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Trailhopper McLaren Vale Wine Tour

Home > Adelaide > Day Trips | Food and Wine | Girls' Day Out | Tours | Wineries
by Emma Jane Warren (subscribe)
Freelance writer, born and bred in South Australia.
Published November 14th 2016
Hassle free, affordable, comfortable
It was 10am on a Sunday morning and most of Adelaide was still sleeping in or merely wakening for the day. However, my friend and I were far from sleepy-eyed as we patiently waited for our wine tour bus.

To say we were excited would have been a severe understatement. In fact, our feet were bouncing underneath us and our faces had been painted with a toothy grin while we awaited our pickup out the front of the Stamford Plaza Hotel on Adelaide's North Terrace.

Our eyes, our tongues, and all of our other senses were 100% ready to experience Adelaide's first ever 'hop on, hop off' wine tour bus in the prestigious region of McLaren Vale.

The Trailhopper Wine Tour business is relatively new to the Adelaide winery scene. They are the only company in the state to offer a service which encompasses both guidance and freedom.

The way that the day is spent is entirely up to you - Trailhopper is just there to get you from A to B.

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The Trailhopper bus. Image: Emma Jane Warren


It was very pleasing to see the Trailhopper mini bus (distinguishable by the large print on the buses side) arrive spot on time. Immediately, we were introduced to our lovely and bubbly tour guides, Matt & Monique, and welcomed into the bus.

Even though the bus appeared rather miniature from the outer, the seats were definitely roomy and cushioned. We were well aware that it would be a 45-minute drive from the city into the McLaren Vale area, so the cleanliness, warmth and comfort in the bus was appreciated.

On the drive up, Matt & Monique began explaining the concept behind Trailhopper and how our day was going to pan out.

Essentially, the bus runs on a one hour loop, meaning that you have one hour to explore each stop you decide to get dropped off at. But, if you want to stay at any destination for an hour longer, there's nothing stopping you.

Absolute freedom!

Trailhopper offers a total of 15 stops on the McLaren Vale tour. These include: the Visitor Information Centre, Maxwell Wines, Alpha Box & Dice Winery, Angove Winery, d'Arenberg Winery, Oliver's Taranga, Beach Road Winery, Coriole Vineyards, Chapel Hill Winery, Kay Brothers Amery Winery, Red Poles Cafe & Gallery, Wirra Wirra Winery, Hugh Hamilton Winery, and the McLaren Vale Town Centre.

Everybody on the tour was furthermore given a Trailhopper lanyard which entitled us all to exclusive deals and offers at the wineries. For example, we were permitted 10% off of some of the wine purchases throughout the day.

Oh, and we were even offered complimentary water on the bus! It felt as though we were getting uber-quality service.

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Inside the bus. Image: Emma Jane Warren


The schedule, which can be downloaded online or received as a hard copy on the tour day, shows that everybody can only visit a maximum of 4 wineries. Being selective and planning ahead is a must.

So during the bus ride, we organised what four stops we were going to make. Matt suggested that we firstly decide where we would like to have lunch and then work everything else out around that. Our decision was to visit Maxwell Wines, Alpha Box & Dice, Chapel Hill, and Wirra Wirra.

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Maxwell Wines. Image: Emma Jane Warren


First stop: Maxwell Wines

'See you in an hour,' Monique called as we got off at our first stop and stretched our legs. The first thing noticed at Maxwell is the incredible view that the cellar door has over the vast expanses of vineyards. It's a fantastic spot to truly grasp how consuming the McLaren Vale wine region is.

The cellar door was rather busy with other people when we first entered (it was a battle of the tour buses!). Although, one of the friendly staff, Lauren, was certain to ensure that we were served and could have a decent tasting time.

trailhopper mclaren vale barossa wine tours adelaide hills south australia wine region tour bus hop on hop off wineries tourist attraction sa scenic
Maxwell Wines. Image: Emma Jane Warren


Of all the tastings at Maxwell, a favourite was the Where's Molly Grenache Rose. The unusual bottle has multiple images of fluffy dogs on it.

Except the Maxwell meads were really what lathered the icing on top of the cake. All four that were available to taste left my friend and in a pleasant shock. I'm drooling just thinking of them now.

The Spiced Mead is served warm from the stove. The heat of it fogs up the glass and warms the throat. It was just like mulled wine, but not red, so it was a lot lighter and smoother to drink. Ideal for a cool night any season of the year. The Honey Mead is exactly like a jam but not as thick.

Nothing could stop us from walking away with a couple of bottles to take home.

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Maxwell Wines. Image: Emma Jane Warren


There's a lot more on offer at Maxwell than just delectable wine, splendid views, and polite service. They've also got honey to taste, information about the Maxwell history, and intriguing outdoor art sculptures.

And get this - there is even an enormous hedge maze out the front of the cellar door. Be careful not to get lost and miss the bus, though.

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Alpha Box & Dice. Image: Emma Jane Warren


Second stop: Alpha Box & Dice

Right on time again, the Trailhopper bus plucked us from the vineyards at Maxwell's and delivered us across the road to Alpha Box & Dice.

Both the exterior and interior of Alpha was unlike anything we'd ever seen before. From the outside, it looked as though we were about to walk into a shed that had the alphabet painted irrationally on the walls. On the inside, we saw dimly lit rooms crammed with vintage chairs, old school lamps, fridges from decades ago, and odd misplaced items like bird cages and dice.

It was hipster, young, fresh, confusing, alternative, and enlightening.

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Alpha Box & Dice. Image: Emma Jane Warren


I can guarantee that you've never had quite the neighbourly service like what is given at Alpha. As soon as we stepped foot in the door, there were already two glasses out for us with wine being poured.

The team that were behind the counter, (Jay, Sam & Chris) took the tastings to a whole other level. Not only were they accommodating, warm and sociable, but the gentlemen were practically jumping out of their skin to tell the stories of the wines and give informative/ hilarious descriptions.

The main notion behind the selection at Alpha is that there is a different type of wine for each letter of the alphabet. If all 26 wines were given during tastings, then there would be a lot of stumbling and wobbling out the building at the end of the day. So, the team present the best of the best complimentary for all visitors.

Our favourite wine was the Kit & Kaboodle. And we had great joy using the spittoon, which was actually an old toilet bowl.

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Alpha Box & Dice. Image: Emma Jane Warren


It was generally a younger crowd that filled the rooms of Alpha Box & Dice. The casual and fun nature of the winery seemed to appeal to the younger age. Although, this should not stop anybody from visiting the hospitable venue. The wines are at just as fantastic quality as anywhere else, and the fascinating design of the locale makes it a must-stop.

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Chapel Hill. Image: Emma Jane Warren


Third stop: Chapel Hill

Between drop offs, Matt & Monique were consistently interested to hear how we had enjoyed each location and ensure we were making the most of our tour. The third stop that we made was at Chapel Hill Winery.

What was really inviting about Chapel Hill was the remarkable history of the winery and cellar door. The building where tastings are held was actually originally a Christian Bible Church for the local area. The chapel then became a parish school. Now, after the establishment of the Chapel Hill brand in 1973, the heritage building is surrounded by 44 hectares of blooming vineyards.

But, despite its new meaning, the building's past is still evident from the inner and outer. The glass arch windows still let light in and the stone structure still captures onlookers eyes.

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Chapel Hill. Image: Emma Jane Warren


Guests to Chapel Hill are encouraged to position themselves casually around wine barrels and try up to eight of their wines, curated by the winemakers to suit the season.

The 2016 Sangiovese Rose was our number one pick, with its gentle yet banging taste. Upon request, we were also allowed to have a try at Dr Pilkington's Miracle Cider. I must say, it did dance some miracles on my taste buds.

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Chapel Hill. Image: Emma Jane Warren


Chapel Hill also offers a premium Icon Tasting experience of four of their red varieties. The wines are matched with cheeses by the head chef. If you've got your Trailhopper lanyard with you, then you can get this experience for free. Normally, it'll cost you $10, with the price redeemable on any wine purchase.

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Wirra Wirra. Image: Emma Jane Warren


Final stop: Wirra Wirra

Lucky last, we made a stop at Wirra Wirra Winery. Yet again, we were met with pleasant service and knowledgeable workers at the cellar door. They were more than happy to answer all of our questions and give us a full insight into the winery and its products.

The 2014 Scrubby Rise - Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Petit Verdot and the Esperanza - Tempranillo were definitely hitting the top of the list for our most loved reds of the day. Many of the wines on offer in the historic cellar door are exclusively made for Wirra Wirra visitors only.

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Wirra Wirra. Image: Emma Jane Warren


If you want a wholesome meal or smaller bite to eat, then Harry's Deli is a part of the Wirra Wirra complex and should be in your consideration. The cafe is a relaxed style, and boasts a menu that is full of fresh, flavoursome South Australian produce.

Otherwise, Wirra Wirra is a fantastic destination to have an outdoor picnic. The spacious grass area surrounding the main building is well maintained and a peaceful spot to relax if the weather permits. There are tall shelters with tables and chairs to sit under and revel in the wonderful views. There is even an outdoor BBQ if you want to cook up a family feast.

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Wirra Wirra. Image: Emma Jane Warren


Overall, the tour in McLaren Vale was eye-opening and unforgettable. Thanks to Trailhopper making the day super simple, we didn't need to worry about anything and could just focus on having fun.

As you'll see from many of the images, the weather was unfortunately misbehaving for our tour. However, we barely noticed the chilling temperature at all, as the Trailhopper bus was kept toasty warm and all four of the wineries we visited had their heaters cranking wholeheartedly.

With Trailhopper, there is no need for a designated driver, and no need to spend hours researching before you get going for the day. The tour guides have comprehensive knowledge on the area and will happily recommend places & give suggestions.

The 'hop on, hop off' idea allows you the liberty of picking wineries that will suit you most and ultimately allow you the best day out.

Maybe the best part of all... Trailhopper is SO affordable.

A ticket on the McLaren Vale Wine Tour will only cost you $49pp.

I was fortunate to talk to Matt post-trip and get a better understanding of why he and his wife, Su, began the Trailhopper company. It was satisfying to hear that just like many South Aussies, they are in love with the Adelaide wine regions and want to do their part to make them even more inviting.

We will undoubtedly be travelling with Trailhopper again in the future - either to check out the other regions that they tour (Barossa & Adelaide Hills), or to repeat the McLaren Vale tour and choose different wineries.
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*Emma Jane Warren was invited as a guest
Share: email  facebook  twitter
Why? Have a hassle free day out in the wonderful McLaren Vale
When: The McLaren Vale tour runs on Sundays & Thursdays
Phone: 8271 4485
Where: Pick up from the Stamford Plaza, and a day out in McLaren Vale.
Cost: $49 per person (includes: bus transport and exclusive discounts)
Your Comment
What a lovely tour to do, Emma - a well-deserved Gold!
by Elaine (score: 3|5463) 672 days ago
Great article! well done on the award
by Jay Johnson (score: 3|1368) 672 days ago
A good coverage on this tour. Ideal for visitors staying in the city who have no car to see the region.
by Kat May (score: 3|1274) 584 days ago
Great post, love the pics
by Brooke. A. R (score: 2|405) 672 days ago
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