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Penny’s Hill: A pot of gold at the end of a rainbow

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Penny’s Hill at McLaren Vale, South Australia. Photo: Barnaby Barber

It was a chance encounter … but it led to a lasting memory.

What started out as a Saturday drive through the McLaren Vale region of South Australia to Willunga and returning along the coastline of St Vincents Gulf took a completely different turn.

Along the way a beautiful two-storey bluestone mansion caught my eye. And beyond that a magnificent gum tree with what looked like old stone stables.

Stop, for a photo, I suggested.

Instead, the driver turned in.

No, we don’t have time I thought.

Make the time, the driver said. You might be surprised.

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I was. As we made our way up the gravel driveway I looked across the vineyards towards the ranges along the coast.

There, framed by two more ancient gum trees, was a rainbow ending among the vines.

The sun was shining but there was a shower on the range and the rainbow was the result.

Would there be a pot of gold at its end?

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Penny’s Hill wine complex started out as Ingleburne when first settled in 1846 by Thomas Overton and family.

The property was first named Gedney and soon had some 20 pupils attending a school there.

After profiting on the Victorian goldfields, Thomas Goss, at one time the postmaster, returned to McLaren Vale and applied his new found wealth to acquiring some of the district’s best farming land.

Renamed Ingleburne, Goss commissioned an elegant two-storey bluestone farmhouse that has long been a district landmark.

It remained in the Goss and Rowland families continuously until 1998, when Tony and Susie Parkinson acquired the property.

It was the culmination of a search that had its beginnings with the purchase of bare land 10 years earlier.

Located on the rolling foothills east of McLaren Vale, the 32ha (80 acre) property that commands views over the waters of Gulf St. Vincent was named Penny’s Hill Vineyard, after the hill where it is sited.

Further vineyard acquisitions followed including the newly planted Malpas Road property, followed by an adjacent highly prized hay-producing paddock that was immediately planted to vines and named Goss Corner.

Today, as soon as you park the car you know this is something special. Reach out and touch the stone of the sheds, the aging timber of the posts, the doors. Such rich textures.

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Walk inside The Kitchen Door Restaurant and Red Dot Gallery and have your suspicions confirmed.

With reference to art and art culture at the centre of the brand it seemed logical and almost necessary to open a gallery at Penny’s Hill.

The Red Dot Gallery opened in 2001 at the same time as the cellars, with the art being the perfect accompaniment to the fine wines and food on offer.

The galley spans from the foyer through The Kitchen Door Restaurant and guests can browse the constantly changing works of art as they dine or when the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

At present there is a rolling exhibition curated by John Lacey from Green Tank Gallery at Mt Compass.

Local artists depict the colour and atmosphere of South Australia. They capture the starkness of the coastline, the subdued golds and browns of a dry climate. It’s such a surprise to attend lunch and also discover that you’re eating within a gallery. Quite an inspiration.

On show are impressionistic and contemporary landscapes from Lacey and others, capturing the flavour of the region.

The restaurant has a real Australian farm shed feel to it.

Yet the view is outstanding and really captures the moment.

A picture window looks out to the post and rail fences of the Suffolk sheep paddocks, gnarled gum trees and beyond that the vineyards.

A feature is to sit with the view, framed by the window.

You are not just looking at the landscape but at life, the future.

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A peloton of cyclists make their way along the road, day-trippers in their cars. Sheep are grazing, flocks of birds swooping in the breeze then resting on tree branches.

While Pete Govey runs through the wine list Barnaby Barber runs through the menu.

Chef’s degustation menu would be the choice when time permits to linger longer. Spending an ideal few hours discussing the world’s ways and whims would be the perfect way to taste the finest food.

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Yet soaking up the atmosphere while enjoying company and a tiny taste of McLaren Vale was all one could manage after a huge winery dinner the night before in the Vale itself.

A lesson here: Be hungry upon arrival, be ready to eat and relish the best food and wine and service available.

Select dishes can be shared or individually savoured from the a la carte menu otherwise the Feed Me experience sees the best seasonal and local produce, either with or without paired wines, priced from $65pp.

Yet we have come for The Agreement, a sauvignon blanc that has its origins in the southern Adelaide Hills.

The story, I am assured, goes a bit like this.

Some Adelaide businessmen started growing grapes then naturally progressed into making wine.

Yet Tony Parkinson suggested they continue to grow the grapes but leave the making of the wine to him.

It would be cruel for them to continue otherwise, he joked over a mate’s lunch.

And so business judgement prevailed and The Agreement was made … or so the story goes.

The result is an elegant wine, intense with a high level of natural acidity, and a balance of fresh citrus with tropical fruits.

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Try it with the smoked goats curd, pea puree, pickled broad beans, squash and citrus oil. Otherwise the torched tuna, soft egg, grilled cos, olive with bush tomato balsamic.

The Rump & Black with bacon, brussels, bush tomato oats and red wine jus has been matched with the 2009 Penny’s Hill grenache.

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Yet on the day I try it with a Malpas Road merlot, rich, smooth with a dark fruit palate and very easy to drink on a warm day.

The 2012 Skeleton Key is a good example of a McLaren Vale shiraz – deliberately long aged to give a smooth finish across the palate.

Dessert? There’s poached quince, liquorice, raspberry, almond liquor and cinnamon ice cream and chilli salt pork rind.

How appealing does this sound: Fresh figs, pistachio gelato, chocolate mousse and fortified caramel.

Yet an affogato complements an extremely satisfying encounter in a stunning setting.

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(Open 7 days a week 10am – 5pm)

281 Main Road, McLaren Vale, South Australia

Phone: +61 8 8557 0800



(Open for lunch Thursday – Monday from 12pm)

281 Main Road, McLaren Vale, South Australia

Phone: +61 8 8557 0840


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