Final stop: the wineries.
Aside from the Fleurieu’s beautiful, clear-water beaches, and delicious local produce, it’s best known locally for its wineries-meet-ocean landscape. Not surprisingly then, it’s the internationally renowned McLaren Vale wine region that steals most of the region’s spotlight. And with the tourist focus often on the larger winemakers, it’s not unusual for visitors short on local knowledge to overlook the series of high quality boutique wineries and food traders scattered across the coastal towns.
Naturally, I collected a few of my closest friends for a bit of a food and wine adventure. With the sunroof open, making the most of our last few rays of sunshine before the weather turned in Jack Frost’s favour and we’d have to make use of the heated front seats, we loaded into the car. Four women looking for adventure and one $121k SUV. What could possibly go wrong?
Cruising along to our first stop – Mt Jagged Winery – I couldn’t wait to show off some of the cool tech inside the Volvo XC90.
With a click of a button, the Volvo jumped into Pilot Assist; an autonomous driving technology that sees the vehicle drive itself along clearly marked lanes behind another car up to 40km/h. “Look girls, no hands. It’s driving itself!”
The gawking was infectious – it’s the beginning of driverless technology on our roads, and I wanted everyone to know I had the keys.
Somewhere between the sipping of Mt Jagged’s Pink Heath Sparkling Pinot Noir and Victor Harbor Winery, we found ourselves lost on a dirt service track between the grape-dressed vines. We weren’t sure where it would lead us, but it was a good excuse to try the XC90’s driving modes: comfort; eco; dynamic; off road and individual.
Switching from eco to off road, we followed the rutted dirt track in full circle. It even had hill descent control, a feature usually found in 4WDs. Given the XC90 looks more like a Toorak Tractor than an off-roader, I was surprised by how well it coped. That’s not to say I’d take it across the Australian outback any day soon.
No trip to the Victor Harbor region of the Fleurieu Peninsula is complete without a stop at the Port Elliot Bakery for a pie, pastie and their specialty – honey sticks (more commonly known as bee-strings). So with the purchased bottles of wine clinking on the floor, we picked up some snacks to end our novelty experience. Driving the XC90 to our favourite destinations sure beats the old beaten-up Corolla we’ve driven around Victor Harbor since we were 17 years old.
We may have only had four people in the car on this trip, but it’s easy to see how a seven-seater could come in handy on adventures like this. It’d easily be able to carry a larger-than-normal carload of tipsy wine-ers. And I could even charge for it - $100 per hour.
But the wine tour wasn’t finished yet. Poor Dad always misses out on the fun stuff, so obviously I forced him to drive through McLaren Vale with me to get some photos. #Instadad.
McLaren Vale is known for its dry red wines, but also produces some delightful whites like Chardonnay and Riesling. The region is also packed with some delectable places to stop for a morsel or two, such as the rustic Elbow Room restaurant, or provincial Fino.
The aim of our day was to follow South Australian Tourism’s Epicurean Way, or at least, the McLaren Vale part of it. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. A quick stop by the beautiful d’Arenberg saw major construction works underway for the famous family-owned winery’s new architecturally-magnificent cellar door. So we’d have to find another backdrop for the photos.
After 30 minutes insisting I knew my way around McLaren Vale, and Dad sitting frustrated in the passenger seat, I decided to turn to the navigation on the 9-inch screen – which was covered in finger prints by this stage – to plug in McMurtrie Mile.
McMurtrie Mile is a strip of six experiences; Wirra Wirra, Hugh Hamilton, Primo Estate, Sabella Vineyards, Red Poles, and McLaren Vale Brewing Company.
By the time we stopped at a couple of the wineries, it was getting late in the day, and the restaurants had closed for lunch. Who knew most of a quaint, touristy country town like McLaren Vale would close by 3pm? Luckily, Blessed Cheese on McLaren Vale’s main street was still open.
Making use of the XC90’s automatic parking feature, it paralleled itself into a tight spot on the main drag right across from the door. A delicious cheese platter and a coffee may not have been quite as extravagant as a cellar door lunch, but no one, being of sound mind and body, turns down the chance to eat delicious, locally-produced cheese.
It may have been a failed attempt at a wine tour and Instagram training for Dad, but we got to visit some of SA’s most scenic drives in a luxury SUV, so who could complain? After a few big days of driving, I was glad to have the aid of Radar Cruise Control to get us back to Adelaide.
For two people, the XC90 seems a little excessive. The middle seats were used as storage and the boot was left empty and unused. Still though, I was left feeling a little heartbroken that my trip had come to an end and it was time to hand back the keys. It’s not hard to find yourself addicted to the added ride height of an SUV, especially in something as luxurious, sophisticated and comfortable as the Volvo XC90.
Read part one of our Volvo XC90 road trip here.