Sunday, June 15, 2008

National Wine Centre of Australia

Tues 3 June 2008

While in Adelaide, one of my priorities was to visit the National Wine Centre of Australia. This institution (now run by the University of Adelaide, my alma mater) has had something of a chequered history and at one point it almost closed down. It has only taken me five or six trips back to Adelaide to get around to visiting ...

The (stunning) building is set in Adelaide's very beautiful Botanic Garden, adjacent to the very cosmopolitan East End of the city. If you're particularly lazy, you can catch a free bus (the City Loop) from the train station down North Terrace and jump off at East Terrace: a journey of under a mile. Although the City Loop is well used by locals, it's also an excellent way for tourists to get a potted guide to the city, as the stops are announced and the driver narrates the journey. It's a short, sign posted walk through the Botanic Garden to the Wine Centre.

Hackney Road Entrance

I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting from my visit. Whatever it was, the Wine Centre didn't hit the mark. The Wine Discovery Journey is a relatively simple affair if you already know a little about wine. I really liked the massive map of Australia with wine producing regions pin-pointed and details of technical information (like rainfall and hours of sunshine) spread around it. I thought the "smelly" things (where you could smell specific aromas associated with particular grapes) diverting. My favourite part of the exhibition (in a very wine-geek way!) was the large wall, divided into boxes, each with a large photograph of a bunch of a different grape. For the grapes most commonly found in Australian wines, an actual bunch of grapes was mounted, an individual grape was dissected and even the pips were on display!

The exhibition finishes with a virtual, interactive meet-the-winemaker display, which I had a quick look at but didn't delve into in any detail.

Unsurprisingly, the reception area features a vast amount of information about South Australia's wine regions. This alone makes it a worthy stop for any wine-tourist.

There is also a café, and they have various wines available to taste. The tastings are all done in flights (of about 4 or 5 wines) and, while you have to pay, you do apparently get a tutored tasting and material about the wines to take away.

However, I very much got the feeling that the Wine Centre is there for the locals. There's a nod to tourism, but the impression is that it's all about pretty serious wine education. A raft of courses are available (including, impressively, one dedicated to the many overseas students studying in Adelaide). There are wine dinners (coming up, Penfolds on 27 June, hosted by Penfolds winemaker Steve Lienert), and Wine Fridays (fortnightly after work, featuring a different winery each time). I picked up a brochure for a day of cheesemaking. There are conferencing facilities. And if you're super keen on wine, you can hold your wedding there.

For the tourist: the National Wine Centre is a diverting half hour or so if you're in the Botanic Garden. It's a beautiful building, it has a café, and entry to the exhibition is by gold coin ($1 or $2) donation.

For the local: if you're interested in wine, you should be on the email list. 'Nuff said.

1. The National Wine Centre of Australia, cnr of Botanic and Hackney Roads (but accessible through the Botanic Garden), Adelaide, SA, 5000, phone: +61 8 8303 3355.
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