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Do you ever wonder, as you push a corkscrew into the neck of a wine bottle, about the place where the wine was grown and bottled? Chances are, if the wine you are uncorking is Australian, it came from South Australia, which, with it's dry Mediterranean climate, produces around 49 per cent of Australian wines and over 60 per cent of its wine exports.

English, Irish and Polish immigrants settled the picturesque towns of South Australia's Clare Valley during the 1840s, although there are no prizes for guessing it was an Irishman who first pitched his tent there. Edward 'Paddy' Burton Gleeson named the town of Clare after his home in Ireland, and before long another Irishman, David Kenny, turned up and established the first pub.

From all accounts the journey by sailing ship and bullock cart was tough, and towns around Clare and the nearby Barossa Valley were built on some astonishing stories. Like the one about a young explorer by the name of Horrock who arrived in the colony on his 21st birthday; Mr Horrock had been accompanied from England by his butler, as well as a number of farm labourers who were to work for him, only to die when nudged by a bad-tempered camel while holding a loaded firearm. Before Mr Horrock's unfortunate demise he had given his name to a town, and today Mount Horrocks Wines is an attractive vineyard in Auburn at the end of the Clare Valley Riesling Trail.

Back in 1848, a mission of Austrian Jesuits seeking a peaceful place to pursue their religion arrived in Adelaide and were 'sent to the Irish' at Clare, where they planted vines for altar wine. The Sevenhill vineyard, which they established south of the town of Clare, is the oldest in the area and still run by Jesuit brothers. There have only been seven winemakers in all that time, one of whom, Brother Patrick Storey, was Irish and the rest either Austrian or Australian born. Brother Patrick May is Sevenhill's current winemaker and the Brothers still produce and export sacramental wine as well as quality white, red, and fortified wines.

Perhaps the most familiar of all the Australian wine labels on Manx supermarket shelves and around the world is Jacob's Creek, and I've often wondered, while pouring a glass of their excellent Riesling, whether the creek named on that classic black and white label really exists. This southern summer, on a trip through the wine country, I was finally able to satisfy my curiosity. Orlando Wines is the French-owned company that produces Jacob's Creek wine on the original site outside the tiny settlement of Rowland Flat in the Barossa Valley. Founded in 1847 by 27-year-old Johann Gramp, the vineyard was planted on the banks of the creek with vine cuttings brought out from Gramp's native Germany. The vines flourished and by 1850 he had produced the area's first saleable wine, a Hock.

The Germans who settled in the Barossa Valley were Silesian Lutherans escaping religious persecution in Europe, and the landscape, now lush with vines and the silvery green of young olive plantations, is still dotted with their austere churches. In a tiny graveyard on the outskirts of Rowland Flat, Johann Gramp's final resting place is marked with an elaborate headstone written in German, while at the vineyard he founded the new Jacob's Creek Visitor Centre welcomes people from all over the world to an ultra-modern glass complex where first class dining is combined with traditional cellar door sales.

With hot dry summers and moderate to cool winters, the Barossa Valley produces smooth full red wines, particularly Shiraz, and around 60 cellar doors can be reached within an hour and a half's drive from the capital city of Adelaide. Clare is a little further north at around two hours by car and the cooler microclimate there, viticulturally similar to Alsace and Burgundy, produces great Rieslings as well as notable Semillon and Shiraz.

So next time you open a bottle of South Australian wine, visualise a rolling landscape under a wide blue sky where neat rows of vines hug the roadside and stretch to the horizon. Often the vines are edged by a vibrant streak of scarlet roses, the idea being that if mildew is present it will attack the roses first and act as an early warning to the winemaker. Of course, it's a long way to go for a glass of wine, although the journey is nowhere near as uncomfortable as it was for Johann Gramp, but the lush vineyards he and other pioneers established make a personal visit well worth the effort.

Things to Do

Visit the village of Mintaro, established in 1848, which sends blue slate around the world to be used in the manufacture of billiard tables. Aside from this, the whole village is a listed heritage site and the lovingly tended stone buildings and shady gardens that line the main street have a marvellous ambiance. B & Bs are plentiful and the famous Magpie & Stump Hotel is everything anyone could want in an Australian country pub.

Stop off at Jacob's Creek Visitors' Centre, one of the oldest wineries with the most modern cellar door. It is on Barossa Valley Way, Rowland Flat. www.jacobscreek.com.au

Call at Sevenhill Cellars and their beautiful St Aloysius Church (1875). www.sevenhillcellars.com.au

Breakfast at Swans at Mintaro, a tiny settler's cottage restyled as an appealing cafe and larder shop which specialises in local produce on the menu and to take home.

Stock up on handmade soap at the Olive Oil Soap Factory, 7 Archer Street, Clare.

Taste olives, olive oil, wine, honey and red wine vinegar at Valley of Armagh's cellar door, St George's Terrace, Armagh. Open 7 days, the historic homestead, vineyard and olive grove is a 5-minute drive from Clare.

Where to Stay

Martindale Hall, a Georgian mansion built by an English aristocrat for an adored fiancÚ who, sadly, jilted him. The building was used as the girls' boarding school in the Peter Weir film Picnic At Hanging Rock. Bed and breakfast in colonial splendour amongst the gum trees. Clearly signposted, Martindale Hall is 3 kilometres outside Mintaro. www.martindalehall.com

Hillsview Country Estate at Auburn has two charming self-contained period cottages set in a country garden. www.hillsviewestate.com

The Rising Sun Hotel, Main North Road, Auburn is an understated but classic pub with en suite hotel and private mews rooms.

How to Get There (from UK)

Singapore Airlines operate a direct flight from Manchester via Singapore to Adelaide.

Hints for Winetasting

When tasting wines, experts consider three elements: colour, bouquet, and palate. Use a clean clear glass and inspect the wine's colour by holding it against a white background. White wines can vary from clear to gold depending on grape variety and age, but they should never be brown. A red wine may be crimson, or a brick red that turns tawny as it ages, but whatever the colour, it should be clear with no deposit.

Much of what we think of as taste is actually information gathered through our sensitive noses, so the wine's bouquet should have several pleasant smells. Using a glass with a tapering mouth will concentrate the heady aromas rising from the wine.

Finally, the palate is used to savour wine and persistence of flavour is considered a virtue. In the end, you have to trust your taste buds.

Photographs:

Jacobs Creek

Swans, Mintaro
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