By Max Anderson
An Epicurean has come to mean someone who appreciates good food and wine, but the word actually owes its origin to something far more flavorsome.
In 307BC, the Greek philosopher Epicurus would sit in his garden teaching Epicureanism.
He said pleasure was the greatest thing a human could strive to achieve, and if achieved simply and in moderation, it would lead to the real endgame: tranquillity.
I suspect the good people of South Australia were not channeling Epicurus when they devised the Epicurean Way, an (almost) circular self-drive trail through four of Australia’s best-known food and wine regions.
Yet, the 250-mile round-trip is far more than a gorge-fest for the like of Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote – indeed it may even be a pathway to higher things.
A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, Barossa and Clare Valley are home to at least 250 tasting rooms and probably twice as many farm stalls.
That’s a lot of tasting, and sensible heads would immediately suggest this is not going to be done in a day.
In fact, four days are recommended but sections of the trail can be done in tasty bite-sized chunks over a couple of weekends or saved for your next visit to the State.
The fact is, unlike Sydney or Melbourne, you don’t have a two-hour slog through traffic and residential areas to find some countryside: both the McLaren Vale and fabled Barossa can be reached in 45 minutes from downtown Adelaide; the Adelaide Hills wine region – its 765-yard elevation fostering champion cool-climate wines – is just 20 minutes away.
These three neighboring regions do lively trade at weekends, loved by locals as the perfect place for a long lunch.
You can’t rush pleasure
And here perhaps is the first lesson the Epicureans have to impart: slow down! slow down! for your pathway to pleasure cannot be rushed…
Wise travelers on the Epicurean Way will commence their journey, not by consulting a map, but by booking ahead for a lunch table.
The last, named for a shipwreck, serves top-drawer seafood overlooking a blissful beach; it also offers the very apogee of simple Epicurean pleasures – the opportunity to kick off one’s shoes between courses and take a splash through the shallows.
If you’re lunching in the Adelaide Hills, try Mount Lofty Ranges Vineyard to feel the soothing embrace of steep vales under vine, perfectly paired with an earthy unpretentious menu; or take to the deck of The Lane Vineyard, its a la carte menu outshone only by sun on the vineyards of sauvignon grape.
A gentle harvest
Head north to the Barossa and you can eat country fare in the farmhouse owned by national treasure Maggie Beer. Or enjoy one of Australia’s greatest eating experiences at Hentley Farm Cellar Door and Restaurant: astonishing both diners and critics, Hentley Farm offers no menu, only the choice of whether you want the two-hour lunch experience or the four-hour lunch experience; the chef then serves what’s best right now – a degustation of wild and good things foraged and harvested from gentle surrounds.
The ancient Greeks said ‘en oinōi alētheia’ which echoed the Roman ‘in vino veritas’, or ‘in wine, truth’. The strange truth is that even though we’re the New World, these regions are home to some of the oldest continuously producing vines on the planet.
For this we can thank not the ancient Greeks but the German settlers of the mid-19th century, who took one look at the rich lands around the fledgling settlement of Adelaide and said ‘thank you very much’.
You can taste the history at Langmeil Winery in the Barossa (Christian Auricht’s original 1843 Shiraz vines are still producing fruit), Sevenhill Cellars in the Clare Valley (run by Jesuits since 1851 and still producing sacramental wine) and Hardy’s Tintara in McLaren Vale (Thomas Hardy set to work in 1839 and went on to become the largest producer in Australia).
For some unusual layers of history, don’t miss Seppeltsfield in the Barossa.
The approach to the 1851 property is via an extraordinary avenue of 2000 date palms, effectively a job-creation scheme during the Great Depression.
The winery is also home to The Centennial Cellar where barrels of fortified wines (port) have been stored since 1878 – you can try a drop from the barrel marked with your birth year.
At weekends, artists and artisans work in the old stables demonstrating skills with steel, leather and textiles.
Australian wine’s Walk of Fame
The original Epicureans may take a dim view of the metaphor, but the trail occasionally resembles the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The likes of Henschke, Yalumba, Taylors, d’Arenberg, Annie’s Lane, Knappstein and Shaw & Smith are all telling their story and sharing their wines.
The success of these hallowed names owes much to the dirt beneath and the skies above – as beautiful now as it ever was, and fertile country for winemakers looking to push the boundaries with unusual varieties.
Nourish the soul
Sam Scott in Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills is a winemaker who’s making waves with his Fiano; Larry Jacob’s Grüner Veltliner regularly sells out of Hahndorf Hill Winery; and Justin Lane at Alpha Box and Dice ( draws a young crowd with his funky tasting room and even funkier ‘united nations of varieties’ including Barbera, Sangiovese and Aglianico.
The Epicureans would certainly approve of the recent re-emergence of old values and old techniques in food production: keep it local, keep it flavorsome and keep it real.
Sample the oil from Evilo’s hand-harvested olives, Willabrand’s chocolate-dipped figs, and the traditionally cured small goods of Linke’s in the Barossa. And if you don’t believe your tastebuds, then get hands-on: learn to make cheese at Udder Delights, blend your own wines at Penfolds (yes, that Penfolds) or spend a day using locally-grown ingredients under a chef at Chapel Hill, Casa Carboni or The Sticky Rice Cooking School.
And finally don’t be afraid to surrender the car, find a walking trail or hire a pushbike and nourish nothing more than your soul.
Some of the grandest views can be enjoyed from Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens (overlooking the Piccadilly Valley in Adelaide Hills), Onkaparinga National Park (near Chapel Hill winery in McLaren Vale) and Mengler’s Hill (Barossa). If you have the time, hire a pushbike in Clare or Auburn and cycle the disused railway track that is now the Clare Valley Riesling Trail.
It threads for 20 miles through paddocks and vales, past evocative stone villages and winemakers of note like Annie’s Lane, Mount Horrocks and Sevenhill.
Your days will be full. The boot of your car may be full. You will almost definitely be full. But if you’ve also found that moment when all feels exactly right with your world, well that’s tranquillity.
And you too can properly call yourself an Epicurean.
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