Scenic wind and food trails. Joy rides in choppers. Renegade cooks, distilleries and a winery called Pandemonium that spins tastings with soul tunes. The Swan Valley, 30 kilometres from Perth, might be one of Australia’s most historic wine regions but you’ll find this scene is making its own rules.
Make a grand entrance
There’s nowhere else in Australia where you can depart a capital by boat and arrive at world-class vineyards within a few hours. Aboard a Captain Cook Swan Valley Gourmet Wine Cruise, WA wines and cheeses are the amuse-bouches before you dock footsteps away from historic Sandalford Wines for fine dining, a tour and James Halliday-approved drops (try the fragrant Prendiville Reserve cabernet sauvignon).
Or why not take the chopper? Private return flights with Corsaire Aviation take off from Crown Towers in Perth, whisking you over sun-drenched hills to a three-hour degustation and tastings at one of the valley’s big hitters: Sandalford Wines or Mandoon Estate.
Find out-of-the-ordinary wine – with a side of fun
Sparkling fans must head to Sittella, a lakeside winery and restaurant founded on an evangelical love of bubbles. The Grand Vintage Marie Christien Lugten, a beautifully balanced sparkling with red apple, citrus and brioche notes, is just right with crispy duck from chef Mike Price’s kitchen.
Kick back with an oaky shiraz tempranillo and soak up sweeping views of the Darling Range as Stevie Wonder booms from the record player at Pandemonium, a winery housed in a tin shed. Not into soul? BYO tunes to Vinyl Sundays on the last Sunday of every month.
At Oakover Grounds, the chenin blanc, with its subtle rockmelon and lychee notes, is possibly the best in the valley (that’s saying something: the region crushes around a third of Australia’s chenin grapes). You can also hop on a water trike to paddle across the estate’s lake to a pretty shaded island.
In this valley where grapes are worshipped, a creative distilling scene is also making noise. Old Young's is an irreverent maker specialising in gins and vodkas such as the Six Seasons, a bush mint and juniper myrtle-infused gin inspired by the six seasons recognised by the Noongar people. The chef’s Feed Me menu at Old Young's Kitchen flexes the imagination too, with crocodile chorizo and wild rosella. Have lychee gimlets on the side.
At Funk 2.0 two local-born brothers are “unshackling cider from its dark commercial past and bringing it back to its artisan origins” by way of the traditional cold-press method. Pull up a seat under the gum trees for live music and a tasting paddle. Smooth, with touches of vanilla, The Sex Machine, made from pink lady apples aged in French barrel oak, is a beauty.
Eat a local harvest with a global twist (hint: Tim Tam macaroons)
Experience hive-to-table dining at House of Honey, a bee sanctuary set on English garden-style grounds blooming with wisteria and David Austin roses. Down breads, olives and bush honey with house-made mead.
With a bite of its melt-in-your-mouth macarons, cult patisserie Maison Saint-Honoré will transport you straight to Paris. Except, perhaps, the Tim Tam-flavoured ones... Got kids? They'll love the slides and climbing set at this Caversham cafe’s playground.
Caffeinate at Yahava KoffeeWorks. Founded by Dutchman Alex Kok, who scours all corners of the globe – often by motorbike – in search of the finest beans, the cafe runs tastings of daily small-batch blends paired with cappuccino nougat or Belgian chocolate-covered beans.
Stays are more than a stay
You could park your car and forget it for the weekend at Mandoon Estate. Luxurious rooms at on-vineyard retreat The Colony overlook historic verdelho vines and you’ll also find the excellent Wild Swan restaurant, a craft brewery and an outpost of Perth’s Linton & Kay Galleries, where contemporary paintings and sculptures are shown with works from established and emerging Aboriginal artists. Don’t miss the bush-tucker tasting experience.
If you have kids or friends in tow, the spa cottage, set into revamped 1900s worker's digs at Upper Reach Winery, has two queen-sized bedrooms, a lounge with a flat-screen TV and a full kitchen. Not that you’ll fancy cooking, with dishes such as twice-cooked duck leg with chicory and orange (even better with some of the state’s best shiraz) at the vineyard’s restaurant. Classic spaghetti and oozy cheese toasties make even the kids’ menu look good.