Touring the Vines Tasting the Wines
A comprehensive feature on Australian vineyards and wine growing regions. Part 1
Australia is now the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine, accounting for 5.8% of international wine exports in 2017.
There are approximately 2,470 wineries and 6,250 grape growers in 65 wine-growing regions across Australia. They employ 173,000 full and part-time employees and
contribute over $40 billion annually to the Australian economy.
The vineyards cover 135,000 hectares, with shiraz accounting for 39,893ha (30%) and chardonnay the largest white variety with 21,442ha (16%).
The total wine grape crush in 2017 was 1.98 million tonnes, of which South Australian regions accounted for 984,000 tonnes (51%).
Each of Australia’s main wine growing regions boasts a well developed ‘touring and tasting’ industry, catering to daily, weekend and longer term visitors with both
professional tour offerings and endless individual traveller ‘cellar door’ choices.
The South Australian wine industry boasts a vast diversity in geography and climate, producing a wide range of grape varieties – from cool climate Rieslings in the Clare Valley to the full bodied Shiraz wines of the Barossa Valley – resulting in some of Australia’s best-known wines, such as Penfolds Grange, Jacob’s Creek, Yalumba and Henschke Hill Of Grace.
In 1836 a settler named John Barton Hack planted grape vines in North Adelaide’s Chichester Gardens. Following the city’s rapid urban development, Hack’s vines were replanted in a new vineyard at Echunga Springs near Mount Barker and in 1843 he sent a case of wine made from the vineyard back to England to be presented to Queen Victoria.
In 1844 Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold began his medical practice at ‘The Grange’ in the Adelaide suburb of Magill, and planted vine cuttings he had brought from southern France.
The National Wine Centre of Australia, a public exhibition about the wine-making industry, opened in 2001 at the eastern end of Adelaide’s North Terrace, in the parklands adjacent to the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. The exterior of the building looks like a section of a wine barrel.
It contains an interactive permanent exhibition of wine- making, introducing visitors to the technology, varieties and styles of wine. It also has a wine tasting area, giving visitors the opportunity to taste and compare wines from different areas of Australia.
A 50-minute drive and 60km north- east of central Adelaide, the Barossa Valley (formed by the North Para River) is an internationally-acclaimed wine region encompassing the towns of Tanunda, Angaston and Nuriootpa. It offers over 80 ‘cellar doors’ and tastings for some of the most awarded wines in the world.
The valley derives its title from the Barossa Range, named by Colonel William Light (first Surveyor-General of the colony of South Australia) in 1837 in memory of the British victory over the French in the Battle of Barrosa, in which he fought in 1811. The name ‘Barossa’ was registered in error, due to a clerical error in transcribing the name Barrosa.
The three major towns of the valley have distinctive personalities, derived from the history. Tanunda has long-standing German traditions dating back to the 1840s, when many of the first settlers in the area came from Prussian Silesia and called the Barossa ‘Neu-Schlesien (or New Silesia). In contrast, Angaston was settled predominantly by Cornish miners and others from Britain. In the middle, the largest town Nuriootpa was influenced
by both the German and British settlers, and today is the commercial hub of the Barossa.
Today the Barossa (an area approximately 13km by 14km) is especially known for its Shiraz production, enhanced by its hot and dry climate.
There are over 130 wineries in the region.
The neighbouring Eden Valley, at an elevation of 460m, has a slightly colder, wetter climate is home to the renowned Hill of Grace vineyard with its 140+ year old Shiraz vines that are behind the Henschke Hill of Grace wine.
It was named by the area’s first surveyors after they found the word ‘Eden’ carved into a tree. Surrounded by rolling hills and stands of ancient red gums, Eden Valley is known as the ‘Garden of Grapes and Gums’.
Englishman Joseph Gilbert planted the first Eden Valley vineyard Pewsey Vale in 1847, and today there are over 20 wineries in the region.
The Langhorne Creek wine region sits 70km south-east of Adelaide on the Fleurier Peninsula, along the Bremer River between Adelaide Hills and Lake Alexandrina and there are a dozen plus wineries.
Langhorne Creek has a wine history dating back to 1850; it is traditionally a red wine district, well known for production of outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon nd Shiraz.
Orlando Wines sources many of the grapes for its famous Jacob’s Creek brand from this area, which has also developed a reputation for its dessert wines.
The town of McLaren Vale, 40km south of Adelaide, was formed in 1923 from a merging of the two original villages of Gloucester and Bellevue, which were established in the 1840s by British and Irish pioneers.
The wider McLaren Vale wine region which surrounds the town offers around 75 cellar doors and over 160 vineyards centred around five main areas: Old Reynella, McLaren Vale, McLaren Flat, Willunga and Andinga.
Located east of Adelaide and 14km from South Australia’s Gulf St Vincent coast, the 60 cellar doors and vineyards of the Adelaide Hills are scattered throughout the 70km length of this varied landscape, nestled among rolling hills, apple and cherry orchards.
Tourists to the area delight in handmade cheeses, cured meats, organic fruit, vegetables and chocolate at weekend farmers’ markets.
The area’s celebrated Magill vineyards (located on the edge of the foothills) are where ‘The Grange’ pioneered by Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold and ‘Auldana’ pioneered by W.P.Auld once provided the grapes for the production of Penfolds’ Grange.
The Clare Valley, 100km north of Adelaide, is formed by the Hutt River and is South Australia’s most northerly major wine district.
The original inhabitants were the Ngadiuri people, who had major camping sites at Clare and Auburn. The first European to explore the Clare Valley was John Hill in April 1839, discovering and naming the Hutt River (its nearby twin the Hill River was later discovered and named in his honour).
Hill reported his findings of potentially good farmland to his friend and noted explorer Edward John Eyre, who later examined the Clare Valley on the return journey from his second 1839 expedition to the northern regions of South Australia. By 1840 Edward Burton Gleeson had set up the ‘Inchiquin’ pastoral run which was later developed into the town of Clare, and in 1848 the Jesuits settled into the place which would become the town of Sevenhill. Vineyards were planted alongside those first villages and wine-making has continued ever since.
Today the valley is traversed by the Horrocks Highway, with five- star cellar doors scattered among the region’s main townships
of Clare, Sevenhill, Watervale, Mintaro, Auburn and Polish Hill River and there are over 50 wineries in the region.
Coonawarra is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘Honeysuckle’.
The Coonawarra wine growing region, in the picturesque Limestone Coast zone 330km south-east of Adelaide, is centred on the strip of land adjoining
both sides of the Riddoch Highway, manly north the town of Penola, and there are 40 wineries in the region.
It is particularly known for the Cabernet Sauvignon grown in its terra rossa soil and the historic Wynn’s Coonawarra Winery in Memorial Drive is listed on the South Australian Heritage Register.
The first grape vines were planted by John Riddoch at Yallum in 1890. However only the Redman family of Rouge Homme continued to produce table wine during this period, with Shiraz the main grape variety grown.
Fortunes changed when Samuel Wynn recognised the potential of the strip of terra rossa soil and bought the original Riddoch cellars in 1951. Led by Wynns and Penfolds, Coonawarra played a leading role in the transformation of the Australianj wine industry as it changed from making fortified wines to conventional table wines.
A little north of, and slightly warmer than, Coonawarra is the Padthaway wine region, 62km long and 8km wide with the Riddoch Highway running through the middle.
Padthaway (derived from ‘Potawurutj’, the Aboriginal name for ‘Good Water’) was the name of the original pastoral station established in 1847 by a successful Scottish businessman Robert Lawson. In 1882 the Padthaway Estate Homestead was built by Eliza and Robert Lawson, and the historic Padthaway Estate complex is listed on the South Australian Heritage Register.
In 1952 Padthaway became the centre of a soldier settlement scheme. The first vineyards were planted here in 1964 and quickly transformed marginal grazing land into a top wine- producing region, becoming home to several large commercial vineyards: the oldest was established by Seppelts in 1964, followed later that decade by Lindeman’s, Hardys and Wynns.
Today Padthaway usually has only one cellar door at Henry’s Drive operating, with many of the other wines produced in the area available for tasting
Henry’s Drive is situated 3km south of Padthaway, off the Riddoch Highway on the range overlooking the vineyards. It is open daily from 10am-4pm, with morning, lunch and afternoon tea also available throughout the day.
Although the Swan Valley, established in 1829 by English Botanist Thomas Waters, is the historical centre for wine production in Western Australia, it is also one of the hottest viticultural regions in the world.
Hence the state’s more significant wine districts are mostly confined to the cooler south-west climate, around Margaret River and in the Great Southern region (with its five sub-regions: the Porongurups, Mount Barker, Albany, Denmark and Frankland River).
Although the state produces less than 5% of the nation’s wine output, much of its quality rates near the top.
The Swan Valley is a region in the upper reaches of the Swan River between Guildford and Bells Rapids, bordered to the east by the Darling Scarp. Both Ellenbrook and Jane
Brook lie within the region and discharge into the Swan River.
The region was explored in 1827 by Captain James Stirling (later to become Governor of the Swan River Colony). He was so impressed with the area that he wrote in his diary ‘the richness of the soil, the bright foliage of the shrubs, the majesty of the surrounding trees, the abrupt and red colour banks of the river occasionally seen, and the view of the blue mountains, from which we were not far distant, made the scenery of this spot as beautiful as anything of the kind I have ever witnessed’.
When Stirling returned to establish the colony in 1829, he created three settlements: Fremantle as the port; Perth as the major commercial and political centre; and Guildford on the southern end of the Swan Valley region.
The Swan Valley is noted for its fertile soil, uncommon in the Perth region, and recent expansion of tourism-based destinations. These include major wineries such as
the huge complex at Houghton (the state’s biggest producer) and Sandalford, as well as many small family-owned concerns. There are also several micro-breweries and rum distilleries.
The Swan Valley is served by many roadside local-produce stalls selling seasonal produce throughout the year. Grapes, melons, asparagus, stone fruits, citrus and strawberries are grown and sold in the Swan Valley.
In recent years, apart from its 25 wineries, the Swan Valley has also attracted a strong food element in the form of a chocolate factory, coffee roasters, several beekeepers, a lavender farm, olive groves, a goat farm, cheese farms, dried-fruit producers and many restaurants and cafes.
Grape harvest in the Swan district usually begins in January, with the main varieties Verdelho, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.
Margaret River is a small town 280km south-west of Perth, known for its craft breweries, boutiques and surrounding wineries.
Magnificent beaches and surf breaks line the nearby coast, whose waters host migratory whales from June-November. Stretching between two lighthouses north and south of the town, the Cape-to- Cape Track (a popular long-distance walk) crosses the limestone caves and sea cliffs of Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.
The region receives its temperate climate from the cooling influence of the southern Indian Ocean. Predominant grape varieties cultivated include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, and there are 200+ grape growers and wine producers.
Great Southern is Australia’s largest wine region by area, covering 200km from east to west and over 100km from north to south and containing 30 wineries.
This diverse region (based around the Porongurups, Mount Barker, Albany, Denmark and Frankland River) is known for Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Malbec.
In1859 original settler George Egerton-Warburton planted vines on his St Werburgh’s property near Mount Barker and bottled his first vintage two years later.
The first commercial foundations were laid in the late 1930s by horticulturalist Bill Jamieson, whose knowledge of the area’s soils and climate was augmented by the research of US Professor Harold Olmo in 1955 during a government-sponsored trip to Western Australia. Olmo spent eight months at the invitation of
the Western Australian Vine Fruits Research Trust, while on leave from his post as Professor of Viticulture at the University of California.
He published his report in 1956, recommending the Mount Barker and Frankland regions showed great promise for making table wines in the light traditional European style. In 1963 this was supported by agricultural and viticultural scientist Dr John Gladstones and endorsed by the Western Australian Grape Industry Committee in 1964.
A year later, Jamieson and Houghton’s celebrated winemaker Jack Mann went to Mount Barker and the first experimental cuttings were planted in 1965 at Forest Hill. AMP
DID YOU KNOW?
In 1788, South African vine cuttings from the Cape Of Good Hope were brought to the NSW penal colony by Governor Arthur Phillip on the First Fleet.
In 1822, pioneer explorer and farmer Gregory Blaxland (famous for leading the first successful crossing of the Blue Mountains by European settlers) became the first person to export Australian wine.
In 1830, vineyards were established in the Hunter Valley.
In 1833, James Busby (regarded as the ‘father of the Australian wine industry’) returned from France and Spain with a serious selection of grape varieties including most classic French grapes.
In 1842, winemakers from Switzerland helped establish the Geelong wine region in Victoria.
By the 1950s, Prussian immigrants were important in establishing South Australia’s Barossa Valley wine industry.
At the 1873 Vienna Exhibition the French judges, tasting blind, praised some wines from Victoria, but withdrew in protest when the provenance of the wine was revealed, on the grounds that ‘wines of that quality must clearly be French’.