The Watervale Hotel looks like a traditional pub but with local vignerons likely to be lined up at the bar, it’s become a favourite with wine lovers.
Story By John Kruger
Sitting high at the crossroads of the small village of Watervale in South Australia’s Clare Valley is the beautiful old Watervale Hotel. The building is perched on the side of the valley with vineyards and the small township behind it. It’s a modest-sized, historic pub with only a small section of the building dedicated to the front bar and dining room. The rest houses reasonably priced, comfortable accommodation with three double rooms.
The hotel, built in 1845, reveals its heritage not just in the wrought-iron intricacies around the verandah but also in the pressed-tin ceiling in the front bar. John Wade and daughter Kirste Harrison have been running the pub for about eight months and are still in raptures over the views of the valley and vineyards.
Both were seeking a ‘vine change’. Although John had been a publican in Burra, SA, many years ago, he had spent the past 15 years in Adelaide working in quality control for Holden. Kirste was working as a nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and both had decided that it was time to make the change. “We loved it from the moment we saw it,” Kirste says. “It’s got personality and character, and the people who come to the hotel have personality as well.”
The hotel sits at the centre of the popular Riesling Trail, a 27-kilometre route incorporating part of a converted old railway line, used mainly by tourists to explore the wine region by bicycle. The pub often has bikes leaning against the front posts while riders stop for lunch or a few beers to cleanse the palate between tastings. The hotel has a regular clientele of interstate tourists and local wine-industry folk.
Just a few hundred metres away is the long-established Crabtree Watervale Wines. New owners Rasa Fabian and partner Richard Woods say wineries in the area use the hotel as a work venue as much as a social spot. “The pub is our second office,” Rasa says. “It’s where we hear how much rain everyone has had, what the baumé [sugar content] of the grapes are and who has grapes for sale. It’s got a lot of community spirit and we all know to meet there for a knock-off drink without anyone having to organise anything.” One industry legend sitting quietly at the end of the bar is local Ray Parish. Originally coming from “the other side of Marrabel”, he’s well known in the vineyards. “I’ve been here for 68 years, picking bloody grapes,” Ray says with a smile. The sprightly 86-year-old has been picking and pruning for Crabtree for 25 years. Ray’s secret to being able to withstand the bitterly cold winter pruning is to “rug up properly” and make sure your lower back isn’t exposed to the weather.
This story excerpt is from Issue #71
Outback Magazine: June/July 2010