When visiting the south coast of Australia I thought it would be a good idea to visit one of the wine regions in the area to challenge my poor opinion of Australian wines.
Two popular wine regions I read about are the McLaren Vale and the Coonawarra region. I decided to choose the Coonawarra region due to its proximity to caves.
Working title: “Australia is closed for the holidays/fire/whatever”
I misread my check-out time of the Airbnb in Port Fairy and rush to put all my crap into the car when the owner arrives to clean for the next guest. Thank goodness I didn’t have to carefully pack my backpack -> one great advantage to having a car for a week.
Before I leave Port Fairy I do a stop at the beach there, beautiful as is the rest of the coast.
I continue my drive watching as the temperature gage slowly rises in Celsius. Watching temperature rising seems to be the theme of the next two days, as well as watching news of the Australian fires. Although the fires are getting worse, they are not yet affecting the regions I am at.
Temps go up to 99 F (37 C) during my commute to the next location.
I am staying in a bubble tent for two nights at Coonawarra Bush Holiday Park.
Due to popularity the holiday park has purchased some new tents. Some of the older tents are in need of repair and are not in use this evening. The campsite is installing a new one for me and it isn’t ready yet.
My package deal includes wine and chocolate. I throw them both in the camp refrigerator for later so they don’t go bad.
While they are setting up my bubble tent I head into the nearby town (Penola) thinking I can find a restaurant but nothing seems to be open. Either everything closes early in this sleepy town or I am here off season. Even the grocery closes early (7 pm!). I need to pick up some food for the night before I lose that opportunity as well. I find out later that if I want a better selection of restaurants and stores I need to drive 30 minutes further to Naracoorte.
The disappointment I feel of things being closed seems to be a common theme in this area. Many good wineries exist in Coonawarra but the region is insufficiently able to handle tourism (local or foreign). Some of my bad luck is caused by traveling in the slow period before Christmas where everything comes to a halt. I wish I would have known but I am not sure more research would have told me this information ahead of time. I do stop at one winery cellar door for a quick tasting before grocery shopping – Patrick’s of Coonawarra – and I am the only one in the tasting room during my time there.
I head back to the campsite with my groceries and try to find room in one of the two refrigerators for my groceries in the camp kitchen (side note – finding room in shared refrigerators becomes a frequent activity I participate in while van camping in NZ but more about that later).
My tent is now ready and the air conditioner works on cooling the tent. In time I find it is way too hot to lounge inside the tent with the sun during the day; there is an air condition unit and wine chiller but they are no match for the heat. The bubble tents are really more appropriate during cooler months, not in the middle of an Australian heat wave.
There are vineyards next to me and I have a nice view of the sunset. The top of the bubble gives me an semi-obstructed view of the stars and moon.
There are privacy curtains but they don’t seem to work well. I use my hairclips to try to hold them together.
Things get fun when the sun sets. There are mood lights in the tent. Luckily it cools down without the sun. Between the darkness and air conditioning it becomes comfortable to sleep. The previous generation of tents were held up by pressure inside but these are held up by inflation of the pentagon shapes into a sphere. The AC combined with the outside air did still cause some pressurization and some of the Velcro sections would frequently come detached as a result (like the door on the “privacy room”). Despite the inconveniences it is a fun and unique experience and I would do it again sans heat.
The next morning I cook breakfast on the camp grill. the food I cook is included in the package deal I had booked.
The rational for staying in this region is for the Coonawarra Wine Trail. The wine trail is group of wineries that are all in walking distance of each other. The camp site I am staying at is supposed to have a van that will drop me off at parking at one of the wineries and pick me up later in the day. I organize a ride in advance but when it is time for me to leave the driver is no where to be found. I wait for a while for the driver who seems to be off doing errands but I am getting very hungry so I head out to get lunch. The first restaurant I stop at is closed. I am not sure if I missed opening hours or it is closed for the day since there is no sign stating the status, just a person inside who motions for me to leave because they are closed. I am disappointed because it is one of only couple choices in the area. I additionally try the nearby general store which advertises to-go lunches. The gentleman working looks at me like I have two heads when I ask for a take away lunch since they have nothing appropriate for that.
My last hope is buying a fancy lunch at a winery ten minutes away. I am crossing my fingers it is available.
And it is.
From there I move onto the wine tastings at the wine walk but I have to be super careful and discriminatory about what I taste since I will have to drive myself back eventually. I know there are wine tours because I see wine vans it’s just they are not heavily advertised like one would expect in a wine region. I have no idea how I could have booked one of them.
Finally I get to the wine walk and the first winery I try to visit Brand’s Laira is unexpectedly closed for the day and it’s not even 2 PM – This is the second time I get hit with “it is the slow season so we’ll just close when we want”. They do have a small wine history path on site where I get a little history lesson of the area.
But I am here to sample wines so I move on to the next winery in the wine walk
It is hot by the way. It isn’t a cool comfortable stroll.
I head to Wynns where I get to try some Pedro Ximenez. I spend some time chatting with the very friendly lady providing the wine samples. I am a fan of this winery, too bad I already have too many bottles to travel with or I would buy more.
They have a nice exhibit on the history of the winemaker, the area, and winemaking in the area. I learn about local soil conditions.
Finally I make quick stops at both the DiGiorgio and Rymill wineries. I try a limited amount of those since it is getting late in the afternoon and I want to make it back to my campsite.
Rymill has a chardonnay I don’t mind the taste of.
I head back to the campsite where I find the air conditioning unit in my tent does nothing to fight the sun. I feel my body cooking in the tent. I’m pretty much stuck outside waiting for the sun to disappear which isn’t until close to 8:00 PM or later. I’m hanging out out in the covered lounge area at the campsite drinking some wine, planning future travels, and catching up on family and friends back home. It was a dumb decision to book a bubble tent during the hottest time of year. By the way yesterday was the hottest day on record for Australia so I have impeccable timing.
I think that if I come back to South Australia it won’t be during their summer and I’ll probably give McLaren Vale a chance instead.