ON THE BANKS of the River Torrens in Adelaide, Australia has built a modern temple dedicated to wine. The A$120 million (HK$474 million) National Wine Centre is a blend of museum, restaurants, tasting rooms, exhibition halls and displays of the ancient art of winemaking. There are also lecture rooms and a small working vineyard. Since its opening last month, the centre has become an instant tourist attraction. One favoured exhibit is a computerised feature where visitors can match their wits and skills with the master winemakers of Australia and 'blend' virtual wines. Then they can go and taste a wide range of real wines at Kelly's Tasting Room, where hundreds of the nation's most famous vintages are on sale. 'It's a major achievement and something of which we are really proud,' says McLaren Vale Winemakers managing director David Dean. The centre's executive director, Anne Ruston, takes delight in showing visiting winemakers around the sophisticated facilities. A former civil servant with a background in tourism, she is well aware of the growing importance of wine in getting visitors to Australian shores. Adelaide is a logical location, she points out. South Australia produces 500,000 tonnes of grapes annually in its four top regions. The state presses half of Australia's grapes and makes 60 per cent of its quality wine. South Australian shiraz and cabernets are reckoned to be the best reds in the country, while its dominance of riesling has led to a revival of that grape. And South Australia takes enormous pride in a growing reputation as the state for fine food and wine. One feature of the centre is the de Castella's restaurant, overlooking the city's expansive Botanic Gardens. An imaginative menu of modern Australian cuisine, heavily influenced by Mediterranean and Asian trends, gives the opportunity to match food with vintages from all of Australia's 61 wine regions. A major objective of the centre was to be a focal point for marketing and promoting Australia's quality wine. It is also designed to be a lynchpin for the growing wine tourism industry that is largely focused on the gracious city of Adelaide and the wine regions that pepper the surrounding countryside - Coonawarra, Barossa, McLaren Vale, the Clare Valley and Adelaide Hills. 'People can visit the centre, see how the city fits in with the wine lands and then decide which areas to go and see,' says Ruston. 'This has already proved very popular with Asian visitors.' There's also a study and lecture option which has been attractive to Japanese visitors, with many spending extra time in the city to make room for it in their holiday schedules. The wine centre is the only one of its type in the world. Federal and state Governments paid A$100 million to build the structure and the wine industry contributed another A$20 million. Imaginatively designed, with spacious demonstration and lecture facilities, it's aimed at being a 'total wine experience', with 170 interactive sites where visitors can click and watch aspects of the history of wine. Those with a fascination for such history can listen to scores of interviews with the men and women who built the industry. Historian Rob Linn and a team of interviewers went across the nation collating an oral record from veteran vintners. They collected stories and legends that trace the evolution of wine from uncertain beginnings to its present economic importance; last year, Australia exported wines worth A$2.4 billion worldwide and now leads France in such markets as Hong Kong and Britain. The oral history includes interviews with names familiar on many labels, including Wolf Blass, Peter Lehman, Jo Zekulich, Corin Lamont, Tom Curlity, Bruce Tyrrell, Kevin Sobels, John Vickery, Ray Ward, Perc and Brian McGuigan, Jay Tulloch and Karl Stockhausen. The educational exhibitions are gripping. They are split into themes: Growing Grapes, Making Wine and Drinking Wine. In the Growing Grapes hall, a light-and-sound show vividly displays the weather over a 150-year-old shiraz Australian vine, while a panoramic video projection traces a year in the life of an Australian vineyard. Ancient Greek and Roman wine tools and traditions are also on display, including urns which are more than 2,000 years old. Every Australian wine region is shown on a suspended map, illustrating its location and unique climatic and geographic conditions, and interactive niches allow visitors to ask questions of some of Australia's best-known winemakers, who appear to be floating life-sized in front of them. The Making Wine hall echoes like a cathedral, with the sights and sounds of modern winemaking against a backdrop of a wall of wine barrels. There are panoramic videos featuring fruit growing and the excitement of harvest. A large area also contains modern equipment showing how red and white wines are created. Another interactive section is populated by visions of 'virtual personalities' including wine judges and chefs, who visitors can ask questions. The technology is as impressive as the wines on display. The Drinking Wine hall includes a transparent wall of wine glasses, as well as displays of bottles, corks and corkscrews. There's a mounted collection of year 2000 wine labels from many wineries. But the key to the hall is the pedestals which invite visitors to test their taste skills on four wine varieties. This leads to a tasting bar where visitors try to determine which of the four varieties they are drinking.