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The ideal getaway: cycling in the Barossa Valley

Alia Parker's picture
Cycling through South Australia's Barossa Valley. Cycle Traveller

The cyclists push their way over rolling hills and shaded valleys, their team colours slicing the vineyards like a coloured knife. Adoring spectators line the streets with flags and hand-painted posters, cheering on their favourite riders. It is a classing cycling scene, but it's not France, nor anywhere near Europe; it's South Australia's Santos Tour Down Under.

The world's best pro-cycling tour races have a few things in common – great cycling, spectacular scenery, amazing food and award winning wine. It's no mistake then the Tour Down Under has been growing in popularity on the official UCI World Tour circuit – it ticks every box.

“This region grows Australia's best fresh produce,” says Pip Forrester over lunch at the popular Red Poles Gallery in the picturesque wine region of McLaren Vale. I've come to the region to sample its 'Detours' program – that is, all the mouthwatering temptations on the side of the race action of the tour. Pip, a former Sydneysider and cordon bleu chef, who now works in promoting the region, explains how she moved to South Australia specifically to work with the local produce and has never looked back. As I eat my mouthwatering stinging nettle gnocchi with woodside goats curd, shiitake mushrooms and kale chips, I can understand why.

What's the fuss about?

Nearly 800,000 spectators lined the streets of the 2013 Tour Down Under, which kicked off the official UCI World Tour events calendar as it does each January. Of the 29 World Tour events – including the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España – the Tour Down Under is the only one held in the southern hemisphere and one of only four to be held outside Europe. Not even the United States features on the list.

Cyclists during the Santos Tour Down Under, South Australia. Cycle TravellerChampion cyclist, Olympian and 2004 Tour Down Under winner Patrick Jonker says the Europeans love coming down for the tour; the climate is warm, there is good food and wine and they can train for the race on beautiful roads with no traffic lights.

“Look,” he says as we cycle part of the 2014 tour route from Yankalilla to Victor Harbour on the Fleurieu Peninsula. He's gesturing toward three kangaroos feeding in the lush bush not far from the side of the road. “Europeans love that!”

Of course, much of the race's success comes down to world-class event management and facilities, but to keep spectators coming back year after year, much broader attractions are needed. Fortunately, there's no shortage of things to see and do surrounding Adelaide and I've got my sights set on the Barossa Valley – Australia's most influential and internationally recognised wine region.

A ride through the vineyards

A nice way to visit the region's wineries is by bike as the roads are already well 'treadded' by dedicated local cyclists. A hire bike from Barossa Bike Hire has me ready to go.

First stop is Château Tanunda. The magnificent stone building dates back to 1890, but vines were grown on its land as far back as 1840, making it the birthplace of the Barossa's wine industry.

Chateau Tanunda and Barossa Bike Hire bikes. Cycle Traveller

Mille Pevreall at the Château's cellar door is pouring me some of the winery's most popular drops. It's only 10am, so some “Barossa Berocca” – that is, the Nightwatch Sparkling Shiraz – is quite fitting.

“We love our wine in the Barossa, so we needed to come up with something to have with our bacon and eggs in the morning,” she laughs as she pours a tasting.

It's quite a nice drop, but I still don't see myself drinking it in lieu of my morning coffee. My eye is shifting to something else – a bottle that reads Old Vine Semillon. Millie says the grapes are from an 80-year-old vine, which makes for a sweeter fruit. I really enjoy this one. I'm by no means a wine connoisseur, but I can describe this much: this wine was smooth, full of flavour and light all at the same time; very enjoyable.

I ask Millie what her favourite wine is and she points to the 100-year-old Vine Shiraz. Red – I'm sold.

Millie Pevreall's top 5:

  1. 100-year-old Vine Shiraz
  2. Grenache Shiraz
  3. Cabernet Sauvignon single vineyard 2010
  4. Three Graces Viognier
  5. Sparkling Shiraz

Back on the bikes and through the vineyards, fresh air and breeze in my face, I ride, turning up a dirt driveway flanked by vines bearing the first leaves of Spring. Sally Agars meets me at the Cellar Door of a gorgeous 1850s building. She says the renowned winemaker, Peter Lehmann, who's name and silhouette marks the bottles of this fine vineyard, sadly passed away in June this year, but he has left a proud legacy of wine making behind. Sally pours a sip of Lehmann's 2010 VSV 1885 Shiraz. It really is quite lovely, even before lunch, and considering I have to get back on the bike, I have to stop myself short of what could have easily lasted an entire bottle. Peter Lehmann may be one of the better known brands around Australian bottle shops, but Sally is proud of the fact Lehmann the man went out of his way to make sure the winery retained its relationships with small independent grape growers. To this day the company only runs two of its own vineyards while sourcing the best grapes from a pool of 160 independent growers.

Farm shop stop

It's time to have something to eat to sop up the wine and make room for more and Maggie Beer's Farm Shop is not far away. I've absolutely adored Maggie from the very first moment I saw her pottering about in her Barossa Valley kitchen alongside acclaimed chef Simon Bryant on the ABC program The Cook and the Chef, so her farm shop is a must-see for me. Maggie's is a popular stop for locals, not only to pick-up gourmet home-style sauces, pâté  and ice cream, but also to sit down, relax, have a coffee and a light lunch too. I grab a picnic basket of freshly baked bread with olives and dukkah, which lines my stomach nicely in preparation for the next wine tasting at the iconic Wolf Blass.

I was fortunate to have met Wolfgang Blass quite unexpectedly at one of his many 75th birthday parties on the other side of the world some years ago and was captivated by his larrikin spirit and marketing genius. Wolfgang can be credited with bringing wine to the masses and enticing the once sherry swilling households of Australia to open their eyes and their mouths to the world of wine through his Yellow Label and Red Label varieties. The wines that bear his name have truly taken the world by storm, but despite the size of the operation, Wolf Blass has not lost its ability to produce a tasty drop.

Maggie Beer's Farm Shop in the Barossa Valey. Cycle Traveller

Steve Frost, the senior wine maker at Wolf Blass, is on the tasting floor when I arrive. He specialises in reds and pulls out a selection of his favourites. They are all lovely, but there's one that's a clear standout for me and possibly my favourite of the day – the Langhorn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz. It smells so good I have to remind myself to drink it, and then I have to remind myself to stop. Steve says the grapes get their unique flavour from the waters of Langhorn Creek, which are sweetened by the leaves of the surrounding eucalypts.

There are countless fine wineries dotting the Barossa and I have sampled just a few, but with such a lovely selection colouring a beautiful bike ride, I'm ready to head back to Adelaide and call it a day.

The quality of the produce in this pocket of Australia is second to none and it's little wonder the Europeans have embraced this region and the Tour Down Under. Whether you come to mix the atmosphere of of the race with a little Barossa on the side, or as a cycling weekend getaway, there's really no chance of you ever making a wrong turn.

Special thanks to the South Australian Tourism Commission for sponsoring this very enjoyable trip.

Images: 1. Cycling with Barossa Bike Hire bikes through the vineyards near Wolfblass. 2. Racers in the Santos Tour Down Under. 3. Bikes at Château Tanunda. 4. Maggie Beer's Farm Shop.

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