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As you drive around the bend on a typical, winding country road the grandeur of Chapel Hill Winery rises from the hills, a spectacle of hand-hewn stone, stained glass windows and Methodist architecture. The buildings impressive enough, add the impressive history and the winery’s growing reputation for producing top quality wines and you have a venue near impossible to resist.
Chapel Hill is named after its iconic ironstone chapel, built by Methodist settlers in 1865. It was more than just a place of worship to the community though, serving as a school and social gathering spot until its closure 100 years to the day of its opening - 5 December 1965.
Today the solitary chapel is part of a precinct, newer buildings including an office block, warehouse and winery. The additions have been executed flawlessly, the stone sourced from the same quarry as used in the 1860s while the roof pitch, glass atrium and overall design mirror the original. The neighbouring Chapel Hill Retreat and Guest House, while slightly more modern in style also fit the community of buildings, taking design cues from their namesake. Future plans, made possible by a recent SAWIDS (South Australia Wine Industry Development Scheme) grant will bring together the buildings and the landscape. Glass doors will open up the tasting room to the rolling lawns and hill-scape while new fencing will create a picturesque safe haven for visitors especially those with ever-energetic small accomplices.
An artistic rendering of the Chapel's window has been adopted as the winery's logo. The stained-glass piece originated from Glasgow in the 1770s, arriving in the 1800s to Magill where it was installed in a funeral chapel, before Chapel Hill’s founder Thomas Nelson purchased it (reportedly paying over $10,000) in the 1970s. To Bodhi Edwards Marketing & Retail Manager, “The window is the attraction. It gives this space its magic. Such is its historical pull visitors often come here just to view the window...and stay for the wine.”
Fostering a connection to the Chapel building has been at the forefront of designing their tasting experiences. A recent renovation did away with the tasting bar completely, instead promoting movement amongst the 3 rooms and atrium as you taste. Barrels form little islands on which to settle if you wish, tasting room staff coming to you to offer the next wine and brief chat about what’s in your glass, or equally, the room, art collection and the McLaren Vale region. The space in which you stand is treated with the same importance as the wine, they want you to explore and take in this impressive architecture and its history as you would the wine in your glass. It's a wonderfully social style of service, promoting the ideal of community that was such a vital part of the Chapel's history.
Bodhi acknowledges, even revels in the ‘delicious irony’ of the church of teetotaling Methodists becoming the home of a winery, yet the utmost respect to the spirituality of the place is still paid. The Chapel, once used only as a gallery, is now home to the new ‘Icon Tasting Experience’. With its high ceilings and carved stone-work the Chapel is humbling, promoting a hushed reverence. As you're guided through their top-tier offerings paired with local food the architecture certainly elevates the experience to something almost other worldly.
Chapel Hill's dedication and consideration to the architecture has seen them rewarded with wins in the Best of Wine Tourism Awards 2018 for Architecture and Landscape, ‘Best Additional Experience” for the Gourmet Traveller Wine Australia Best Cellar Door Awards 2017 and 2017 Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor.
The Chapel Hill Winery tourism experience is one that is about so much more than wine - it’s about history, place, community and most importantly, making memories and building relationships.
Chapel Hill Winery Cellar Door is located 10 minutes drive north of the McLaren Vale township, approximately 45 minutes from the Adelaide CBD. Tastings are available 7 days 11am-5pm.
Chapel Hill Winery is the 2018 regional winner of the ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ Award in the Architecture & Landscape category.
(Images courtesy of Chapel Hill Winery)