After a pleasant evening and a comfortable night’s sleep, we woke to the prospect of a warmer day, with less wind-chill factor. We took our breakfast in the resort’s restaurant, seated by the window with a grand view across the valley.
Our plans for the day’s touring were built around an appointment we had made to visit the iconic Penfolds Magill Estate, located only 7km from Adelaide’s CBD; this was locked in for 1pm. It would take about one hour to drive to the winery, so we identified some sights we could take in en route.
Our first destination was a lavender farm. There are many lavender farms in Australia but this would be a first for us. Our route to the farm took us from a point east of Lyndoch – a town at the southern end of the region – along a windy and well-made dirt road; we saw hundreds of magnificent Red Gum trees. When we reached the farm, we could clearly see that it is a shadow of its former self; even the interpretive material has fallen by the wayside. The contents of the farm shop were brighter, with a wide variety of goods for all ages and interests; Maggie bought a brooch – her travel memento of choice – with lavender emblems. So, not a memorable visit but nor was it a waste of our time.
Next, to what has become known as The Whispering Wall, a dam that was built at the beginning of the 20th Century to help provide safe drinking water for the region’s growing population. The main wow factor here is being able to say something not at all loudly and then have it heard at the other end of the wall. And you don’t even have to be right next to the wall, as I learnt when Maggie picked up a cheeky remark I made to someone on my end of the wall! There was a small interpretive display adjacent to the car park which explained both the ‘whispering’ phenomenon and the dam’s weighty significance in the history of Australian engineering. So, a very satisfactory experience and I only got us lost twice on the way to the dam.
It was then only a short drive to Williamstown, at the south-eastern extremity of the Barossa Valley, with a climate that is not so warm as the region’s main wine-producing areas. We tasted some evidence of this difference at a local winery and then took the proprietor’s advice to have a late-morning coffee at Bar 41, reputed to serve the best coffee in the region. Indeed, the coffees were delicious, as was a freshly made apple cup cake. I was feeling unsure about the balance of our drive to Adelaide so I asked for, and received, some very detailed directions.
After a winding and scenic drive, we reached the outskirts of Adelaide. I then guided Maggie to within a couple of kilometres of Magill Estate, which we eventually reached on the dot of 1.00pm, after, ahem, a couple of unremarkable wrong turns. Magill Estate was settled by English migrants, the Penfold family, in 1844, when Adelaide was still a small town. From here, the business prospered and later expanded into the Barossa Valley, where its winery and main vineyards have been based for many years. Over the last few decades, as Penfolds became the most famous wine producer in Australia, the original property was treated with benign indifference but, more recently, it has been returned to an updated version of its former glory, with a magnificent new cellar door and a restaurant that is currently ranked as the best in South Australia.
Our travel package included what is called the ‘Grange Tour’, in honour of Australia’s most prestigious wine. Over two hours, on a sunny winter’s afternoon, we had the peak winery experience of our lives. For the first hour or so, our exclusive guide took us through the main heritage buildings and gave us a detailed account of their part in the Penfolds story; this included the underground ‘drives’ and Bin rooms (as in Bin 28). Then we were taken to a lavish room within the modern cellar door facility, provided with a gourmet-cheese platter and guided through a tasting of six of Penfolds most important wines, concluding with the 2010 Grange. And, yes, it was superb. Afterwards, we spent a brief time in the main tasting area, which is tastefully furnished, warm, vibrant, with gentle acoustics and in harmony with the balance of the property. We ordered two half-cases of wine – costing a total of less than 25% of one bottle of Grange – to be freighted to our home.
What a great day of touring!