Stroll through the garden, following the gravel path past the scenic pond and bridge. The trail leads to the former family home of Franz Weikert, a Silesian farmer who led a group of 130 people from Austria to South Australia in 1848. Construction on the house commenced in 1865, being built in three stages it was finally completed in 1870. What remains today are the ruins of the home, dairy and blacksmith building.
The former smokehouse is now a shrine. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
A little further along the trail, stands a small building originally used as a smokehouse for curing meat. The building, featuring a statue of Mary, was converted to the Marian shrine in 1950 following the removal of a wall and the addition of a stone archway.
Madonna of the Vines Sculpture. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
As the trail meets the driveway to the winery, an imposing iron sculpture stands tall. Named the Madonna of the Vines, the statue, made by Adelaide artist Andrew Parish, was inspired by the South American statue; Our Lady of the Lakes. The sculpture was presented to the Sevenhills Winemaker Emeritus Brother John May S.J. in 1994, to celebrate his 65th birthday and 31st vintage at the winery.
St. Aloysius Church built by the brothers at Sevenhill. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
From the iron sculpture, the path winds toward the grand St. Aloysius Church. Completed in 1875, the church has served the parish community since the first sections were started in 1866. From the outside, the shale and sandstone walls quarried from the property and the welsh slate roof give no indication of the funding issues which caused construction to be delayed. Upon entering the church, it takes a few minutes to consider the amount of work and expertise required to complete the grand design of the historic building. From the stone carvings, hand carved by stonemason Brother Francis Waldman and Brother James Kane, to the carpentry skills of Brother Schrieder seen in the altar, confessionals and cedar doors, the dedication to the finished work is evident. Looking up toward the ceiling, you might notice the roof arches. Made from local red gums , the timber was bent into shape by wetting the wood before fastening it together with dowels. If you walk across the locally sourced slate floors, the three stained glass windows forming the northern transept can be seen. Depicting St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, St. Francis Xavier, and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the windows are an example of exquisite craftsmanship.
The Southern transept, used as the main entrance to the church, was built nearly a century laterin 1997, using stone and stone carvings matching those completed over 100 years earlier. The stained glass windows in the southern transept, were designed by Father Paul Cleary, a local boy and former parish priest who was buried in the crypt after his death. The windows depict Mary and the Christ Child, the Silesian Eagle, Jesuit and Marian symbols together with the Piping Shrike, the emblem of South Australia.
The crypt underneath the church is considered unique for a parish church in Australia. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
The crypt, accessed from outside the church, on the northern side, is a fascinating place to visit. Considered unique for a parish church in Australia, the crypt is the final resting place for 41 Jesuits whose inscribed headstones can be read as you walk along the tunnel. The first Jesuit to be buried in the crypt was Brother George Sadler, who was killed by a stone while blasting in the quarry to gather material to build the church. Since 1901, only those who died at Sevenhill have been buried in the crypt.
The large college building is not open to the public and can be viewed from the outside only. The two storey building was constructed in two stages. The south wing was built between 1854 to 1856, with the west wing completed in 1868. Operating as the first Catholic secondary school and boarding school from 1856 to 1886, the building also housed Australians undertaking study as Jesuits from 1866 to 1884. Today the building is known as The College and home to the Jesuit community who work in the parishes of Sevenhill, Clare and Riverton and for retreats.
The pine plantation behind the college building was started over 50 years ago with the planting of 100 pinus radiata. The pines were used in the making of wooden boxes to transport wine, in the days before cardboard boxes were available, the plantation is a symbol of self-sufficiency.
For some, the highlight of the walk might be the cellar door and wine tasting of the Sevenhill cellars, although the winery itself is bursting with history and information. After greeting Maisie, the winery cat, make your way down the steep staircase to the cellar, where the winery story began. Excavated by pick, shovel and sweat, the cellar became the perfect environment for the slow maturation of fortified wines in German, French and Portuguese puncheons. Originally the winery was designed to produce altar wine, when Brother Schreiner bought vine cuttings from Bungaree Station in 1851, planting them in the old vineyard. Altar wine still contributes to 20% of sales in the winery.
Sevenhill Cellar is ideal for making fortified wines. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
Climbing back up the stairs, take the time to review the museum pieces including the first wine press, built in 1863. Capable of pressing four buckets of grapes at a time, this would have seemed a great improvement on the manual treading practised before the purchase of the press. Today, the winery has an average annual crush of 450 tonnes, producing an annual bottling of 26,000 cases of finished wine from the 73 hectares of vineyards on two properties.
The museum provides an insight into the early winemaking days. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
The Cellar Door is open for tasting and sales on Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and on Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays from 10am to 5pm, selling wine and local produce.
If the kids are getting a little restless, wander outside to the grassed area where there is a selection of sporting equipment for loan and a large area for running and games. Picnic tables and toilet facilities are also available.
The vineyards, some date back to the 1860s. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
Continuing along the walk, you'll pass the old vineyard, planted prior to 1860. Access to the vineyard is not allowed as this area is Phylloxera free.
Sandstone mined from the quarry was used in the buildings on the Sevenhill site. The dressed stone for the corners, buttresses and quoins for St Aloysius Church and the College building were supplied from the quarry near the old vineyard.
The cross built by Brother Franz Waldman was relocated from the centre of the cemetery to the entrance. Photo: Hazel Cochrane
As you entered College Road, you may have noticed the cemetery, the last section of the walk. The burial ground for early settlers and some indigenous people, the burial sites of Franz Weikert, founder of the settlement in the Clare Valley and his wife are located on the site. Overlooking the cemetery is the large cross built by Brother Franz Waldman in 1875. Originally situated in the centre of the grounds, the monument was refurbished and relocated to the entrance in 2011 to commemorate the sesquicentenary of the arrival of the first Jesuits to Sevenhill in 1851.
If the self-guided walk is not for you, guided tours are conducted on Tuesdays and Thursday at 2pm, or by prior appointment on weekends, at the cost of $10 per person. Bookings are required for the 1 ¼ hour tour which does not include the walk to the cemetery. Special rates are available for larger groups. Bookings can be made by phoning 8843 422 or email.
For those who have worked up an appetite, stop off at the Red Grape Bakery for a delicious light meal or a coffee. Established in 2011 by Dorham Pfeiffer, the former butcher's shop and cottage have been converted to a bakery and cellar door. You can enjoy indoor or outdoor dining areas, but the most difficult decision will be which of the tasty treats to buy.
If you leave your car and go on the walk does it bring you back to your car? And is it 2kms in total or 4 kms for returning to car. I cannot walk far so need clear instructions on distance, and terrain. thanks
Top walk,winery,and bakery.Possibly,this is the No 1. attraction of any visit to the Clare Valley.The church and retreat house add to this unique setting.I have a feeling the church was never fully completed.To appreciate the Clare Valley,one needs at least 4 nights I would say and perhaps an extra day if your heading to Burra,not far away...not to be missed if you have the time.