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  • The Grape Escape

    Even the checkout chicks greet you with a smile in South Australia. My husband, David, and I are heading down to McLaren Vale to get away from the stresses of building a house in Sydney. After picking up our hire car from the airport, with apologies for keeping us waiting all of three minutes and genuine conversation from the person at the rental car place, our four-wheel-drive arrives and we’re off.

    McLaren Vale is forty-five minutes by car from Adelaide airport, set less than ten minutes’ drive inland from a coastline of jagged red cliffs topped with lush greenery sheltering turquoise waters and salt white sand. This scenery is mind-blowing. Why haven’t I heard more about the Fleurieu Peninsula? Perhaps people are too busy drinking the array of wines to head to the beach.

    Image courtesy of The Vineyard Retreat

    Yet, it’s not beach weather. It’s winter and whilst the sun is out and the sky is a deep hue of blue, I’m looking forward to feeling blackberry with notions of chocolate in liquid form slide down my throat whilst my stockinged feet perch in front of an open fire.

    Image courtesy of The Vineyard Retreat

    Our accommodation is the divine The Vineyard, in the Double Bay end of McLaren Vale, Blewitt Springs. It’s not yet check-in time so on their recommendation we head to Coriole Vineyard for a bite of lunch and some tastings. Coriole, like every vineyard we visit, is vegan. We arrive at a postcard-esque stone house set overlooking grapeless vines, their gnarly brown naked limbs looking more like nobbled walking sticks. Inside the ancient stone walls is just one other couple from Adelaide. The woman, with blond hair tied back tightly and an Avalon style vibe (striped t-shirt, new loafers) says, “we’ll start with the Fiano.”

    We follow suit. The white wine brims with a nutty texture, with floral and honeyed notes, spice and tropical fruit flavours such as pineapple. It’s used mainly in southern Italy, particularly Campania or so my tasting notes tell me. They’re right and I’m in love with Coriole Fiano. We order a few bottles and join their wine club then settle down for lunch. I’ve never seen a twelve-hour roasted butternut pumpkin with fregola and bay oil, so I order it – veganised without the ricotta.

    It’s delivered by a jolly waitress. I tuck in, surveying the vineyards to the left and a cottage garden to the right, alive with sprays of yellow, pink and lavender. I could while away a long afternoon here, but we decide to make the most of our time, heading off to Beach Road Winery before checking into the Vineyard Retreat.

    Image courtesy of Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

    As we drive along Whitings Road, slowing down every few houses and peering for numbers, we see a sign pointing into the Vineyard Retreat and our villa, Highland. A cute villa with a wrap-around verandah is perched high above the road. It is one of five villas that owners Anthea and Stu Cross rent out. I call Anthea and she rushes out of her home to greet us. We follow her on to the balcony of Highland, where my eyes drink in panoramic views of naked vineyards, neatly organised and stretching to the horizon.

    Image courtesy of The Vineyard Retreat

    The Vineyard Retreat is set on fifteen acres of a working vineyard, but they don’t bottle here. Anthea tells us that the grapes are sold to a variety of winemakers as she welcomes us into our accommodation. I step inside and can’t believe what I see: everything is the same as the décor I’ve chosen for the house we’re building. There are the dark recycled oak floorboards, the 40mm stone benchtops, white walls, a bathroom floor of the octagonal Carrera marble tiles. Even the black handles on the white doors are the same. I breathe a sigh of relief. It all works perfectly together here in McLaren Vale. There’s even a gas fire similar to the one we’ve chosen. However, this one comes with explicit instructions on how to start a fire.

    Image courtesy of Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

    Anthea runs a tight ship and The Highland is spic and span, with generous touches such as the two complimentary bottles of wine already chilling inside the fridge. One is my new fave, the Coriole Fiano. Of course, it is: Anthea and I have the exact same taste. Also in the fridge are local beers, soft drinks, mushrooms, tomatoes and other vegan treats. There’s a basket of more goodies on the island bench, chocolates, chips, local olives. Anthea has gone out of her way to meet our brief and it’s all included in the price. She leaves us to our wine and our fire. We have dinner booked, but with such a well-stocked fridge there’s really no need for us to leave.

    Like any good traveller, I’ve posted some pics of our accommodation onto social media. Along with the likes and the oohs and ahs, there’s a message from a friend who has recently stayed here: “you must take some bubbles and head up to the spa. The views are to die for.” Anthea’s thought of everything. There are special glasses to take to the spa so they don’t smash into a million pieces. It’s dark now but we decide to go in the morning.

    Image courtesy of Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

    In the morning, I wake up to sublime views from our 1200 thread count linen and pillow top mattress. I make a pot of tea and read the information in the compendium, which has been thoughtfully put together. There are restaurant suggestions, recommendations of vineyards and wine-tasting excursions, a private chef or scenic helicopter flights. The Vineyard Retreat has its own helipad so a helicopter wine tour sounds like my kinda luxury. You can book a helicopter to land directly onto the Vineyard Retreat’s helipad and heli-hop some of the Vale’s cellar doors, or even drop you to a private beach on the peninsula, equipped with an ice bucket and bubbles.

    There’s even a concierge service which has created a group of tours: Simon, a local, connected and highly respected concierge is on hand to help advise and personally curate experiences.

    Image courtesy of The Vineyard Retreat

    I would like to do every tour. A weekend is not enough time to visit the more than fifty vineyards in this coastal grape-producing region. Although best known for Shiraz, I discover it was the Italians and Greeks who settled in the area so there’s also a number of Mediterranean grape varieties which are well suited to the area, including Fiano, Vermentino, Tempranillo and Sangiovese. There are also ultra-premium grenache and cabernet grapes. Over one-third of the cellar doors offer local produce as part of their tasting experience – from high-end, starred restaurants to casual platters – there is a wine and food combination to suit any taste and the cellar doors we went to were all vegan. Most charge around $5 to $10 for tastings but if you buy some wine they will usually take that off the price.

    If you want to lessen the calories, you can cycle around the vineyards but I’m happy with a chauffeur or a helicopter. Maybe a surf afterwards would be nice: Anthea will happily organise boards and racks. I’m sure she could organise me a thick wetsuit too.

    Maybe next time. The grapes are calling.

    Image courtesy of The Vineyard Retreat

    Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan stayed as a guest of The Vineyard Retreat.

    Minimum two-night stay (or three nights during Public Holiday weekends).

    For more personalised information tips and advice, or to book this incredible holiday experience, contact your local TravelManagers’ personal travel manager here.

    With compliments of First Class: visit them online or at Instagram