Wine tourism has been a growing and developing market in Australia for some time. With over 60 wine regions producing more than 100 different grape varieties, there are many avenues for wine experiences in Australia.
However, like many other countries, Australia couldn’t escape the hardships and downturn in tourism due to the global pandemic. Before COVID-19, tourists to Australia from the U.S. ranked third highest. The top five reasons to visit Australia were: safety and security, nature and wildlife, food and wine, value for money, and friendly and welcoming.
Since the pandemic, wine tourism in Australia has picked itself up, dusted itself off, and is back to providing the best in memorable food and wine experiences. The wine region of McLaren Vale is a testament to this and ticks all the boxes for those five reasons to visit.
The McLaren Vale Wine Region
The state of South Australia covers 380 square miles, about the same combined area as Texas and New Mexico. It is home to three world-renowned wine regions, the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, and McLaren Vale, all within an hour’s drive of Adelaide, the capital city.
The McLaren Vale Wine Region is an easy 45-minute drive south of Adelaide. The area is known for its complex geology, with ancient soils comprising five different geological types ranging from 10,000 to 550 million years old, making grape growing diverse here.
The region is best known for shiraz but also excels in cabernet sauvignon and grenache production. With a climate to mirror the Mediterranean and four distinct seasons, Spanish and Italian varieties add a further element of tasting discovery, with Fiano, Vermentino, Sangiovese, and tempranillo thriving.
South Australia’s viticultural origins began in McLaren Vale. Since the region lacks pests such as grape phylloxera (a tiny, yellow, aphid-like insect that feeds on the roots of vines), some of the world’s oldest plantings can be seen here. Frost is rarely a problem with many vineyards less than six miles from the coast. The town of McLaren Vale has a population of around 4,000 people. Despite its small country town feel, the region punches above its weight delivering wine, cuisine, beaches, and landscapes equal to anywhere in the world. However, if you want a great view of the coastal vineyards, I suggest you take a scenic flight in a Waco Biplane.
The Waco Biplane
WACO is the Weaver Aircraft Company of Ohio and was founded by five passionate aviators in 1919. A biplane is a fixed-wing aircraft with two main wings stacked above each other. How are an American aircraft manufacturer and a vintage plane connected to the coastal vineyards of South Australia?
Let me introduce you to the passion of Martyn and Gaylene Smith of Adelaide Biplanes. Martyn learned to fly while living in the United Kingdom. He soon joined Gaylene in her worldwide search. They discovered a Waco biplane for sale in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Martyn flew to the states to look her over. She was a modern-day reincarnation of a classic 1935 design of a sports biplane. It took a few months to reassemble the plane after her arrival, which was watched from the dock by Martin and Gaylene. She was issued a Certificate of Airworthiness and became the first in their fleet of planes now based at Aldinga Airfield, on the edge of the McLaren Vale Wine Region.
An Exciting Flight Over Coastal Vineyards
Visitors to the region can be a part of this fascinating story while taking in views of the spectacular coastline and undulating vineyards bounded by a gentle mountain range. The Waco biplane is unique in its ability to carry two passengers in the roomy front cockpit while the pilot takes care of the tricky bits behind you.
All bookings must be made by contacting Adelaide Biplanes directly due to the coordination required with other flights. The price for two passengers is AUD 450 for 30 minutes in the aircraft, including 20 airborne minutes.
Thrill seekers may choose a joy flight including aerobatics in the Great Lakes Biplane; a plane Martyn says flies just as well upside down as it does the right way up. Gulp! I’m not sure I relate well to the words “joy” and “aerobatics” in one sentence, but plenty of people do! That experience is for those who want to see the coast and vineyards from another angle. The cost for one person for this 20-minute adrenalin fix is AUD 400.
A visit to Adelaide Biplanes is still recommended, even if your flying style consists solely of a pressurized cabin with no hair out of place and a stewardess bringing you food and drinks. Here they will bring you way-better-than-airline food and drinks in a quirky setting. As many of their aircraft are vintage, the décor of the office and kitchen reflects that. One visitor was heard saying, “Oh my God, I feel like I’ve just stepped into a 1950s movie.”
Pro Tip: McLaren Vale’s collaborative and generous nature, a unique combination of world-class wines and produce, both on the farm and the plate, with a beach lifestyle, ensures this region truly offers a unique, welcoming experience. The beaches are best enjoyed from November to March, but any time is a good time to savor the food and wine!
To book accommodation and tours in the area, click here.
Adelaide Biplanes are located at the Aldinga Airfield, a 15-minute drive through vineyards from McLaren Vale to Colville Road, Aldinga. The flight office and kitchen are open daily from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. All contact details are on their website.
Other Ways To Experience The McLaren Vale Wine Region
- Wine tasting at a choice of over 80 cellar doors, many small family-owned, so you can meet the faces behind the label
- Dine out on the best fresh, local produce prepared by leading chefs with views to die for
- Feel the soft, golden sand and swim in pristine, clear waters of the beaches and, if you’re game, bare all at Australia’s first official nudist beach
- Learn how to do traditional dot painting at the studio of an Aboriginal artist
- See local producers sell fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, pastries, bread, olive oil, eggs, and honey in a village atmosphere at the local Farmers’ Market
- Take a picnic and bottle of wine to the coast and watch the sun sink into the ocean
- Visit the many breweries, distilleries, and an orchard to taste beers, gins, and ciders
- See kangaroos, koalas, and echidnas in their natural habitat and listen to a chorus of native birds everywhere you go
- Join a small-group bus tour or hire an e-bike and self-guided map to explore
- Try blending your wine at the iconic d’Arenberg Cube, a five-story venue resembling a Rubik’s cube housing a $9 million Salvadore Dali exhibition
For more information on traveling to Australia, check out these articles: