-friendly spirit. Grilli’s ‘Moda Amarone’, which gives cabernet and sauvignon and merlot the appassimento treatment (best known for the Italian Amarone wines of the Veneto, where the grapes are air dried post-harvest to concentrate and intensify), and the wildly complex assemblage that is their Sparkling Red are perhaps the emblematic bottlings. That last wine is made up of a barrel of ‘Moda Amarone’ made up of every vintage since 1991 and one from every vintage of their Primo Estate Shiraz since 1989, blended with a unique blend of old Australian red wine, then liqueured with a blend of old Australian fortified wines. It’s unique, to say the least. Primo Estate is as well known for their superb extra-virgin olive oils as they are for their wines.

A: 50 McMurtrie Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8323 6800
W: primoestate.com.au

Wirra Wirra

Greg Trott was one of Australian wine’s most celebrated iconoclasts, bon vivants and winemaking pioneers. His spirit is still celebrated heartily today, with the medieval siege machine (a trebuchet – a sort of articulated catapult) built in his honour (he had it on the drawing board for some time) routinely used to piff watermelons across the lawn. Underneath the irreverence lies one of the Vale’s most respected producers (with the ‘Church Block’ perhaps their most iconic label), working both with the lead regional varieties, as well as those more suited to the cool of the Adelaide Hills, from where they source sauvignon blanc, riesling and chardonnay. The vineyards have been managed according to biodynamic principles for over a decade, with NASAA certification coming in 2013. The wines, from the iconic ‘RSW’ Shiraz and ‘Angelus’ Cabernet Sauvignon down to their pithily titled entry-level ranges, emphasise bright freshness, but not at the expense of sun-kissed intensity. In 2015, Wirra Wirra acquired the legendary Adelaide Hills producer, Ashton Hills. Stephen George, the regional pioneer and undoubtedly the maker of the finest pinot noirs to come out of the Hills, still lives on the property and mentors the winemaking each year.

A: Cnr Strout and McMurtrie Rds, McLaren Vale SA
Ph: (08) 8323 8414
W: wirrawirra.com

Best of the New Wave Wineries

Aphelion

Rob Mack (2018’s Young Gun) founded Aphelion with his wife Louise Rhodes in 2014 with a single tonne of grenaches berries. Unusually, Mack divided this meagre harvest into thirds, making a barrel of each while highlighting different winemaking techniques. That first foray was about experimentation, but the principle has stuck, with subtle method differences underscoring the grenache expressions. The pair’s journey actually began over a bottle of Barolo on a P&O Cruise (both there with their mothers, too) in 2005, which saw both a human and a vinous passion develop. Mack continued on his more sensible road as an accountant for Deloitte in Sydney, before the whispering of the Vale lured him back, with work for others leading to that first frugal harvest. The heart of the operation is grenache still, with a shiraz and a mataro, plus a blend of the three, alongside a sagrantino and a pair of chenin blancs.

Ph: 0404 390 840
W: aphelionwine.com.au

Bekkers

Toby Bekkers was the viticulturist behind converting the significant vineyard holdings of McLaren Vale’s Paxton family to certified biodynamic farming. This was no mean feat over a couple of hundred acres, and one that many thought couldn’t be done. Having proven not only that it could, but that it resulted in more seamless management, he set out on his own with his wife, Emmanuelle. She hails from Toulon, on France’s Mediterranean coast, and studied winemaking at Montpellier. Her work took her to Australia and across France, where she still travels each year for vintage. The pair focus on McLaren Vale’s strongest suits, leading with grenache, then syrah and a blend of the two. They also turn out a Premier Cru Chablis, sourced from Emmanuelle’s friend who she helps each vintage. The reds are pinnacle expressions, melding European sensibilities with local typicity.

A: 212-220 Seaview Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: 0408 807 568
W: bekkerswine.com

Bondar

Andre Bondar and his wife Selina started Bondar wines in 2012 with a tonne or two of shiraz grapes picked by family and friends. Those humble beginnings have since seen them take over the legendary Rayner vineyard, a source of some amazing bottles of wines over the years from various makers. Andre had worked at Alain Graillot in the Northern Rhône prior, as well as spending much of his career at Nepenthe, in the Adelaide Hills; a couple of years at Mitolo shored up his knowledge of and solidified his appreciation for the Vale. The range here dips towards “wines that are lighter, brighter, more savoury, structured and intriguing.” There are nods to the new Vale, with fiano and nero d’avola featuring, as well as classic varieties, both solo and in blends.

A: Cnr Twentyeight and Chalk Hill Rds, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: 0417 888 553
W: bondarwines.com.au

Brash Higgins

Brad Hickey was a celebrated New York sommelier until a working trip to South Australia lured him from the bright lights for good. After a stint with Chris Ringland, in 2007, Hickey eventually settled in McLaren Vale, where he met his future partner, Nicole Thorpe, amongst the vines. The pair now make wine under the Brash Higgins (his pseudonym for dodging visa issues) label from Thorpe’s family vineyard. Supplementing the existing vines, they planted nero d’avola in 2009 and also source fruit from other Vale growers and from the Riverland. In addition to their typically lo-fi offerings, the pair also make wine in amphora, both as components and also for their dedicated Amphora Project range.

A: Cnr Malpas Rd and California Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8556 4237
W: brashhiggins.com

Ministry of Clouds

Before venturing out on their own, Bernice Ong and Julian Forwood made significant careers for themselves selling other people’s wine, working with such iconic labels as Wirra Wirra, Yalumba and Moët Hennessy. The lure of the land was too great, though, and they set up their McLaren Vale operation in 2012. Although the focus is firmly in the Vale, they source and produce wines from key regions, too, such as Tasmania and the Clare Valley. An intimate knowledge of both the vineyards and the history of McLaren Vale underpins their ability to source characterful fruit from great sites, working both with traditional varieties and some less so, like tempranillo, carignan and mencia. The style here is very respectful of local tradition, but with a much lighter hand, and a food-friendly, old-world sensibility.

A: 765 Chapel Hill Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: 0417 087 023
W: ministryofclouds.com.au

S.C. Pannell Wines

It seems odd to call Stephen Pannell among the new wave, but he is substantially changing the face of McLaren Vale like few others. From the Pannell family of Moss Wood and Picardy fame, Steve scaled the loftiest peaks of large-scale winemaking, heading up the then monolith of Hardys as Chief Winemaker. He oversaw production across the country, before pulling the pin to focus on his own ground-up endeavour. Steve makes elegant renditions of stalwart varieties, as well as exploring blends built around Spanish, Italian and Portuguese grapes. He also makes forays into the Adelaide Hills for cool climate syrah and one of this country’s best nebbiolos. His other label is Koomilya, which is the vineyard that he won his first Jimmy Watson (he’s got two) from, and now owns – these are perhaps his pinnacle expressions. The cellar door is a must, too.

A: 60 Olivers Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8323 8000
W: pannell.com.au

More of the Best Wineries
  • Alpha Box & Dice
  • Angove
  • Battle of Bosworth and Spring Seed Wines
  • Beach Road Wines
  • Beresford Estate
  • Chalk Hill Wines
  • Chapel Hill
  • Dogridge
  • Dowie Doole
  • Dune
  • Fall from Grace
  • Fox Creek
  • Geddes Wines
  • Gemtree Wines
  • Geoff Merrill Wines
  • Hardys Tintara
  • Hastwell & Lightfoot
  • Hither & Yon
  • Hugh Hamilton Wines
  • Hugo Wines
  • Inkwell Wines
  • Kangarilla Road
  • Kay Brothers
  • Koomilya
  • Lloyd Brothers
  • Lino Ramble
  • Maxwell Wines
  • McLaren Vale III Associates
  • Mitolo Wines
  • Mollydooker Wines
  • Mr. Riggs Wine Co.
  • Nick Haselgrove Wines
  • Noon Winery
  • Oliver’s Taranga
  • Patritti
  • Penny’s Hill
  • Pertaringa
  • Pirramimma
  • Samuel’s Gorge
  • Serafino
  • Sherrah
  • Shingleback
  • Shottesbrooke
  • Thistledown
  • Three Dark Horses
  • Woodstock
  • Yangarra Estate
  • Zerella wines
  • Zontes Footstep

WHEN YOU’RE THERE

McLaren Vale's Best Cellar Doors

Alpha Box & Dice

While there’s plenty of history at the Alpha Box & Dice property, this is no museum piece. No, Alpha Box & Dice is somewhat more edgy than that, as forecast by their sign (with their name and trademark alphabet), hand-scripted across the length of the corrugated shed that houses the cellar door. Decked out in an eclectic mix of old furniture and bric-a-brac, the Alpha Box & Dice shed feels part shearing shed, part regional bowls club lounge, part not-quite-antique furniture store and part North Fitzroy bar. It has a disarming charm, and is unlike any other cellar door in the region. It’s hard not to feel relaxed here, to sink in. And the comprehensive offer from their “Alphabet of Wine” with grazing plates to accompanying, mean you’ll probably linger somewhat longer than you thought. There’s an artful lack of obvious polish here, and it’s all the more charming for it. This is also one of the best places to taste less-familiar varieties made in micro-batches from both the Vale and farther afield.

A: 8 Olivers Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8323 7750
W: alphaboxdice.com

The d’Arenberg Cube Tasting Room

Not visiting the d’Arenberg Cube when visiting McLaren Vale would be like going to Cairo and not seeing the Pyramids. There’s a bit of pharaonic ostentation to the five-storey cube, too, with a wildly individual design dominating the surrounding vineyard. Sympathetic to its surrounds? Perhaps not, but it is impressive and aptly echoes the charming eccentricity of winemaker and owner Chester Osborn. It also houses some of the most interesting and unique wine experiences in the Vale, from a straight tasting of the huge range to vintage verticals to blending exercise to an educational session on tasting wine. Other features, along with multiple dining options, include: “A wine sensory room, a virtual fermenter, a 360-degree video room, and many other tactile experiences. Visitors are encouraged to explore the Alternate Realities Museum, located on the ground floor, and view the many art installations on display.” Unmissable.

A: 58 Osborn Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8329 4888
W: darenberg.com.au

Hardys Tintara

In the township of McLaren Vale itself, the Hardys cellar door is both convenient and deeply historic. Housed in a converted 19th century flour mill, what was the Hardys winery is now part museum and part tasting venue. Trawl through the history of Hardys, which is inextricably linked to the history of the Vale, or taste through their vast range, of both local wines and those made under the Hardys banner from further afield. It’s also a great place for a picnic, with barbecue facilities available to the public.

A: 202 Main Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8329 4124
W: hardyswines.com

Oliver’s Taranga

This may not be the flashiest cellar door in the Vale, but it does embody a significant amount of tradition. The Oliver family arrived in McLaren Vale in 1839, less than a year after the first of the region’s vines were planted. They started planting their own vineyards a few years later, and now have 100 hectares under vine. For most of their history the family has sold their harvest to some of South Australia’s most significant makers, but Corinna Wright, from the sixth generation of the family, started making their own wines in 1994, with commercial production starting in 1999. Today, she is a much-revered maker, both of classic regional varieties and less-familiar Mediterranean grapes. The cellar door is housed in an 1850s stone cottage built by the first generation of McLaren Vale Olivers, and they host frequent specialised food events.

A: 246 Seaview Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8323 8498
W: oliverstaranga.com

Yangarra

Originally planted on the sandy soils at the top of the estate in 1946, Yangarra has grown over the years since the purchase by California’s legendary Jackson Family Wines. Today, a brace of Southern Rhône varieties has joined those old vines, and the 100-hectare vineyard was certified A-grade biodynamic in 2012. Yangarra is the source of some significant McLaren Vale history, but it is also a beacon for the future, with best-practice farming and an embracing of climate-suitable varieties underpinning the hugely respected work of winemaker Peter Fraser. This is undoubtedly one of the Vale’s elite producers, and the tasting experiences in the cellar door are the best way to familiarise yourself with both their wines and their tireless organic viticulture.

A: 809 McLaren Flat Rd, Kangarilla SA 5157
Ph: (08) 8383 7459
W: yangarra.com

Eating Out – McLaren Vale's best restaurants and cafes

The d’Arenberg Cube Restaurant

Housed in d’Arenberg’s mid-rotation Rubik’s Cube, The Cube Restaurant is at the pointy end of McLaren Vale dining, with Brendan Wessels and Lindsay Dürr’s fare only available via degustation. You can opt in with matched wines, or go a step further and book the Chef’s Table (6 guests), with an extended menu and personal sommelier. Either way, it’s a unique experience with spectacular views from the Vale’s most eccentric building. For a less fancy option, d’Arry’s Verandah offers restaurant fare in a restored 19th century homestead, or opt for share plates at Polly’s Wine Lounge.

A: 58 Osborn Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8329 4888
W: darenberg.com.au

The Currant Shed

A favourite lunch spot for locals, The Currant Shed is owned by Shottesbrooke winemaker Hamish Maguire and his wife Emily (formerly manager of the Star of Greece), with Wayne Leeson the current Head Chef. The original currant-drying shed was built in 1916, and is surrounded by a lime orchard and extensive vineyards, with ornamental vines spilling from the rafters both inside and out. Outside of the magical setting, the locally focused food offer is deeply thoughtful and beautifully executed.

A: 104 Ingoldby Rd, McLaren Flat SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8383 0232
W: currantshed.com.au

Little Rickshaw

On the edge of town, nestled into an old stone and tin cottage, Little Rickshaw provides tasty and authentic Vietnamese fare to Aldinga locals and regulars from across the Vale. Expect the classics, but extremely bright and vibrant renditions. This is a hidden gem.

A: 24 Old Coach Rd, Aldinga SA 5173
Ph: 0403 784 568

Pizzateca

Pizzateca is the classic Neapolitan pizza alternative to Russell’s (below) distinctly eclectic operation. Tony Mitolo (ex-drummer of Empire of The Sun) manages to be host, pizzaiolo and DJ without skipping a beat, turning out classic Southern Italian pizza and other tweaked regional classics.

A: 319 Chalk Hill Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: 0431 700 183
W: pizza-teca.com

Russell’s Pizza

Founded in 1992, nothing much has changed at Russell’s over the years, with the pizzas still being cooked in the same water-tank-turned-wood-fired-oven. There is a two or three course prix fixe menu, with pizzas spun out until diners are satisfied. BYO and licensed.

A: 13 High Street, Willunga SA 5172
Ph: (08) 8556 2571
W: russellspizza.com

The Salopian Inn

The Salopian Inn has been revered for some (built in 1851), but current owner and chef Karena Armstrong has elevated into a new realm. Having worked at The Melbourne Wine Room, Icebergs, The Lake House and Billy Kwong, Armstrong settled in McLaren Vale for good after initial stints working at the Victory Hotel and Star of Greece. She sources a fair share of produce from her biodynamic garden and additionally sources from like-mined growers and farmers. The Salopian is also famous for their formidable collection of gin, reputedly around 200 selections, as well as its extensive wine cellar.

A: Cnr Main Rd and McMurtrie Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: (08) 8323 8769
W: salopian.com.au

Star of Greece

One of Australia’s legendary establishments, the Star of Greece is named after a ship that sank off Port Willunga in 1888, so don’t expect saganaki and ouzo here. The restaurant is housed in an unassuming beach shack perched on the sandstone cliffs, with one of the most dramatically eye-catching views you’re ever likely to come across.

A: 1 Esplanade, Port Willunga SA 5173
Ph: (08) 8557 7420
W: starofgreece.com.au

Victory Hotel

There are few pubs that attract as much devotion as the Victory. From a counter meal and a Cooper’s in the bar to a bottle of old Wendouree and a locally sourced steak in the restaurant, the Victory is the quintessential McLaren Vale pub experience. The cellar turns to an astonishing 8,000 bins, with unmatched local depth as well as deeps stocks of international wines, notably Burgundy. Owner Doug Govan also planted his Rudderless vineyard around the hotel, which share the dazzling views of the Gulf of St Vincent with the pub. There are also three cottages on site, if you’d like to stay as close as possible to this gem.

A: Old Sellicks Hill Rd, Sellicks Hill SA 5174
Ph: (08) 8556 3083
W: victoryhotel.com.au

McLaren Vale Shopping & Other Attractions

Home Grain Bakery

Founded in 2011, in Aldinga’s old general store, Home Grain Bakery has expanded to four locations, but locals maintain that the Aldinga store is still the best. A great source of lovingly baked sourdough bread and pastries, as well as somewhat legendary house-made pies and pasties.

A: 13 Old Coach Rd, Aldinga SA 5173
Ph: (08) 8556 5056
W: homegrainbakery.com.au

Shifty Lizard

Combining their disparate skills, Lee Stone (brewer) and Danny Strapps (brand manager/designer) founded the Shifty Lizard Brewing Company in 2017. Their initial success led to them swinging open the doors on their modest taphouse in the picturesque town of Willunga. Everything here is brewed in genuine micro-batches for both freshness and to aid in the process of endless experimentation. You’ll get all the beers as fresh as possible on tap, and you can soak it all up with their extensive range of toasties, paninis and “loaded chips”, or order pizza from the nearby Redwood Oven.

A: 33 High Street, Willunga SA 5172
Ph: (08) 7079 2471
W: shiftylizard.com

Swell Taphouse

Swell Brewery was first conceived on a two-year snow and surf odyssey, with the first tentative brews of Dan Wright’s vision being realised in the shed of the family winery. That winery is Oliver‘s Taranga, where Corinna Wright makes wine on her family’s near 180-year-old property. Nestled amongst some pretty significant vineyards and cellar doors (making it an ideal post-tasting pitstop), Dan’s beers can all be sampled at the Swell Taphouse, with a full menu accompanying the frothy stuff.

A: 168 Olivers Rd, McLaren Vale SA 5171
Ph: 0439 209 389
W: swellbeer.com.au

Willunga Artisans Market

Held on the second Saturday of the month, between 9 am–1 pm, the Artisans Market sells locally sourced handmade ceramics, jewellery, printmaking, wood, textiles and illustrations.

A: Willunga Town Square, Willunga SA 5172
Ph: (08) 8556 4297
W: willungafarmersmarket.com.au

McLaren Vale Accommodation

Hotel California Road @ Inkwell

Dudley Brown and Irina Santiago-Brown traded in successful international careers for a future in viticulture, with the pair founding Inkwell Wines & Consulting in 2011. On their vineyard in Tatachilla, they have also built arguably the region’s most opulent micro-hotel. Expect five-star trappings, with magnificent views of the vineyards, but you’ll need to leave the kids, and any pets, at home.

A: 377 California Rd, Tatachilla SA 5171
Ph: 0468 883 776
W: inkwellwines.com

Papershell Lodge

Jessica and Surahn Sidhu’s sustainably managed farm is centred around an almond orchard, in Willunga. She’s an accomplished landscape designer, while he’s a musician, having played with Empire of The Sun, The Swiss and Flight Facilities over the years. The farm also runs sheep and cattle, and grows plenty of fresh produce. An almond ‘cellar door’ is nearly complete, and the lodge is a one-bedroom affair for two guests. You can pick your own veggies and the beach and wineries are only a five-minute drive away.

A: 203 Almond Grove Rd Willunga, SA 5171
W: papershellfarm.com/the-lodge

Victory Hotel

With three self-contained cottages onsite, the walk to the legendary Victory Hotel is a mere 100 metres, which is somewhat handy given the legendary hospitality and expansive stock of their wine cellar.

A: Old Sellicks Hill Rd, Sellicks Hill SA 5174
Ph: 0476 216 208
W: victoryhotel.com.au

The Vineyard Retreat

Situated on a working vineyard, the Vineyard Retreat comprises five different guest houses, from classic country in feel with two king beds to a sleek timber and glass pod built for a couple. Each guest house is discretely separated from the next, with a jacuzzi at the highest point on the property, capturing amazing views, and a central lawn and piazza open for all guests. They also have a concierge service, which will help you plan your daytrips, from winery tours to outdoor adventures.

A: 165 Whitings Rd, Blewitt Springs SA 5171
W: thevineyardmv.com.au

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