When pioneer and explorer, John Horrocks, led an expedition into the Flinders Ranges it was beset by illness and injuries. Having run short of provisions, his team survived by making a skillogalee – a thin porridge thought to have been made from grass seeds and water. John gave the creek the name Skillogalee in memory of his survival. More than a century later, in the 1960s, Spencer George named his winery after the creek that starts on the property.
These days Skillogalee is owned and operated by Dave and Diana Palmer, who purchased the property in 1989. Dave carved out a career as a management consultant in the UK before immigrating to Canberra via Papua New Guinea. When Skillogalee was put on the market, the husband and wife duo made the life-changing decision to move their young family to the Clare Valley, despite neither of them possessing any type of winemaking knowledge. 26 years later, Dave claims he is still learning!
In 2004 the couple built the winery equipment on-site, designing it to suit the vineyard size and style of winemaking important to the Palmers. It uses gravity wherever possible and is designed to take small parcels of fruit, letting the team treat each block of fruit as an individual wine right up until it is blended for bottling.
Within the Clare region, the Skillogalee Valley represents a separate viticultural sub region, distinct from the main valley and the Polish Hill River Valley further east. Rainfall tends to be a little higher than other parts of the Clare Valley and the vines are generally contour planted. The altitude (450-500m) plus the eastern aspect gives a relatively slow ripening, meaning the harvest is often two to three weeks later than some other parts of the Clare Valley.
Skillogalee produces riesling, gewürztraminer, chardonnay, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, grenache and muscat varieties, all grown as sustainably as possible. The vineyard is un-irrigated, all organic waste is recycled and all fruit is processed in the purpose-built on-site winery. The aim is to produce authentic wines with minimal intervention, retaining the integrity of the fruit.
The Skillogalee Clare Valley Riesling is the winery’s flagship drop. The 2014 vintage was marked by early spells of intense heat followed by two heavy rains, allowing the riesling vines to become refreshed – resulting in perfectly ripened fruit with excellent levels of natural acidity. Straw like in appearance, the nose has a big lift of Bergamont orange with white peach, freshly picked lemongrass, green papaya and a hint of juniper. The palate is finely structured with intense and pure citrus fruit comprising of tangelo, clementine and desert lime, with passionfruit highlights. The wine has impressive length and a natural acid backbone, with a mouth-wateringly dry finish.
Drop by to sample the tipple at Skillogalee’s Cellar Door, also home to the first winery-restaurant established in the Clare Valley. Boasting picturesque views from seating on the cottage verandah, under the famous, old olive tree, the building itself is 160 years old and full to the brim with character. In the cooler months sit inside by the open fire.
Located in the same cottage building, guests can participate in a tasting while waiting for the kitchen to prepare their meals. Gather around the rustic kitchen table in front of the open fire to learn all about Skillogalee’s remarkable vineyard.
Return to the dining rooms or verandah to sample Head Chef, Nicola Palmer’s culinary creations. Following the produce-to-platter philosophy, the kitchen team sources ingredients as locally as possible, but ultimately prioritising quality over locality. If it can’t be found in the Clare Valley, they work their way out until they find the very best product. Seasonal produce comes from the property, meats from local butchers and cheeses from around the state.
The seasonal menu places emphasis on interesting dishes from around the world and includes a wine pairing suggestion for each plate. Start with the tartare of local eye fillet with a glass of the Take Two Shiraz Cabernet; or the woodside goat’s cheese medallion, wrapped in prosciutto, topped with poppy and sesame seeds and served with rye toast and a balsamic glaze matched with the Clare Valley Riesling.
Pair your confit of duck leg with celeriac salad, roasted baby carrots, broccolini and madeira glaze with the Malbec Cabernet Rose or try the middle eastern Atlantic salmon, baked with yoghurt and walnuts, perfectly accompanied by the Skillogalee Gewürztraminer.
With so much on offer in the one place you might want to stay a night or two, and we wouldn’t blame you. Skillogalee has a selection of well-appointed, self-catering accommodation options that make the perfect base from which to explore.