March was in like a lion and out like a lamb, as they say, but down in the Southern Hemisphere, these were the final days of the summer growing season and the grape harvest fast approaches.
That makes it a lovely, if busy, time to visit some fantastic wine regions south of the Equator to see the wineries in full swing. Thanks to my background as a travel writer, I’ve gotten many chances to do so myself, and there are some fabulous wine-country hotels from Argentina to Australia and everywhere in between that you can check out this year if you’re planning a visit. Here are six of my favorite.
Cavas Wine Lodge, Mendoza, Argentina
Cavas Wine Lodge is a true original. It opened back in 2005, just as Mendoza’s wines were gaining worldwide recognition and the destination itself became a must-hit on Argentina itineraries. Since then, it became the first Relais & Chateaux property in all of South America, but that isn’t the whole story. This little hotel sits amidst the vines of its own private vineyard in Luján de Cuyo, near some of the area’s best wineries.
The villas are a trippy (but it works!) mix of modular adobe architecture, each with its own wood-burning fireplace, a private plunge pool, and a panoramic rooftop deck with postcard-worthy views of the snow-capped Andes. The spa specializes in vinotherapy treatments, including a decadent bath in Bonarda wine that’s sure to tauten and refresh. But the real draw is the food, with daily changing tasting menus, and some consistent favorites like the suckling pig with apple compote, paired with Mendoza wines.
The Louise, Barossa, South Australia
Though it gets plenty of visitors, Australia’s most famous wine region actually doesn’t have a ton of deluxe accommodations. But The Louise is the notable exceptions, and one of my favorite wine-country hotels in the world. The property has just 15 self-contained villas, each with a private patio for an alfresco breakfast and a back garden for watching sunset over the vines. There are fireplaces in the bedrooms (one of my favorite features), but what I love best are the enormous bathrooms with heated marble floors, deep soaking tubs and both indoor and outdoor showers.
The restaurant here, Appellation, offers a diverse menu of both locally and continentally sourced specialties. Settle in for a multi-course, multi-hour tasting menu of dishes like blue swimmer crab with apple, avocado and tarragon crème fraîche, or Hutton Vale lamb (among the best in Australia) with Jerusalem artichoke and sherry just. It goes perfectly with a Barossa blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro (as they call Mourvèdre here).
Cape Lodge, Margaret River, Western Australia
Western Australia’s Margaret River has to be one of my favorite wine regions in the entire world. Three hours from Perth, the weather is sunny and mild, there are towering kauri-tree forests and red-rock cliffs that cascade into a cerulean stretch of the Indian Ocean (come in whale season!), and when the wildflowers start to bloom in November, the whole region becomes a multi-colored marvel. But I digress. Margaret River is one of the country’s most respected yet under-the-radar wine regions, partly because of how remote it is, but also partly because of the wines they produce.
Unlike some of the bigger names to the east, here they specialize in both red and white (meaning Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) Bordeaux blends. Cape Lodge, which, thanks to its Cape Dutch architecture looks like it belongs in South Africa rather than Australia, is in the heart of it action on 40 acres of its own vineyards, but bordering some other big names in the industry here. The rooms are simple, but light-filled and large. However, the real draw is the food and wine program. Not only does the list here contain vintages you can’t find elsewhere, but the pond-front restaurant serves incredible dishes like seared Exmouth goldband snapper with braised fennel and Meyer lemon over pea puree, that highlight some of Western Australia’s culinary treasures.
Viña Vik, Millahue, Chile
One of the world’s newest wine lodges, Viña Vik opened just last year in the up-and-coming Cachapoal Valley 90 minutes south of Santiago. The hotel looks like a Frank Gehry creation thanks to the fanciful whorls of its golden-nued titanium roof (though it was actually designed by a Uruguayan architect). Each of the 22 rooms and suites takes an artist, era or theme as its inspiration. One looks like a wood-paneled room at a traditional Japanese ryokan, while another resembles a royal suite at Versailles, with chinoiserie wallpaper and antiqued mirrored walls. If you do visit, see if you can take a peek at the hammock-like fiberglass Vessel Bathtub in the Vik Master Suite.
During the day, guests can enjoy mountain biking or horseback riding through the massive property, as well as tastings in the winery itself. Dinners (and lunches, too, if you stick around) in the glass-enclosed dining room are full of surprises based on the local produce and proteins that have come in from the villages and farms of the surrounding district, which used to be known as “la bodega de Chile.” You might find Pacific hake pan seared in local olive oil with cauliflower puree and mustard greens, or locally raised duck with artichoke and radish. To pair, you’ll enjoy the signature VIK blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Chile’s signature grape, Carmenère.
Otahuna Lodge, Christchurch, New Zealand
Not a wine-country lodge strictly speaking, I’m including Otahuna both because of the excellence of the lodge itself and its food and wine program, as well as its proximity to one of New Zealand’s more underrated wine regions, Waipara. The lodge is just about 30 minutes outside Christchurch in a stately 1895 Queen Anne-style homestead that was, at one time, the country’s largest private residence. After an extensive and painstaking renovation, it retains a feeling of Victorian grandeur (I dare you to under-appreciate the woodwork and the colorful glazed-tile fireplaces) with just seven self-contained suites. The experience here hearkens to an era of bygone grandeur, and as such, guests can partake of such civilized pastimes as croquet, pétanque, tennis, cycling and horseback riding, as well as simple leisurely strolls through the gorgeously restored botanical gardens.
Just the genteel undertakings to work up an appetite for dinner in the dignified dining room. Every meal is paired specifically to New Zealand wines, both local and more varied. A home-grown onion soup with a local Pecorino-style cheese and fried sage might come with Felton Road Riesling from Central Otago, while braised lamb shank with fried potato gnocchi and baby salsify goes nicely with a Te Mata Estate red Bordeaux blend from Hawke’s Bay. Just what you’ll need before marching back upstairs to your turned-down, fire-lit room.
Babylonstoren, Stellenbosch, South Africa
South African wines have been quite the hit lately thanks to both some interesting varieties like Pinotage and Chenin Blanc, as well as a boom in the country’s tourism industry. Babylonstoren is representative of what’s best and brightest about the state of wine tourism in South Africa today. Though it’s a little luxury hotel, it’s so much more than that. The 500-acre property is actually one of the oldest Cape Dutch farms in South Africa, dating to 1692, and that’s evident in everything from the picture-perfect architecture to the old-growth orchards.
But there’s a distinct touch of the modern as well thanks to a complete overhaul by owner, and former Elle Decoration editor, Karen Ross. I’ve only gotten to stop by for a quick visit, but while there, I wandered the gardens, stopped into the casual restaurant, Green House, to check out the menu of farm-grown dishes like baked eggplant with sweet pickled rhubarb, and graze on the heavenly breads and pastries at the onsite bakery and gourmet sundry shop. I’m dying to get back for a stay in one of the 14 rooms and a treatment in the spa (the coffee-mint full-body wrap and treatment has my name on it!).