Thursday 5 May 2016

Cycling the Clare Valley: Part 1

We’re driving north of Adelaide on a warm, dry autumn day. The flat, straw coloured landscape is more parched than usual following a long, hot summer. How, we wonder, can a world famous wine district exist in the unpromisingly dry and low hills ahead of us?

[On the Riesling Trail]  
There’s a bright side. The relative lack of hills suggests easy cycling. And that’s one of the main reasons we’re here. That and the wine. After a little more than two hours we arrive in Auburn. It’s not quite sunset, so there’s time to sort out our accommodation before dinner. We’d expected our hire bikes to be at the hotel. But not for the first time, we find arrangements around here are “relaxed”.

The bikes turn up in good time the next morning, and we’re briefed on the cycling trail ahead of us. It goes by the promising name of The Riesling Trail, and follows an old railway route between Auburn and Clare. We’re on a self-guided trip, with bikes, accommodation, luggage transfers and some meals organised by the Tour de Vines company. Once our bikes and helmets are fitted, we’re off into the morning chill – all of 50 metres to the coffee shop. They did say it was self-guided, and Andrew must have his caffeine hit before the day goes on!

["Hard-earned" stop? Our start is visible 50m behind us.] 
The vineyards commence soon after we do. Although the cycle trail is dry and a little dusty, the vines are surprisingly lush. Some have had over 150 years to get used to the region’s Mediterranean climate: dry and hot in summer; cooler and wetter in winter. Despite their age the vines are blushing with autumn colours. We too are red-of-face as we pump our legs and expand our lungs with unexpected effort. It’s strange how an incline of 1.5% can make you work.

It’s strange too how the names of places and wineries we’re passing are so familiar to me, a relative late-comer to wine drinking. We wobble past signs to Leasingham and its vineyards, but don’t resist the turn-off to Watervale. It may not be midday yet, but we’re up for refreshments, which Shut the Gate Wines supply with style. As we stand at the bar for a tasting, we hear the kind of talk we’ll get used too over the next few days.

[Among Clare Valley's blushing vines] 
It’s not just about grape varieties and vintages, but aspects, micro-climates, minerals and more. It also seems “soils-ain’t-soils”. The depth, type and mineral make up of the soils contributes characteristics to the wines which even we can discern. We thank Richard for the informative tasting – which included cheese and biccies – and promise to be back in a few days to buy some wines. We’re not keen to weigh down our panniers with too much just yet.

[The Old Grammar School, Watervale] 
We have to ride uphill to get back up to the trail, although the fascinating buildings of Watervale give us an excuse to do that slowly. Then it’s on to Penwortham. And now the landscape tightens up, and there’s a greener tinge to everything. It’s the high point of the trail, so higher rainfall might be expected.

[Dining al fresco at Skillogalee, Clare Valley] 
Lunch is booked for us at Skillogalee Wines, a bracing downhill ride from the trail. We don’t want to think about what that means for our post-lunch ride, but it becomes a long, languid lunch, and the wonderful food and setting of Skillogalee fuels us for any coming pain. So too does a stop at beautiful Kilikanoon Wines.

[Autumn at Kilikanoon Wines] 
After the pain of regaining the trail is endured, we cross over the high point and make a downhill beeline for Clare. It’s not quite as simply done as written, and it’s not all downhill. But as the afternoon shadows stretch out, we close in on our overnight stop. And stop is what we do, glad in both heart and buttocks! We only hope we’ll be able to ride again in the morning.

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