Culture: These Australian Wineries Are Wild… Literally
We’ve seen some pretty unusual wine tasting experiences before, but nothing quite like this. Wineries from across Australia—a continent famous for its rich and varied wildlife—are giving their cellar door visitors a chance to pair wine with local critters.
From tours of on-site animal sanctuaries to feeding sessions with rescued wildlife, these Australian wine experiences go far beyond the grape. Here are some to add to your next itinerary down under.
In South Australia’s McLaren Vale, certified organic and biodynamic winery Gemtree maintains a 25-acre eco trail that’s home to frogs, possums, birds, microbats, lizards, echidnas, a pair of hand-fed emu and a resident koala named Nell.
Guests of Gemtree can participate in a three-hour Wine and Wonder tour. Begin with a glass of sparkling wine followed by a guided wine tasting—try their Shiraz, Grenache and Tempranillo. Then, tour Gemtree’s Biodynamic Hut and learn about sustainable winemaking before hopping aboard an ATV for a ride on the eco trail. Visitors are free to explore before settling under the gum trees for a three-course picnic lunch complete with wine.
Another option is Gemtree’s Wuldi Cultural Experience. Visitors walk the eco trail with Mark Koolmatrie, an elder of the indigenous Ngarrindjeri people. Koolmatrie recounts ancient stories of his people’s connection to nature, followed by a wine flight and native tasting plate to complete the day.
Wine and Wander experiences are $180 AUD per person and the Wuldi Cultural Experience is $125 AUD per person. Both can be booked online through Gemtree’s website.
Passel Estate, in Western Australia’s Margaret River region, is well known for making award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. But the estate also founded a refuge for critically endangered western ringtail possums displaced by wildfires in 2011. In fact, the winemakers’ dedication to conservation even inspired the label’s name, as the term “passel” refers to a family of possums.
With bushland making up a third of the estate’s property, it’s not unusual for visitors to get a glimpse of kangaroos, tiny marsupials like quendas and phascogales or even a rare black cockatoo in the sanctuary, which is located near the cellar door tasting room. Those interested in a more up-close-and-personal experience can opt for the operation’s Nature & Wine walk, which offers a behind-the-scenes tour of their bushland conservation sanctuary. Visitors will learn about the wildlife that co-exists within the vineyard, followed by a guided wine tasting and artisan cheese platter.
Nature & Wine Walk experiences are 120 minutes, $158 AUD per person and can be booked online through the Passel Estate website. A portion of the price goes toward further conservation efforts.
Woodstock Wine Estate
Nearby Woodstock Wine Estate has created a wildlife sanctuary on roughly seven acres of native scrub to provide a home for more than a dozen rescued western grey and red kangaroos, a pair of orphan joeys and an emu. The estate’s towering trees also provide a habitat for rescued koalas released by local conservation groups, and visitors will want to keep an eye out for native birds, including kookaburras, blue fairy wrens and rare tawny frogmouths.
Woodstock hosts daily feeding sessions in the sanctuary, inviting small groups of guests to help feed kangaroos, emus and wallabies. Afterward, visitors can stop by the tasting room to try wines like the estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Riesling and single-vineyard Shiraz, all made from some of the oldest vines in McLaren Vale.
Kangaroo feeding sessions are $5 AUD per person and bookings must be made online. Proceeds go toward maintaining the sanctuary. Wine tastings start at $10 AUD per person.
If you’re looking to drink wine alongside a regent parrot or southern bell frog, this is your chance. On the Murray River in South Australia’s Riverland region, Banrock Station manages nearly 4,000 acres of restored wetlands that provide habitat for hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, mammals, fish and amphibians.
Banrock offers both self-guided and guided tours, including a five-hour guided birdwatching tour on which you may spot a musk duck, Australian little bittern or chestnut-crowned babbler. Once you put down your binoculars, you can enjoy a tasting of Banrock’s popular Moscato, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir and more.
For a shorter-commitment tour that also includes wine samples, guests can book the two-and-a-half-hour guided wetlands tour and tasting.
Guided birdwatching tours are $500 AUD for two people (tasting sold separately) and guided wetlands tours and tastings are $60 AUD per person. Booking is made on Banrock Station’s website. A portion of the profits from each sale goes to support conservation projects around the world.
House of Arras
Visitors to Tasmania’s House of Arras have the opportunity to meet Charlie the platypus (in addition to many other animals) on the winery’s late-afternoon Wine, Wildlife & Vineyard Walk. With a glass of the winery’s internationally-acclaimed wine in one hand and a spotting scope in the other, guests can enjoy a one-kilometer (0.62 miles) guided stroll around the vineyard and down the trail to the Pipers River. Here, you can often glimpse one of the swimming platypi just before dusk. (If not, the winery has been known to gift a bottle of wine to visitors as a no-Charlie-to-be-found tax.)
Stay alert while you’re walking to the water’s edge or sipping at the serene hillside bar. Your expert guide could point out a tiger snake or wombat burrow, not to mention wedge-tailed eagles, grey fantails, superb fairywrens and eastern barred bandicoots flying overhead.
The Wine, Wildlife & Vineyard Walk is $140 AUD per person. Reservations can be made on House of Arras’s website.
Victoria’s Goulburn River meanders along the edge of Tahbilk, where visitors can observe swamp wallabies, wombats, echidnas, eastern grey kangaroos and endangered species including broad-shelled turtles, white-bellied sea eagles and brush-tailed phascogales. Founded in 1860, Tahbik is one of Australia’s oldest wineries. The vineyard is carbon-neutral and committed to revegetating the land and improving fish habitats.
A walk along their Tabilk-Tabilk Indigenous Flora Trail offers guests the chance to learn about plants that are significant for the indigenous local Taungurung people, plus vantage points for spotting a platypus or cockatoo along the way. The winery also offers an eco-cruise of the wetlands by electric boat on a guided tour.
If you prefer to stay on land, Tahbilk’s cellar door overlooks the river with great views, and the Wetlands View Restaurant is great for wildlife-watching. All of course, while sampling wines like their celebrated 1860 Vines Shiraz or award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, Marsanne, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat or Grand Tawny.
The Tahbilk Winery’s wetlands tours are available on multiple tourism websites. Price varies.