Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Seven Hills, St. Aloysius and the Madonna of the Vines ... tranquility in the Clare Valley

Seven Hills winery ... a touch of green in the autumn landscape...

...and of course, acres and acres of vines.

Incredible tranquility ... such a potential for peace and quiet

Genuine colonial buildings, dating from the 1850s...

...constantly renovated and kept in excellent repair.

The park-like grounds at Seven Hills take an enormous amount of work --

--and along with growing amazing vines, they grow phenomenal roses.

Into the cool and dim, where the wines are aged in enormous casks...

...and these casks alone are a piece of history. Next stop, the Seven Hills winery museum.

The cellar door: inside, it's dim, cool, and redolent of fine old wines.

A little Colonial and local history along with your wine...

It's astonishing, the work these folks did with hand tools and sheer brawn.

One wonders if we, today, could do the work with the original tools. Are we gadget-happy?

Autumn comes to Seven Hills, in the Clare Valley wine region.

In the distance, beyond the vines, you can glimpse what seems to be a shrine...

Get a little closer, and you find, it is indeed a shrine. In fact --

The Madonna of the Vines, crafted only in 1994, standing inside its own gateway:

...which one imagines would also have been crafted in 1994; the signs don't mention this.

A potted history, and -- test your "pig Latin on this one! Cover the translation, see how you go.

Having seen the Madonna and read the plaque, you're not surprised to catch sight of
the Jesuit Retreat, which has stood here as long as the winery. 

But here's the surprise: the Church of St. Aloysius, begun 150 years ago ... and it had to be
the biggest, most ambitious building project outside Adelaide at the time.

The sheer beauty of this church is remarkable. No matter your religion, you have to applaud loveliness.

You almost think you've stumbled into an English county ...
only the abundant Australian magpies and lorikeets tell you where you are.

The date there tells all. The building took decades to complete, and was finished
only in the early  years of the twentieth century.

At this point, I was wondering if one was allowed inside, and if cameras
would be banned, even if visitors were allowed...

First surprise: the church isn't kept locked. Next one: we didn't burst into flames right inside the door!

Greatest surprise: this is a building of surpassing beauty, crafted of pale, glowing stone...
and the whole place is infused with an vast feeling of utter, depthless peace. 

The plaque at the door refers to the new steps leading up to said door, not to the stairs inside...

One can imagine the view from the windows right at the top there, and --

...the crypt was also open, a haven of coolness on a too-hot day. These plaques are not just
memorials: the monks are actually interred here.

No church of this vintage and spirit would be complete without exquisite stained glass.

On the road again -- next stops, Burra and the copper mines.
Thursday morning dawned bright and warm -- you knew it was going to be hot by noon. We had breakfast in the Clare Valley Motel's own dining room (breakfast crostini for Dave, and the pancakes for Jade, with fantastic coffee), and then -- make a dash, before the day got any hotter.

The night before, we'd had the presence of mind to ask the motel's owner, Mr. Lee Stokes, if he could recommend any very, very good wineries in the region. The truth is, there are so many, a) you couldn't get around them all in a week, and b) if you tried to, they'd all blend into one another and be indistinguishable after the first few ... same thing happens if you try a "winery crawl" in the Barossa, or McLaren Vale, which is our local. So we had two extra-specially good destinations to head for, and the first of which had a great deal more than "just" the winery!

About ten minutes out of Clare itself is the Seven Hills Winery, where we tried some marvelous vintages and bought two, along with a couple of books and "Shiraz infused chocolate," plus general touristy trivia. The winery stands in the midst of park-like grounds with deciduous trees that were changing color with autumn. Deciduous trees were planted everywhere in the nineteenth century, when Europeans arrived in the colony; they're seldom planted now, and often uprooted, because they do drink a lot of water (of which we don't have a heck of a lot), and also, many contemporary Australians are on an ecological purity kick. If it ain't native Aussie, it don't got no right to be here. (For the record, we don't agree with that.) These park-like gardens must take an enormous amount of work ... and the ground at Seven Hills grows astonishing roses.

The winery itself has deep cellars that stay around 14 degrees Celsius, and a folk museum filled with the crude, clunky tools with which the original settlers at Seven Hills did their work, made their wine, and built the many structures, some of which still exist...

Across the vineyards, you can glimpse what seems to be a shrine, and if you get close up to it, you discover that it is indeed a shrine -- the Madonna of the Vines. Having seen this, you won't be surprised to find the Jesuit Retreat nearby, but the big surprise at Seven Hills (not the wine; you knew it wold be fine) is the Church of St. Aloysius. You could be forgiven for thinking you'd stumbled into an English county! It's a building of the most surpassing beauty, and inside, infused with a sense of utter peace. Dave knows next to nothing about churches, but Jade has been inside a few, and can tell you, she's never known one with this feeling of tranquility and sheer ... placid contentment.

[NOTE: the Madonna of the Vines shots were taken a couple of days later, when we returned to Seven Hills for an hour or two ... the weather had changed. It was cloudy, threatening rain, and much cooler. You can see the different day in the images -- but no, a flash storm didn't go racing through on Thursday!]

They don't lock the church; a sign on the door says words along the lines of "Please keep the door closed to keep birds out." Moreover, the crypt is also open ... cool, dim and quiet in the heat of the day, and lined with plaques that aren't memorials. The Jesuit monks were interred there over the space of a century or so. They didn't seem to mind Jade taking a flash shot; she did say "thank you" politely on the way out. (Dave was busy playing silly-buggers ... if you've seen his twitpic account, you know about all that! Sorry about the fuzziness of the shot; it was d-a-r-k in there, and the "dumb phone" struggled.) The monks didn't seem to mind. Perhaps they got a chuckle too.

The last image today is -- at risk of sounding like Bing Crosby and/or Bob Hope, "the road to Mintaro." It was time to git outta Dodge again. We had one more winery to visit, and then a couple of historic towns ahead of us, one of which was once the richest copper mine in the country, on the way to "World's End" (which is not a theme park, but a real place ... blisteringly hot and eerily silent).

Tomorrow: Burra and World's End!
UPDATE: I just chose the images to cover World's End and Burra in one post, and ... it's going to take about 60 shots to do justice to both, so the only solution is to do this in two posts. Trying to be chronoligical here, I'll do Clare-to-Burra first, then Burra-to-World's-End the following day.  

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