Pete Govey in the tasting room at Penny’s Hill Vineyard.
Pete Govey in the tasting room at Penny’s Hill Vineyard. Erle Levey

Penny's Hill a pleasant surprise

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 Vincent's 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 together 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.

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 of rain on the range and the rainbow was the result. Would there be a pot of gold at its end?

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

The property was initially 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.

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.

Sit by the picture window and watch the sheep wander in and out of view as they graze in the adjoining paddock, enclosed by a traditional post and rail fence. Beyond are two old gnarled eucalypts. Flocks of birds circle and swoop then land on the branches of the trees.

Today the vineyards are a blaze of autumn colours ... yellows reds, rusty brown yet still that touch of green in mid April.

A peloton of cyclists make their way along the road as well as day-trippers in their cars.

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

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

The chef's degustation menu would be the choice when time permits to linger longer.

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.

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