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In this first of two extracts from his book Ultimate Cycle Trips Australia, Andrew Bain runs over The Riesling Trail, a gentle Clare Valley rail trail, where the cellar doors come complete with dedicated cycling entrances.
Nuts and bolts
Bike: The trail is hard-packed earth, so anything from a hybrid to a mountain bike is suitable.
Why it’s special
The trail follows the course of the disused Riverton-Spalding railway branch line, which opened in 1918 and closed after being burned in the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983. Proposed by winemakers, the Riesling Trail opened in 1998.
It’s a ride of symmetry, making a gentle climb from Auburn (310m above sea level) to the trail’s highest point (490m) just beyond Penwortham, and then just as gently descending into Clare (400m). The gradient is never more than about 2% — it’s as gentle as a glass of riesling on a summer afternoon.
The nomenclature of the trail is straightforward, with the Clare Valley best known for its rieslings.
Best time to ride
This is an evergreen ride that’s good year-round. Summers are hot, but there’s always wine on hand to cool the sweats. Autumn brings the turning of the colours across the grape vines. Winters are fairly mild, with maximum temperatures averaging 13degC-14degC (cool mornings average about 3degC in winter).
The Riesling Trail is a linear path, so without a second vehicle you’ll need to ride it out and back (54km in total). There are car parks at the old railway station in Auburn and at the end of Lennon St, in Clare.
If you want to extend the ride, there are cycling trails that continue from either end of the Riesling Trail. From Clare, the Riesling Trail continues another 8km north to, well, nowhere in particular, while the Rattler Trail goes 19km south from Auburn to Riverton.
Auburn to Penwortham (15km)
Auburn’s main street is lined with cellar doors, but I needn’t explore further than the Riesling Trail’s very trailhead for a literal taste of what’s ahead. The ride begins beside the town’s old railway station, which has been converted into the cellar door for Mount Horrocks Wines — it’s like being flagged away on the Riesling Trail by riesling.
As I set out riding across flat parkland, cockatoos chatter from the trees like a sporting crowd and quickly the trail passes beneath an archway sculpted with the words "Riesling Trail". It feels like a second start of sorts.
Below a metal bridge, a pair of alpacas graze contentedly among a herd of cattle, and beside the road turning to Taylors Wines the trail crosses the Horrocks Hwy and rises on to a levee above the road — it’s canal-like riding, minus the canals.
At this end of the trail, the landscape is predominantly farmland, looking clean-shaven now after the autumn harvest, with vineyards placed like symmetrical green blocks among the yellow paddocks.
As the trail climbs, albeit imperceptibly, it peers down on to the patchy highway traffic like it’s some sort of theatre show. As it distances itself from the highway, it comes to an old railway cutting. At its mouth is a picnic spot and a set of stone sculptures marking an ancient gathering site for the Ngadjuri People.
Soon the trail is lined with apple trees and olives — appetisers to the wine. The highway has become nothing more than a distant backbeat to the song of magpies.
As I continue to rise through a chain of cuttings, I come to a dedicated trail gate at the rear of O’Leary Walker Wines, with its cellar door inside a beautiful stone building atop a rise ringed by vines. I’ve cycled just 6.5km and it’s only 10am. Is it too early for a wine?
Nearing the top of the climb, the trail burrows beneath the highway, rolling past the old Penwortham railway station, though nothing remains but a large boulder, a picnic table and a hollow gum tree inside which explorer John Horrocks briefly lived in 1840.
Penwortham to Clare (12km)
Penwortham is the trail’s highest point, heralding the start of a gentle 90m descent into Clare. It begins through a beautiful stretch of gum trees, less wine and more bush for a while to Sevenhill, the town with the trail’s greatest cluster of features. The town centre is about 500m off the trail, and I detour for lunch. By the time I return to the trail, I’m confident it’s ticked over to wine o’clock.
The Riesling Trail’s most compelling stop, and most unlikely scene in this valley, is at the end of a 700m side trail. Sevenhill Cellars is the valley’s oldest vineyard, established by Jesuit brothers in 1851 (Sevenhill takes its name from the seven hills of Rome). The vineyard is framed around the Gothic Revival St Aloysius Church and a crypt in which 41 Jesuits are buried. The clinching anecdote on this tale of church and grape? Every winemaker at Sevenhill Cellars since 1852 has been a Jesuit brother.
I return to the main trail and begin the easy task of finishing in Clare. This close to the town, there’s the full spectrum of cycling scenes: cycling tour groups, couples on city-cruiser-style bikes, parents towing kids in trailers, and puppy parents with dogs in front baskets.
As I come to the frayed edges of Clare, more vineyards appear. I’ve pedalled occasionally and lazily on the descent since Sevenhill, but claim I’ve worked up a thirst. At the dedicated Riesling Trail entrance to Tim Adams Wines, I turn and park my bike beneath the cellar doors outdoor tasting deck, which is bathed in afternoon sunshine. There’s only 3km to ride, and hours still left in the day. It’s riesling time.
Next time: The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.
You can hire bikes in Clare from Riesling Trail Bike Hire (rieslingtrailbikehire.com.au) and Clare Valley Cycle Hire (clarevalleycyclehire.com.au).
The Little Red Grape Bakery
One of those classic country bakeries that SA does so well. Just 500m off the trail, it’s a perfect (and popular) fuel stop. 148 Main North Rd, Sevenhill; open Monday-Sunday for breakfast and lunch.
Directly opposite The Little Red Grape Bakery, this hotel has been a winner of the Australian Hotels Association award for best country dining in SA four years running. Main North Rd, Sevenhill; open Mon-Sun for lunch and dinner; sevenhillhotel.com.au
Beside the trail in Clare, this cellar door has a restaurant turning out a range of tapas that you’ll no doubt want to pair with wine. 7 Dominic St, Clare; open Mon-Sun for lunch, Fri for dinner; mrmick.com.au
The Mill Apartments
Stylish, modern apartments on Clare’s main street, overlooking the Hutt River, with a bottle of wine thrown in for good measure. 310 Horrocks Hwy, Clare; jimbarryaccommodation.com.au
Bed in a Shed
Take the name as literal, but with so much more. A B&B inside a corrugated-iron shed, but fitted out ever so well. It’s 1km off the trail in Leasingham. 289 Blocks Rd, Leasingham; vineartstudio.com
Rising Sun Hotel
Standard rooms inside Auburn’s pub, or adjacent superior and executive rooms for a bit more solitude. The executive room has a garden and outdoor dining table. 19 Main North Rd, Auburn; therisingsunhotel.com.au
Twin options at the ends of the trail: Discovery Holiday Park in Clare or the small Auburn Caravan Park.