Take time to wander the Clare Valley's riesling trail

Aged wine: Sevenhill Cellars dates from 1851.
Aged wine: Sevenhill Cellars dates from 1851.

I guess that I first came into contact with South Australia's Clare Valley in the mid-1970s though a bottle of Taylors Cabernet. The quality and packaging were exceptional for the time.

I didn't really get to meet Clare until a couple of years later, when I was studying winemaking and came across the handshake and larger-than-life personality of a youngster called Tim Adams.

Tim was working for Stanley Leasingham, the valley's largest winery, at the time and was heralded as the "last apprentice" of its legendary winemaker, the late Mick Knappstein, known to just about all the locals simply as Mr Mick.

Tim Adams: Doing very nicely in the Clare.

Tim Adams: Doing very nicely in the Clare.

Tim talked enthusiastically of the Clare Valley's incredible natural beauty and character, but it wasn't until I had visited the place that I was convinced it was Australia's most beautiful wine-producing region - a big call indeed in a land that also sported the likes of the Yarra Valley, Margaret River and Mudgee.

The tall straight gums, the neat rows of vines, the comforting hills, the quaint and always welcoming villages. They were all simply gorgeous, and they formed a veritable oasis in the middle of what otherwise was essentially a desert.

History: The Calre Valley is full of unheralded historic rural ruins.

History: The Calre Valley is full of unheralded historic rural ruins.

Even the examples of rural decay suggested a place that was both wealthy and at one with itself. Decaying old stone buildings are a feature of rural South Australia, but nowhere more so than in the Clare Valley.

Tourist-wise the highlight is the 33-kilometre Riesling Trail, which runs basically the length of the Clare Valley, between the towns of Auburn and Clare. The use of the old railway line guarantees that rises are gentle, and there's plenty of history, nature and wine sampling on the way. Several places offer bike hire for this essential Clare Valley experience. Visit rieslingtrail.com.au.

Cycle or walk at least some of the trail, and if you reach its southern end, stop at Auburn, best known as the birthplace of that great poet and storyteller CJ Dennis.The Auburn Hotel, where his father was publican and he was born, was demolished in 1969 but stop at the historic Rising Sun Hotel, which has stables dating to the 1850s, and drink to Dennis's Doreen. Visit www.auburn.sa.au and www.therisingsunhotel.com.au.

And make sure to take a stroll through Mintaro, a town that just oozes historic buildings and dry-stone fences. Visit www.mintaro.sa.au.

Mintaro: The town oozes historic buildings.

Mintaro: The town oozes historic buildings.

Do wander through historic Sevenhill Cellars, which dates from 1851 and was the first winery in the Clare Valley, initially established by the Jesuits to produce sacramental wine. The place simply reeks history and character. Visit www.sevenhill.com.au.

For general information, visit www.clarevalley.com.au.

The Clare Valley: One of Australia's most beautiful grape-growing regions.

The Clare Valley: One of Australia's most beautiful grape-growing regions.

Oh, and Tim Adams is still in the Clare, doing very well with his eponymous winery (www.timadamswines.com.au) and the restaurant and cellars at the former Leasingham (www.mrmick.com.au), the purchase of which was apparently quite a homecoming.