Blazing a trail through SA’s wine regions

By Lana Guineay

You can’t spell wintery without winery – as the cold weather hits, there’s no better time to explore South Australia’s world-renowned wine regions. Now, you don’t even need to worry about the designated driver thanks to Trailhopper, the only capital-city based hop on hop off wine tour company in Australia.

Departing the CBD and showcasing the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Hahndorf and the Adelaide Hills, the SA-first gives customers the chance to visit over 50 wineries, taking you straight to their doorstep.

Founders Kristian Phipps and Matthew Hodge

Founders Kristian Phipps and Matthew Hodge

Launched last year, Trailhopper is the brainchild of Matthew Hodge and Kristian Phipps, two entrepreneurs with a background in digital marketing and management.

The idea was first inspired a few years ago, says Matt. “My wife and I were wine tasting in Margaret River, and we argued about who had to drive that day! I just couldn’t believe there wasn’t some sort of bus service looping around the wineries and thought how easy and viable it would be.”

Fast forward a few years. Matt moved back to Adelaide to raise his family, and was looking for a new business opportunity. “It quickly became obvious how well suited three of SA’s wine regions were to this idea.”

“Given we’re one of the Great Wine Capitals of the World, it’s essential we make visiting the wine regions of SA accessible and affordable. We’re also proud to think we can stimulate economic growth in these regions by bringing the tourist dollars to the doorstep.”

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During the incubation phase, the Matt and Kristian tried their best to “poke holes” in the business model: “we just couldn’t break it!” says Matt. After initial interest from SA wineries and tourism, it was time to test out their first bus – an orange school bus in WA. “Cue outrageous cross-Nullabor trip!” laughs Matt.

The 21-seater SA buses have now hit the roads, with knowledgeable drivers behind the wheel. Guests can choose which wineries they visit, where they stay for lunch, and how long they spend at each, and even what tunes they listen to -exploring the regions their own way.

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The approach has been a drive-away success. Since launching in October 2016, TrailHopper now has a team of seven, operating two buses and running ten tours every week.

Matt says giving passengers the ability to tour their own way has been key. “Our hop on, hop off format makes for a much more personal experience than prescriptive traditional winery tours. We encourage each group on the bus to hop around independently from the others, so we’re able to offer all of the flexibility and fun you have driving yourselves, but without any of the risks of driving.”

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Matt says Adelaide is an ideal base for young entrepreneurs. What advice would he give to other young South Australian up and comers?

“Adelaide is a very entrepreneurial town, so you’ll find that many business owners and freelancers are very accommodating to work together. It’s cheaper than most other cities which makes it easier to get started. It’s also continuing to go through a period of cultural change right across the state, becoming cooler and a lot more fun, opening up opportunities for new businesses.”

Matt and Kristian are passionate about the state and investing in its future.

“We love contributing to this great state,” says Matt. “We see so much talent and energy in its arts and creative scenes, its entrepreneurism, and its genuine food and wine offerings. It’s exciting to be a part of it, and to help in some small way to make it grow.”

TrailHopper has partnered with Brand South Australia and The Adelaide Review to give one lucky winner a tour for four people, enter here.

This month’s Inside Industries stories made possible by sponsor Bendigo Bank

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