Falling for Clare, the Lesser Known Sister

Posted by Crooked Compass

Typical Clare Valley scene
Typical Clare Valley scene

Dotted with rustic cottages, rolling golden wheat fields and tangled vivid green vines, this quaint collection of townships and villages are quiet and richly authentic. The Clare Valley is more than capable of standing alone and is starting to shake things up and rival its bigger sisters with some of Australia’s best boutique wineries.

Clare Valley - The shyer, quieter and lesser known sister of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale is often overshadowed and sometimes forgotten. Put bluntly, it is suffering middle child syndrome.

Regularly overlooked or pushed to the side, this little treasure has come into its own and those mass market crowds and tourist buses are missing out on something with unique grandeur, unspoiled rural landscapes and of course delicious boutique wines.

So why the Clare Valley?

1.       Want to avoid the crowds? 

Then head to the Clare Valley. Do you prefer to taste your wine in peace and quiet? Concentrating and appreciating the oaks, the plums and the acidity without being bumped around and interrupted while you speak with the wine maker? You will not run into tour bus after tour bus rolling through the streets or battle for your place at a tasting table with 50-100 other people at the Clare Valley. The boutique wineries are simply not large enough to cater for such vast demand, that the hordes of tourists stick to the larger mass market wineries that are found in the likes of the Barossa Valley.

In fact, there are so few tourists in the Clare Valley, that in the evening there are only two pubs open to choose from for your dining options! How’s that for quaint?

No waiting your turn here!
No waiting your turn here!

2.       Boutique Wineries

When wine tasting, you want to try something different, something niche, something boutique. Something you can rave to your friends about and something that when tasted, the response is “Wow, that’s amazing. I’ve never had anything like this before.” The boutique wineries quite often offer something completely off the radar that other vineyards may not have dreamed of trying. For example, there are a select handful of wineries in the Clare that play around with the Spanish grape Tempranillo or even more niche, have you ever come across a dessert Zinfadel? Where else can you find that?

Boutique, excellent!
Boutique, excellent!

3.       Gourmet South Australian Food

Fair enough, you will find this in any winery region anywhere in the world, but the rural village feel that encompasses the Clare Valley, seems to make the food taste that much better. From tapas type meals at Mr Micks, to picnic basket hampers that you eat on the lawn with your newly purchased bottle of choice at Shut the Gate, through to the more high end, fine dining type experience at Skillogalee where you can have wines paired with your food.

Time to fill my belly
Time to fill my belly

4.       The Riesling Trail

The Riesling Trail is the biggest draw card for wine connoisseurs visiting the Clare Valley and was inspired by the regions reputation for unrivalled Riesling. Several ‘major’ towns of the Clare Valley link together over 35km and are perfect to either walk or more popularly cycle between wineries. It is a great way to learn some of the history of the area whilst taking in the stunning landscapes at your own pace and soaking up that country charm. Even just exploring a section of the trail and stopping at the cellar doors along the way provides a wonderful experience. It is a tranquil and safe thoroughfare, with a gentle gradient.

And then burn off all that food
And then burn off all that food

5.       Stay in a Cottage

I believe most people have a vision of staying in a cute, sandstone cottage with a bullnose veranda and a wooden deck to chill on in the afternoon with a cold bottle of vino whilst picking at salty olives and creamy cheeses purchased from their day out and about. Most people end up steering away from actually staying in one though due to the hefty costs and more than often, lack of availability. Well let me tell you, in the Clare Valley, all there is are cottages. There are no mainstream hotels, large chain properties or grand golf courses drawing in vast golfing crowds. Just quaint, rustic (and luxury) authentic cottages catering for all budgets and levels of comfort.

Quaint cottages dot the landscape
Quaint cottages dot the landscape

6.       Winery Animals

This one is a little odd, but something that melts my heart is seeing dogs and cats at wineries that are part of the vineyard. Especially when a vineyard is named after a pet (e.g. Lucy’s Run in the Hunter Valley.) The cat/dog comes and greets guests, they are well behaved and super charming and of course they are a talking point. Most people love animals and hearing stories of the 25 year old cat that has lived on cheese and wine its whole life but is lean and fit looking. Or the dog that chased off the fox that was killing the sheep because someone forgot to shut the gate. These animals make for great stories while you sip away on your tastings with a furry friend sitting at your feet or if you’re lucky, on your lap. And a cat that can live off cheese and wine for 25 years? Surely that cat has some secrets it can share with the rest of us! You can even buy a book on Wine Cats!

Everyone loves a winery cat
Everyone loves a winery cat