By Nick Carne
If you’re heading to Clare Valley for a holiday, or just a day out of the city (any excuse really), you can choose Skillogalee for lunch with great confidence. The food is always good and, unless it’s Christmas Day, it’s pretty well a given they’ll be open.
In fact, Skillogalee‘s popular winery restaurant has only kept the doors shut twice in 26 years: once for a family funeral and once when the police closed the road for four days after a bushfire.
“We’ve always adhered to the philosophy that visitors to Clare on a Monday and Tuesday deserve to be offered the same services as those who visit on a weekend,” says owner, Diana Palmer.
The only real risk is not getting a table (or at least being beaten for a prime position on the veranda or under the olive tree), which is why picnics on the grass will soon be offered. Morning and afternoon teas have been available for some time, and breakfasts were added last year.
Skillogalee remains one of the cornerstones of the region’s ever expanding food and wine tourism industry and sets the standard for combining a winery, cellar door, restaurant and accommodation.
It has been named the “cellar door with the best food in the Clare Valley” for two years running by Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine, and recently won the Wine Tourism Restaurant category in South Australia’s inaugural Best of Wine Tourism Awards.
The awards were held as part of Adelaide’s membership of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network and, as part of this, Skillogalee last month competed in the international finals in Portugal against national winners from eight other countries.
“We’ve always wanted Skillogalee to be a very relaxed restaurant; casual but professional, where people can come and enjoy food from the region, cooked really well in a natural environment, getting to view the vines and the gum trees,” says Diana’s daughter Nicola, who is head chef and restaurant manager.
“It’s very important for us to be able to show our wines in the way that they are going to be drunk, which is with food.
“It’s a great addition to our cellar door to be able to invite people to come in, sit down, look at the menu, get our recommendations on what we think will go well with the dish, then go into the cellar door and taste the wines for themselves and make their choices.”
The food side of things actually came about by accident. Initially Diana just offered a few dishes for visitors to try while they tasted her husband Dave’s wines, but when people started asking to book tables she decided she’d better open a restaurant and do things properly.
The menu changes regularly, with most produce sourced locally and some of the vegetables, herbs and edible flowers grown around the 160-year-old miner’s cottage which houses the restaurant and cellar door and provides much of its famous ambience.
But Nicola jokes that her father “still won’t let me rip out some vines to grow more vegetables”.
The prestigious Great Wine Capitals Global Network brings together cities linked to internationally renowned wine regions. Adelaide / South Australia officially became a member on 1 July, after being unanimously elected by the eight other members: Bilbao / Rioja (Spain), Bordeaux (France), Cape Town (South Africa), Mainz-Rheinhessen (Germany), Mendoza (Argentina), Porto (Portugal), San Francisco / Napa Valley (USA) and Valparaìso / Casablanca Valley (Chile).