Visitors to South Australia won't even have to leave Adelaide to get up close to the Australian wine industry now that the National Wine Centre of Australia has opened. Its demonstration vineyard, razzle-dazzle interactive exhibits and tasting rooms debuted on Oct. 6, offering a convenient overview of the country's vineyards and wineries.
The Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale wine regions are short drives away, but the center's hands-on museum and tourism information desk make it a good central starting point for further exploration.
Funded by the Australian government and members of the wine industry, the US$12.5 million National Wine Centre guides visitors through every aspect of grapegrowing, wine production and tasting, with 170 exhibits.
Starting off in the "Growing Grapes" hall, a light-and-sound show depicts weather over a strikingly gnarled 150-year-old Shiraz vine -- Australia's trademark variety. This display is synchronized with a panoramic video projection of a year in the life of an Australian vineyard. A huge relief map highlights all of Australia's more than 60 wine regions, with information on their unique climates and geographic conditions. Lifelike models familiarize visitors with 16 common Australian grape varieties.
The huge "Making Wine" hall, with its towering wall of wine barrels, showcases modern wine-processing equipment for both red and white wines. One side of the room, clad in stainless steel, houses interactive displays on the chemistry of winemaking. Visitors can create their own virtual wine, making decisions such as when to pick the grapes, at what temperature to ferment and whether to age the wines in oak or not; each "finished product" is rated as to its flavor and character.
Connecting this hall to the other major exhibition spaces are more intimate interactive areas. The "When to Pick" space allows visitors to pose questions to some of Australia's best-known winemakers, who appear to be floating life-sized in front of them. In another exhibit, leading chefs and wine tasters offer virtual advice on matching various wines with food. (Those theories can be tested in real life by sampling the wine-pairing menus at the center's restaurant, overlooking Adelaide's Botanic Gardens.)
The "Tasting Wine" hall showcases wineglasses, bottles, labels, closure systems and corkscrews. Interactive exhibits invite visitors to test their sensory skills by smelling and then blind-tasting four different wine varieties.
For those who want to explore those skills in more depth, a tasting gallery offers several flights -- from reasonably priced wines to rare vintages -- as well as a changing regional showcase, highlighting one Australian wine area at a time. Featured wines, and others, can be purchased (duty-free for overseas visitors) at the center's store. The center also teaches a range of short and long courses -- from introductory wine-tasting to single-theme events.
And for anyone inspired by the exhibits to visit the wine regions firsthand, there's a tourism information desk that provides advice, including itineraries, best methods of travel, places to visit, where to eat and information about specific wineries.
National Wine Centre of Australia
Hackney and Botanic roads
Adelaide, South Australia 5000
Tel: (011) 61-8-8222-9200
Fax: (011) 61-8-8222-9201
Exhibition hours: Monday to Friday, 9 a.m.—5:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.—5:30 p.m.