The Adelaide Hills region does winter properly. Think crackling fires, slow-cooked rustic stews and the crunch of morning frost under foot. Of course, it's all in the elevation – the Hills rise in a sudden 700-metre ascent from the Adelaide Plains, causing temperatures to fall by three to five degrees.
If this climatic difference is good for delicious 'old country' vistas, it also fosters some of the world's finest cool climate red wines.
These wines and wintry tableau come together in a single celebration during the Adelaide Hills Winter Reds Weekend, an event that's suitably themed 'Play with Fire'. This year, the event will take place from 28-30 July (Friday to Sunday), when 30 wineries will ignite their fire pits, bonfires and wood ovens.
"It really is a celebration of all things winter," says Nicole Roberts, executive officer of the Adelaide Hills Wine Region. "So we're encouraging people to bring their jackets, their beanies and their boots and just embrace it. And let's be honest – there's nothing better than settling in front of a fire and enjoying a glass of red with friends."
The chill-out factor is upped thanks to a program of special events, which combine rustic settings with live music, locally-inspired dishes and more than a few special vintages.
Now in its eighth year, the event draws 15,000 visitors into the region's 48 cellar doors that have sprung up in the last 20 years. The great majority of these cellar doors are boutique in scale, ranging in style from cottages in historic streets, to old stone farmhouses to contemporary masterpieces fashioned into the sides of valleys – perfect for a warming weekend with wintering vintners.
Red, red wine
Since the light from a fire is as good as any by which to judge a wine's colour, expect to see a surprising array of red varieties being swirled against the flames. "We're well-known for our cool climate shiraz," says Nicole Roberts, "but because we've got such a diverse topography, we can grow a surprising number of red varieties."
Pinot noir is the Adelaide Hills' rising star, a variety that's earning so many plaudits that it's challenging sauvignon blanc for 'local hero' status. Expect pinot aplenty at Mount Lofty Ranges Vineyard when eight vintages will be uncorked for a tasting evocatively titled 'Pinot in the Dark'. And if you've ever wondered why pinot is sometimes called the 'heartbreak grape', join famed winemaker Tim Knappstein who will be explaining its marvels and mysteries during a night of pinot and paella in conjunction with Riposte Wines.
The diversity of local topography has also enabled growers to raise some fine Mediterranean varieties including the like of tempranillo, nebbiolo and barbera. For an unusual introduction to these varieties, head to Scott & La Prova in Hahndorf's Main Street, where Spanish and Italian varieties will be pitted against each other. In the Spanish Corner is winemaker Sam Scott of La Prova; in the Italian corner is Master of Wine, David LeMire of La Linea. Expect fiery endorsements for both.
Of course, the Hills' celebrated cool climate shiraz will be in evidence just about everywhere, from biodynamic Ngeringa Vineyards to doyen of wines, Shaw and Smith. Meanwhile, the Lane Vineyard is hosting an Apres Ski event to coincide with the launch of its new Chalet Bar. Suitably, the wine will be mulled.
Braised, roasted, barbecued
Another reason to love winter: calories keep you warm.
That's why you can indulge in twice-cooked duck at Artwine or slow-braised osso buco at Paracombe Wines. And if you're feeling especially robust, head for Udder Delights where Henschke wines will be poured with a 'bubbling cheesy lava' fondue with bratwursts for dipping.
South Australian guest chefs will be designing paired degustations for the weekend (for example Heather Day at Howard Vineyard) while a truffle expert will be shaving the celebrated fungus for '50 Shaves of truffle' at a long table degustation at The Lane. At Bird in Hand you can indulge on a 'Birds in the Gallery' degustation, a tasting menu from chef de cuisine Carlos Astudillo, paired with complementing wines.
You can also go for a trot around the world thanks to the range of cuisines. There's Spanish stew at Deviation Road, Latino heat at Bird in Hand, and US-style barbecue at Longview Vineyard. At Mordrelle Wines, Argentine winemaker Martin Moran gets together with cacao supremo Marcus Booth-Remmers to pair red wine with chocolate.
The spirit of international competition is also burning at Sidewood Estate near the small town of Verdun. Head chef at Maximillian's restaurant will be preparing a five-course dinner, and each course will be matched with a Sidewood wine. To prove the Adelaide Hills can hold their own anywhere, the wines will in turn be matched with a secret international equivalent. Which is better? You be the judge.
Ways to keep warm…
Live blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll will inevitably lead to some dancing into the late hours, raising temperatures in the converted hay sheds, stables and barns.
Most cellar doors in the Hills are pretty relaxed about kids and have plenty of space (and cellar door dogs) to keep them happy. At Winter Reds, the littlies will find face painting at Wicks Estate's Winter Wonderland, games aplenty at Golding Wines and a welcome at O'Leary Walker Wines in the historic Johnston Brewery stables.
And finally, if you want to keep it real while you're keeping warm, pull on that sheepskin jerkin and horned helmet for the Feast of Valhalla. This Viking knees-up is being hosted by Unico Zelo at Glen Ewin Estate, and will include a 'spit roast of epic proportions'. Manners and cutlery are optional, but please leave your battle-axes at the door.
Entry to the non-ticketed general events is free. There are also an additional 15 ticketed events which cost from $30 to $200.
Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are located at Adelaide Airport.
This article brought to you by the South Australian Tourism Commission.