Simon Burley is one of our favourite South Australian guides who loves to take people behind the scenes to meet the makers by their craft. We spoke to him to find out what makes an experience with him so special.
Please explain a little bit about who you are and what you do.
I’m a South Australian local who has a long career working in gin, whisky, wine and tourism. It’s taken me from London to Inverness to Sydney and now back to my beloved state, a journey which has inspired a love of landscapes, nature and of course the tipples that go with each place I’ve worked.
My speciality is taking people truly behind the scenes to meet the company I keep, which are the characters of the wine & tourism industry across South Australia. It’s a diverse mix of people who are truly artisans of their craft – winemakers, grape growers, foodies, chefs, publicans, baristas, farmers and a whole lot more.
My experiences are for those who want to get off the tourist trail and meet the company we keep. It’s about moving away from the well-worn and heading off into the uncharted and not being frightened to mix it up with 4WD, E-Bike, helicopter or your own two feet!
What got you started in guiding and what do you find most interesting about it?
My interest in developing truly authentic, behind the scenes experiences was piqued when I started hosting guests into the Jacob’s Creek wineries and Chivas Brother’s whisky distilleries. We always strove to show our guests the personalities that would make each place tick. I loved meeting these people as well, and found there was so much to learn from great winemakers, long-standing distillers, coopers, grape growers and the like who understand their craft so well and often have decades of experience. This is when I started to realise the power of meeting the company I keep and getting them to impart their stories.
The other thing that has driven me on, is that it’s easy to claim behind the scenes but often hard to really deliver it. So I’m really focussed on delivering sublime experiences that are totally unexpected, like breaking open a glass of the finest Adelaide Hills sparkling at the lookout of a 600 million year old gorge to celebrate the occasion, or taking guests into the secret cellar at the Victory Hotel behind an old bookshelf, or walking in 100 year old grenache vines and then tasting the very wine that comes from that vineyard, or visiting an indigenous art gallery to paint with a renowned Kolkata artist.
How do you bring South Australia to life on your tours?
My clients are used to good accommodation, business class flights and conventional luxury etc etc so that’s not really a point of difference. But they don’t always get to meet authentic local characters and get unique, insightful experiences. So I just try and surprise them as much as possible. It’s not always easy as most of my clients are well travelled and have seen a lot. So you have to push the boundaries and think of places that stand out – like the 150 year old grandfather vines at Henschke – or people that are truly unique – like Toby & Emanuelle Bekkers who make wines out of both Australia and France!
Why do you think it’s important that people learn about South Australia’s quality produce?
It’s important for so many reasons. At a very simple level introducing people to the company I keep creates happiness and surprise – two very important things when you’re on holiday! It also shows people the effort that goes into making great food and wine, and the lengths that these artisans go to in order to deliver the highest quality produce. Finally it helps drive word of mouth and interest in the regions I visit, which in turn drives the tourism economy and make these producers profitable and sustainable.
If people wanted to find out more about South Australia are there any particular books, documentaries or websites you would recommend?
Southaustralia.com is a great website and terrific source of information. Otherwise the best way is to come out on tour and experience the best of coast, wine, food and nature for yourself!
One final thing… We are leading the revolution in electric bike wine touring. On our 250 watt high spec e-bikes you’ll cruise the Mclaren Vale wine region in style, travelling up to 25kmh and getting up close and personal to some of the best vineyards in the region. Some great examples of what you can expect along the famous McLaren Vale Shiraz Trail are a working winery tour at one of the venues, not normally available to the general public, but we have got it opened up by the owner and winemaker, who is also a friend. This lets e-bike guests learn about small batch winemaking. In another e-bike venue you’ll see historic ironstone cellars and taste the region’s most famous varietals. At one of the lunch venues on the Shiraz Trail guests get a lunch of local produce plus a tour of an indigenous art gallery. In another venue on the Shiraz Trail guests get their eyes, ears, fingers, nose and taste buds into top gear when a dedicated staff member takes them on a sensory journey of their wines. In another venue guests meet the Grilli family and their cellar door team to discover the Italian heritage of the region and try Mediterranean inspired wines. We are at the forefront of this technology and e-bike touring on the Shiraz Trail is one of the most affordable and easy ways to go behind the scenes of one of the most famous wine regions in Australia.
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