When talking about wine regions in South Australia, people can easily list off a few – the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Coonawarra – but generally they miss the biggest wine region of all. In fact, it’s the biggest wine region in all of Australia, producing more wine here that any other region. The Riverland region is growing as a tourism destination and there are some great cellar doors now open offering food, wine tasting and other experiences. Here are the places to go for Riverland wine tasting.
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About the Riverland Wine Region
The Riverland wine producing region is located in the west of South Australia along the banks of the Murray River, stretching 330km from Paringa to Blanchetown. It’s around 2 to 3 hours from Adelaide, depending on which part of the region you are travelling to. The biggest towns are Renmark, Berri and Barmera, although there are others such as Loxton, Waikerie and Morgan that are also worth visiting.
Not only is the Riverland the highest producing wine region in Australia, it is also the largest in size. It grows more varieties of grapes that anywhere else, with over 1000 wine distinct wine growers. But with all this production, why do we not hear more about the Riverland?
I may have a unique perspective here because in another life I used to work for a company that did wine logistics and exported a lot of the South Australian wines – but in my mind I relate the Riverland wine region with huge volumes of not-so-amazing wines exported to mass markets internationally. And while yes, that does occur, what I’ve also learned through my recent visit is that there are also some really unique and interesting wines being developed here.
The Riverland is a warm climate wine growing region, so they tend to grow a lot of Spanish and Italian varieties. The wine makers I spoke with were passionate about the area finding a point of difference with these bespoke wine varieties that are not widely grown. They know they can’t compete with the Barossa for Shiraz, Coonawarra for Cabernet Sauvignon or the Clare Valley for Riesling, but they can make interesting and tasty wines that those regions can’t.
Where to go Riverland Wine Tasting
I admit, I’m by no means a wine expert. In fact, I’m often just as happy with the $10 cleanskin I picked up from Dan Murphys as that expensive bottle of red. For me, wine tasting is all about the experience, not just the wines themselves. I love to chat about the wines, the regions, the people themselves. Often I will enjoy visiting a small family-run winery in their back shed more than one of the big fancy cellar doors, that while flashy, can also be impersonal.
So here are the Riverland cellar doors for you to visit during your visit to the area.
919 Wines are located in Glossop, right on the outskirts of Berri. This is a small, but really interesting family run winery with a cellar door that doubles as the storage for their wine barrels. Unfortunately, due to covid and the smaller space inside, wine tastings are currently being conducted on the verandah instead of inside. We timed our visit at the exact time the heavens opened and there was a downpour, but we still easily managed to keep dry.
During our tasting we tried a wide range of the delicious organic wines produced here at 919 Wines – some was from the vines just metres away from us! We mostly chose to taste varieties we were not familiar with. We really enjoyed our time chatting to Jenny as she went through the wines and talked a lot about the region and how it has changed in recent years. Both Jenny and her husband Eric have many years experience in the wine industry, previously working for some of the big name wineries before starting out on their own and making interesting organic wines, many of which are also vegan.
The 919 Wines cellar door is open from Wednesday to Sunday, and public holidays, from 10am to 5pm. Wine Tastings are $5, and there was a reasonably large list to choose from with no limit on the number tasted.
919 Wines also produce fortified wines, and it was one of these we ended up purchasing – 919 Reserve Collection Classic Topaque. Delicious!
Angove Family Winemakers
Angove Family Winemakers are one of the bigger names in the region, and other regions too. Not only do they have their cellar door at Renmark, but they have one at McLaren Vale too. They have a large range of wines to taste from reds ands whites to sparkling and fortified wines and are the biggest organic wine maker in Australia. Their Renmark location ishome to the St Agnes distillery too, which produces arguably the most well known brandy in Australia.
When we arrived for our tasting, it was clear this was a much bigger operation. There is a large tasting room set up.The tastings are offered as a “set menu”, with some different options, such as customer favourites, Riverland wines, organic wines or fortified wines. A small tasting fee of $5 was charged for the six wines. It was also possible to pay a little extra to try one or two wines not on the list chosen – but we found the staff member serving us was quite generous and we tasted some of the other products with no extra charge.
In fact, we really enjoyed the famous Stone’s Ginger Beer that Angove produce here in Australia under licence. In the end, we purchased a bottle of Stone’s Green Ginger Wine, an unusual but delicious drink, great for sunny afternoons and – so we’re told, we haven’t tested it yet – also for cooking with.
Banrock Station is another big name winery in the Riverland. They are located at Kingston on Murray right of the edge of a stunning wetlands area. The cellar door overlooks the river and wetlands, and includes some great walking tracks so visitors can get out and enjoy the surroundings. The Banrock Station mission is to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Their wines are sustainable, and they are in the process of making many of them vegan (there are still some older vintages that are working their way through the system). Their latest partnership is with Landcare Australia where they will plant over 100 000 native trees each year.
We have tried many of the Banrock Station wines before as they are a wine often on the menus of restaurants, but as we were going past we decided to stop in and have lunch. I was impressed to discover that even though they didn’t have a vegan option on the menu, they were able to make up a delicious vegan wellington – one of the best meals I have had in a while. And of course, we couldn’t have lunch without doing a small tasting. A tasting flight consists of four wines for $10, and visitors are given a list of around fifteen wines to choose from.
Being a big name brand we didn’t get that cosy, personal experience here, but it was well made up for by the great service, fantastic location and just an all round lovely experience. I look forward to visiting again when I have more time to take a walk around the wetlands.
The Burk Salter winery is located just outside of Blanchetown and I’ve often driven past it on the highway and thought it was an unusual place for a winery and I should stop in. We finally did on our last trip and I was not disappointed.
They are a family run winery, and the sons that are just learning the craft will be the fourth generation to have produced wine here. The first vines were planted by Burk Salter (hence the name) back in 1933. The wine produced here tends to be the more well known varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot. We chose a bottle of 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon as our favourite, and we also took home a bottle of their Gordo Blanco, a sweet white that I am assured will go beautifully with a spicy Thai meal. I’m not normally a sweet white drinking, but this one was quite nice and I’m intrigued to try it with the right food.
Burk Salter are open for tastings Saturday, Sunday and public holidays, or you can call them in advance and they will do their best to accommodate you. They also do hour-long tours around their property, taking in not only the vineyard, but other things they grown (like avocados) and also the wetlands that are teeming with wildlife. The tour is done in an old 1927 Chevrolet truck. If you want to extend your stay, there is also a lovely B&B here too. Click here for more details.
Caudo Vineyard was a surprise – yes, a good one. It’s located at Cadell, so we visited as we were driving back to Adelaide. It’s another family run winery, but this one is much bigger than many of the others. As can be seen in their logo, Caudo was originally a rose farm. As it has changed to wine production, it has still kept much of that heritage by naming its wines after some of the prized roses grown here.
The cellar door here is I huge space located right on the banks of the River Murray. They provide plenty of houseboat parking on the riverbank, so this is a great winery to include on your houseboat holiday. There are large grassed areas and plenty of picnic tables and other seating. If you are hungry while you are here, they offer a menu of casual meals. While we didn’t eat (we had just had lunch before arriving, but next time I will eat here), the wood oven pizzas looked and smelled delicious.
The wine tasting is done as a tasting paddle. There are quite a range of wines to try and the tasting is very flexible. We tried whites like Verdehlo and Semillon, and reds such as Tempranillo and Merlot. While all the wines were good, we did not take anything home (we had already bought more than planned on this trip!).
Tasting at Caudo Vineyard is about the scenery, sitting back and relaxing and taking it all it. We could have sat here for hours enjoying the sunshine and wine, it was that kind of place. We did not really talk to any of the staff about the wines or the vineyard, but there were written tasting notes available. So all in all, quite different to some of the other tasting experiences, but I still think Caudo is a must, just for the ambience.
Mallee Estate sounds like a huge winery, but while it has been in operation for over 50 years, it is still a family-run affair with the sons of the founding owners now running it. Our tasting was conducted by one of their wives, and I wish I got her name because I loved the personal touch behind this tasting, and could have spent all afternoon chatting about wine, the Riverland, travel, Greece and who knows what else!
I wasn’t sure what we were getting ourselves into wine tasting here. Mallee Estate is located on the road between Berri and Renmark and a huge sign out the front proclaims “Bulk Port $6/litre”. Was this where I was going to find some of that mass-produced export wine? I couldn’t have been more wrong. While yes, they do have some bulk port for those who want it, they also have a great range and variety of white, red and fortified wines.
The tasting fee at Mallee Estate is $5, but that is great value as we could have tested everything on their list if we so wished. Even their premium wines were available. With about twenty wines, there was no way we could taste all of them though. In the end we chose to take home a couple of bottles of the 2018 Mallee Estate Tempranillo.
The Mallee Estate cellar door is the closest of the Renmark wineries to the town centre. It also opens as a Greek restaurant on the weekends and while I didn’t get to eat here, if the passion put into their food is anything like their wine, then I think it would be fabulous.
Update: Since my visit, Mallee Estate has opened the new Estate Lounge for sitting back and lingering after your wine tasting. They are also offering tour experiences every day from Wednesday to Sunday at 11:30 am. Contact them to find out all the details.
Riverland Wine Centre
If you are coming to the Riverland and only have time to visit one place to taste the local wines, then this is the place. Originally the home of Pike River Wines, in 2019 they opened up a new cellar door that showcases not only their own wines, but wines from more than twenty five of the Riverland wineries. They have a stunning location sitting on cliffs overlooking the river. They offer accommodation on site (some is pet friendly), and I think this would a a great location for a relaxing weekend break from the city.
There are a variety of tastings available here, and lots of different wines to try. We chose to taste four wines and have some nibbles to go with it for $15. We decided to choose varieties we had never come across before from a range of wineries – Whistling Kite Mencia, Spookhill Durif, Pike River Fiano, Bassham Graciano. The Graciano was our favourite.
If you need more than nibbles, there is a cafe here on site for casual meals, and you can also book in for personal bespoke tastings, designed to suit your own wine preferences. While we didn’t do one of these tastings run by Sonya, we did have her as our tasting guide and I had a great time chatting with her about the property, the wines and some exciting things coming up! Her knowledge and passion was clearly visible, and I am keen to return for one of the bespoke tastings in the future.
Whistling Kite Biodynamic Wines
Named after the beautiful birds that call this area home, Whistling Kite Biodynamic Wines are a small, family run business now in its second generation. All the wine they produce is both organic and biodynamic, for which they were officially certified in 2007.
The cellar door is located right beside the owners house, right beside the Murray River. While not fancy, this is an authentic tasting experience, talking directly with the people who grow the wine. Our tasting was done outside due to Covid, but once restrictions ease it will be back in the shed amongst the barrels.
Whistling Kite produce wine from some of the traditional varieties such as Shiraz and Chardonnay, but they are also growing some lesser known varieties too, like Petit Manseng and Mencia. We had tried the Mencia previously at the Riverland Wine Centre, but trying it again here, it did not disappoint.
Whistling Kite Biodynamic Wines also offer a one hour food and wine experience. This is an opportunity to work your way through their wine tasting while also enjoying some delicious paired snacks of local produce along the way. Contact them in advance to book.
More Riverland Wineries
We did not get to all the different Riverland wineries on our recent trips (Tip: don’t visit the area from Monday to Wednesday, many places are not open then!) but here are the others that are on our list to visit next time we are in the area.
- Berri Estates (although during my last visit in October 2021 the tasting was still suspended due to Covid)
- Bassham Wines
- Salena Estate
- Top Block Wines
Visiting more great South Australian locations? These posts might help
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Barossa Hot Air Ballooning
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Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred. She has lived in the state for almost her whole life, just one short stint away as a teenager with her family. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.