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7 Essential Small Wine Towns in Australia

By Jake Emen

09.23.19

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In the Mornington Peninsula wine region, guests of the Jackalope hotel can lap up luxury on the doorstep of area vineyards.

Photo by Sharyn Cairns

In the Mornington Peninsula wine region, guests of the Jackalope hotel can lap up luxury on the doorstep of area vineyards.

Australian wine is as diverse and expansive as the country itself. Make its massiveness manageable with a wine-focused itinerary that hones in on some of the country’s most delightful, human-scale wine hubs.

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While the sheer size of Australia may encourage you to think big, we say go small, by focusing instead on the country’s wealth of inviting small-scale wine towns located right in the heart of its magnificent viticultural regions. There’s no shortage of options, giving oenophiles every excuse to branch out beyond Sydney and Melbourne—and beyond their go-to Aussie pours—on their next Australian adventure. Simply stack a few of these destinations, listed here from west to east, together to build a memorable, wine-fueled week—or two—Down Under.

Base your stay in the pretty oceanfront town of Margaret River for easy access to the eponymous wine region’s 200-plus wineries.

Margaret River

Margaret River Wine Region

The town of Margaret River, a three-hour drive south from Perth, along Australia’s western edge, is known for its beautiful stretch of Indian Ocean–fronting coastline. (Time your visit between June and December for the added spectacle of any of the estimated 35,000 migratory whales that swim by here seasonally.) The eponymous Margaret River wine region is home to over 200 wineries, with predominant varieties including sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, sémillon, and chardonnay. In town, sample the local bounty at the lively music pub Settlers Tavern, which serves as the de facto watering hole for area winemakers thanks to its standout wine list. Within a 30-minute drive, nearby wineries Leeuwin Estate, Abbey Vale Wines, Cullen Wines, and Vasse Felix all stand out, as does Deep Woods Estate, where Julian Langworthy was recently deemed Australia’s “winemaker of the year” by Australian wine guidebook Wine Companion.

Where to Stay: Book one of 19 apartment-style units at the Grand Mercure Basildene Manor; its sweeping property includes lush gardens and a lakeside pergola.

McLaren Vale’s biggest attraction is the architecturally stunning d’Arenberg Cube, site of a tasting room, art gallery, and acclaimed restaurant.

McLaren Vale

McLaren Vale Wine Region

In the McLaren Vale wine region, a 45-minute drive south from Adelaide, the shiraz grape dominates, accounting for about 60 percent of production, while grenache is climbing the ranks. A number of other Mediterranean varieties such as sangiovese and tempranillo are also cultivated, thanks to the well-suited climate. The region boasts 70-plus public tasting rooms overall, with several interesting options right in the town of McLaren Vale itself. Try Wirra Wirra Vineyards to sample its highly regarded portfolio, topped by standouts such as the RSW Shiraz. (Come for the wine, stay for the medieval-inspired fun: A towering trebuchet, rigged to fire watermelons, proudly sits on the property.) The town’s—and region’s—biggest attraction is the d’Arenberg Cube, winemaker Chester Osborn’s fever dream of a tasting room. This singular destination is an interactive art gallery, “cellar door” (the Aussie term for tasting room) for the endless variety of acclaimed wines he produces, and architectural stunner wrapped into one. It is also home to an eponymous restaurant that has earned accolades as one of the most avant-garde in the country for its inventive, seasonally driven tasting menus (with wine pairings available, naturally).

Where to Stay: Snag one of three luxury suites at Inkwell Wines’ micro-hotel, Hotel California Road: Surrounded by vineyards (and less than a 10-minute walk from the d’Arenberg Cube), the suites feature floor-to-ceiling windows with well-positioned bathtubs to help you fully soak it all in.

The small town of Basket Range makes for an idyllic base for exploration of the Adelaide Hills wine region, especially when based at the castle-like the Manor Basket Range hotel.

Basket Range

Adelaide Hills Wine Region

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Nestled among green hillsides and foggy, dense forests in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills wine region, the small town of Basket Range feels much farther from city life than it actually is—a 30-minute jaunt east from Adelaide. It’s an ideal jumping-off point to explore Adelaide Hills, which has recently emerged as one of the hubs of the country’s natural wine movement, energized by numerous young, dynamic producers with a shared ethos of fostering community while producing standout wines. White varieties account for two-thirds of production, turning out plenty of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, although pinot noir is prominent, as well. Of the nearly 50 tasting rooms, regional favorites within a 10-minute drive of town include Ashton Hills Vineyard, known for its leading pinot noirs, and the cult-favorite Ochota Barrels: The winery doesn’t fancy the world of prized tasting rooms and hushed-whisper tours, and it isn’t typically open to the public. Instead, visit its de facto cellar door, the adjacent Lost in a Forest, a wood-oven pizzeria and wine bar. Housed in an old church, the restaurant is where you’ll likely find any number of local winemakers gathered around delicious pies and great wines.

Where to Stay: Try the historic, 12-room the Manor Basket Range, a castle-like estate crowned with crenellations that dates to 1935; set in Basket Range, it’s well-positioned amid a cluster of local wineries.

In Coldstream, in the Yarra Valley wine region, pair well-crafted wines with a memorable meal at Oakridge Wines.

Coldstream

Yarra Valley Wine Region

An hour’s drive east of Melbourne, within the Yarra Valley, the small town of Coldstream puts you within a short drive of some of the area’s most renowned wineries, including Giant Steps, Yarra Yering, and De Bortoli. The town stitches together a contingent of wineries that often display bold, modern architecture (some alongside sculpture gardens, too), in a community that’s focused as much on eating well and eating local as it is on sensational wine. All told, there are over 160 wineries in the region, capitalizing on a cool climate to make a broad range of classic styles focused predominantly on pinot noir and chardonnay—while the cooler climes also make it an ideal summertime escape from some of Australia’s more sweltering locales. Drive 20 minutes to stop into Payten & Jones for an exciting look at the next wave of wine in the region—an anything goes, tradition-be-damned mentality that delivers exciting, boundary-pushing wines; the winery is across the street from popular gin distillery Four Pillars, and it’s not unusual for the two to collaborate on special releases. Back in Coldstream, plan a mandatory meal at Oakridge Wines, whose restaurant, set right amid its vineyards, is the home of sustainably minded chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barrett. Together the duo offer exquisite seasonal fare, much of which is grown in their own garden; don’t miss the house-made burrata or kangaroo charcuterie.

Where to Stay: In Coldstream, stay at the Farmhouse at Meletos, a lovely boutique property boasting 23 guest rooms with expansive vineyard views, as well as an on-site brewery and café. The farmhouse is also part of the Coldstream Trail, highlighting 10 quality local food and beverage producers worth exploring.

Just 15 minutes outside of Mornington, set among vineyards, the Jackalope hotel beckons guests to an oasis of style and luxury.

Mornington

Mornington Peninsula Wine Region

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The coastal town of Mornington is situated an hour south of Melbourne, on the edges of Port Phillip Bay. It’s a pleasant base for strolling its quaint, shop-filled streets, home to numerous galleries and cafés, with access to parks, beaches, and scenic lookouts. Most importantly for wine lovers, it’s located within Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula wine region, where cool breezes and water on three sides buoy the fortunes of its 50 wineries, with shining varieties that include pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris, and shiraz. Within a 30-minute drive of the town center, you can stop in for tastings at Moorooduc Estate, Polperro Vineyards, Port Phillip Estate, and Ten Minutes by Tractor.

Where to Stay: In between wineries, spend your time poolside at the ultra-modern Jackalope. Located 15 minutes from the center of Mornington, the two-year-old luxury hotel has 45 rooms and suites, a stunning infinity pool, several restaurants and bars (including the highly touted Doot Doot Doot, with its modern tasting menus), and killer views over the vines of Willow Creek Vineyard, whose grounds Jackalope now shares.

In Tasmania, a lively local wine scene is matched with diversions like cooking classes at the Agrarian Kitchen Cooking School and Farm.

Richmond

Coal River Valley Wine Region

Given its southerly locale and cooler climate, Tasmanian wine stands apart from the rest of Australia. With over 160 producers and 95 open cellar doors, the most common varieties—pinot noir and chardonnay—feel familiar, but more than a third of all production in the island state is sparkling wine, while other varieties such as riesling also thrive. The tiny town of Richmond—a 20-minute drive north of the main airport at Hobart—has fewer than 1,000 residents and is smack in the middle of the Coal River Valley, one of the island’s seven key wine regions. The town is notable for its heritage architecture, with Georgian-era buildings that are now nearly 200 years old, some of which contain thriving local businesses, from boutiques and galleries to food and tea purveyors. Richmond is ideally positioned to take advantage of local wineries (don’t miss Frogmore Creek Winery and Stefano Lubiana Wines), culinary offerings (take a cooking class with produce grown and animals raised on the Agrarian Kitchen Cooking School and Farm’s five acres), and wildlife opportunities (get up close and personal with Tasmanian devils, kangaroos, wombats, and koalas at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary)—all of which are set under a 50-minute drive away.

Where to Stay: Stay at the 12-room Prospect House, a dignified countryside manor turned hotel; the proprietors also own Pooley Wines next door.

More than 50 wineries make up the greater Mudgee wine region, best explored from the small town of Mudgee, known for its 19th-century colonial architecture and popular Mudgee Wine & Food Festival.

Mudgee

Mudgee Wine Region

Hop a short flight or drive four hours northwest from Sydney, beyond Blue Mountains National Park, to small-town Mudgee, known for its preserved 19th-century colonial architecture and popular Mudgee Wine & Food Festival, held annually in September. The region has an extensive history of wine production, bolstered by a more modern revival over the past few decades—today, more than 50 wineries produce such popular varieties as shiraz, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon. In town, taste your way through some locals’ favorites at establishments like Roth’s Wine Bar or coffeehouse/wine bar hybrid Alby & Ester’s. Or head straight to the source: Wineries like the Cellar by Gilbert and Lowe Wines are set in the town’s northern reaches, while Burrundulla Wines and Moothi Estate are just to the east.

Where to Stay: Relax right in Mudgee’s charming town center at the 13-suite Perry Street Hotel, where a contemporary interior is tucked into a grand Victorian building dating to 1862.

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