Ade­laide Hills: what’s hot?

It’s an idyl­lic cor­ner of South Aus­tralia that al­ready boasts an es­tab­lished rep­u­ta­tion for cooler-cli­mate wine styles. But, re­ports Huon Hooke, chang­ing con­di­tions are al­low­ing pro­duc­ers to de­velop a raft of in­trigu­ing and char­ac­ter­ful new of­fer­ings

Decanter - - CONTENTS - Huon Hooke is an awarded jour­nal­ist and wine writer. He is DWWA Re­gional co- Chair for Aus­tralia

Huon Hooke un­cov­ers the lat­est trends in this beau­ti­ful cool-cli­mate Aus­tralian re­gion

THE MOD­ERN ADE­LAIDE Hills wine in­dus­try be­gan in 1976 when Brian Croser planted Pe­taluma’s first vines in the Pic­cadilly Val­ley, where he still lives and makes wine un­der the Ta­panappa brand. For a re­gion which is re­ally only 40 years old, the Hills has caught up quickly. Now con­sid­ered one of Aus­tralia’s high­est qual­ity wine re­gions, it’s a beau­ti­ful place to visit – richly sup­plied with qual­ity restau­rants, leisure ac­tiv­i­ties and pic­turesque vil­lages, and just a half-hour drive from Ade­laide’s cen­tre. In the high­est, coolest places it re­sem­bles a snatch of hilly English coun­try­side, green all year round with

‘For a re­gion which is re­ally only 40 years old, the Hills has caught up quickly’

grand English trees and lush gar­dens and hedges. In the lower, warmer parts it is much more Aus­tralian, with scrubby land sup­port­ing sparser eu­ca­lypts and ca­suar­i­nas.

But it’s the wine not the scenery that in­creas­ingly draws vis­i­tors here, the Hills spe­cial­is­ing in the grape va­ri­eties and wine styles that to­day’s wine drinkers crave. With a min­i­mum al­ti­tude of 300m, peak­ing at about 500m, it is much cooler and wet­ter than the long-stand­ing re­gions to its north and south, such as the Barossa Val­ley and McLaren Vale.

The cooler con­di­tions mean later har­vest dates and more del­i­cate wine styles, suit­ing cool-cli­mate grapes such as Chardon­nay and Pinot Noir (for both ta­ble wines and sparkling wines), Sau­vi­gnon Blanc, Ries­ling, Gruner Velt­liner and a style of Shi­raz which is lighter­bod­ied and more spicy than, say, the Barossa. As global warm­ing kicks in, Shi­raz – as well as Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon, Mer­lot, Neb­bi­olo and Tem­pranillo – can more con­sis­tently at­tain full ripeness here.

The high­est and cold­est parts of the re­gion, such as the Pic­cadilly Val­ley, Ash­ton, Carey Gully, Lenswood and Lo­bethal, yield the most del­i­cate, in­tense Chardon­nay and Pinot Noir. Mean­while the lower and warmer parts such as Mac­cles­field and Kers­brook can de­liver quite full-bod­ied reds.

Tra­di­tional-method fizz

There are es­ti­mated to be 25-30 pro­duc­ers mak­ing a tra­di­tional-method sparkling wine in the Hills to­day, a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease: the Ade­laide Hills Wine Show had 45 sparkling en­tries in 2017, up from 25 in 2011 and just two in 2005. In 2018 the show will have two sparkling classes for the first time.

These fig­ures re­flect the wide­spread ex­cite­ment about Hills bub­bly. Kate Lau­rie of De­vi­a­tion Road says de­mand for sparkling rosé is es­pe­cially brisk. She cur­rently sells just 2,500 cases a year across four la­bels, but is presently in­creas­ing her tirage stock.

Lau­rie’s diminu­tive op­er­a­tion is dwarfed by the big­gie, Pe­taluma, which pro­duces 70,000 cases a year of its bread-and-but­ter Croser NV. Its sales were grow­ing at 10% a year un­til they were forced to cap pro­duc­tion to en­sure fruit qual­ity and time on lees.

With the fo­cus for high-level bub­bly hav­ing shifted to Tas­ma­nia in re­cent years, the Hills has found a niche for it­self as one of very few main­land places which can pro­duce sparkling wine with fi­nesse. The Hills pro­duces less than 5% of all Aus­tralian sparkling wine (across all meth­ods), but is an im­por­tant con­trib­u­tor at the high-qual­ity end.

Xavier Bi­zot is a mem­ber of the fam­ily that owns Bollinger. To­gether with his wife, Lucy Croser, he runs Terre à Terre, pro­duc­ing Daosa sparkling wines. He says: ‘Ade­laide Hills is one of the very few wine re­gions in Aus­tralia blessed with mi­cro­cli­mates ide­ally suited for the pro­duc­tion of qual­ity sparkling wines – made, of course, fol­low­ing the tra­di­tional method.’ Fizz biz was be­gun in 1976 when

Brian Croser es­tab­lished Pe­taluma, iden­ti­fy­ing the Hills – and specif­i­cally the high­est, cold­est and wettest parts – as be­ing suit­able for Chardon­nay and Pinot Noir sparkling wine. He per­suaded Cham­pagne Bollinger to be­come in­volved, and ren­o­vated the Bridge­wa­ter Mill as a ded­i­cated sparkling wine mat­u­ra­tion and dis­gorg­ing fa­cil­ity, the first Bridge­wa­ter Brut be­ing re­leased in 1986. Time on lees varies from short pe­ri­ods (six to 12 months for Croser NV) to five or six years for the older vin­tage re­leases. The old­est is Pe­taluma’s Croser Late Dis­gorged, which re­ceives 13 years – the cur­rent re­lease is 2004.

Names to kNow: ash­ton Hills, Bird in Hand, Daosa, De­vi­a­tion Road, Pe­taluma’s Croser, side­wood, the Lane.

Gruner Velt­liner

The Ade­laide Hills is the Gruner cap­i­tal of Aus­tralia, with 26 pro­duc­ers. It’s all hap­pened in a flash: the first vines were planted in 2008 and the first wine was Hah­n­dorf Hill Win­ery’s 2010. There are now at least 17ha of vines spread through­out the re­gion.

The best wines com­pare well with the drier styles from Aus­tria. They’re not com­plex, but ap­petis­ing and fresh, suit­ing a wide range of foods. In a tast­ing of Gruners from six nonAus­trian coun­tries by an Aus­trian mag­a­zine, two Ade­laide Hills wines fin­ished in the top five: Hah­n­dorf Hill’s 2012 in first place and Ge­off Hardy’s K1 2012 in fourth. This gave their con­fi­dence a big boost. Co­op­er­a­tion is a crit­i­cal part of the suc­cess for­mula. The vignerons talk to each other and ex­change ideas and ex­pe­ri­ences, and have es­tab­lished the Gruner Grow­ers Group.

‘On an ex­ploratory trip to Lower Aus­tria, we met with many of the lo­cal pro­duc­ers,’ ex­plains Hah­n­dorf Hill’s Larry Ja­cobs. ‘Each time, I made a point of ask­ing them what the re­quired in­gre­di­ents were for pro­duc­ing a top-qual­ity Gruner. In­vari­ably the an­swer was that one needed the mag­i­cal com­bi­na­tion of warm to hot days and cool nights [ie, a sig­nif­i­cant di­ur­nal vari­a­tion dur­ing the crit­i­cal grow­ing/ripen­ing months].

‘That ex­cited me, be­cause Ade­laide Hills has this in spades... We’re cool cli­mate not be­cause we have par­tic­u­larly cool days in sum­mer, but be­cause of our cold nights. Plus our soil pro­files are re­mark­ably sim­i­lar.’ Ja­cobs says Ade­laide Hills has by far the big­gest area of Gruner of any Aus­tralian re­gion; in­deed, its hec­tarage is greater than the rest of the coun­try com­bined. Pep­per, le­mon, al­mond and to­bacco aro­mas are typ­i­cal of the wines.

Names to kNow: artwine, Bird in Hand, Catlin, CRFt wines, De­vi­a­tion Road, Ge­off Hardy, Hah­n­dorf Hill, Longview, Ne­penthe, the Pawn.

‘Ade­laide Hills has by far the big­gest area of Gruner of any Aus­tralian re­gion’


Grown through­out the Hills, the finest, most com­plex and most age­wor­thy Chardon­nays come from the coolest, high­est places. These in­clude Ash­ton, Lenswood, Lo­bethal, Pic­cadilly, Sum­mer­town and Uraidla.

Many of the ear­li­est vine­yards in these ar­eas were planted un­der the aegis of Pe­taluma, with grapes be­ing used for both ta­ble and sparkling wine. Founder Brian Croser kept the jewel in the crown, the Tiers Vine­yard, when he ex­ited Pe­taluma and es­tab­lished Ta­panappa.

He now makes three Pic­cadilly Val­ley Chardon­nays, two of which are sourced en­tirely from the Tiers Vine­yard, the new ad­di­tion be­ing a wine made from vines close-planted at 1.5m apart in an en­tirely re­planted sec­tion of the vine­yard. The Ta­panappa Tiers Vine­yard 2016 was joint win­ner of the Chardon­nay Best in Show award at the 2018 De­can­ter World Wine Awards.

Shaw & Smith pur­chased an es­tab­lished Lenswood vine­yard in 2012 – which at 500m al­ti­tude for­merly sup­plied sparkling wine grapes – and mod­i­fied the viti­cul­ture for ta­ble wine. Lenswood Vine­yard Chardon­nay (first vin­tage 2014) was an in­stant suc­cess.

Side­wood pro­duces two ex­cel­lent Chardon­nays from its Oak­bank vine­yard: Map­pinga and the Sig­na­ture Col­lec­tion Owen’s. The Map­pinga 2016 has to date won nine gold medals, mainly at in­ter­na­tional wine com­pe­ti­tions, and three Aus­tralian cap­i­tal city shows. It is a mod­ern Ade­laide Hills Chardon­nay with a very mod­est 12.2% al­co­hol – in the re­cent past 14%-14.5% was more usual for Aus­tralian Chardon­nays.

The cur­rent trend in the Hills, as else­where in Aus­tralia, is for cooler vine­yard sites, pro­duc­ing grapes with tremen­dous flavour at lower su­gar lev­els. The wines con­se­quently have less al­co­hol and good nat­u­ral acid­ity, which is of­ten re­in­forced by block­ing the mal­o­lac­tic. These fea­tures are neatly cou­pled with less oak in­flu­ence, the re­sult of us­ing fewer new bar­rels and an in­creas­ing

pref­er­ence for us­ing larger bar­rels – com­monly pun­cheons in­stead of bar­riques. The Hills is epe­cially well suited to this re­fresh­ing Chardon­nay style.

Names to kNow: Bird in Hand, Ge­off weaver, michael Hall, mur­doch Hill, Pe­taluma, Pike & Joyce, shaw & smith, side­wood, ta­panappa, the Lane. A num­ber of pro­duc­ers lo­cated out­side the re­gion source grapes from the Hills and make su­perb Chardon­nay. Key among them: Gros­set, Hen­schke, Mr Riggs, Pen­folds, This­tle­down, Wirra Wirra, Wolf Blass and Yalumba.


Aus­tralia of­fers a wider range of Shi­raz styles than any other coun­try. The sig­na­ture full-bod­ied style from tra­di­tional re­gions such as the Barossa and Hunter Val­leys and McLaren Vale has been aug­mented since the turn of the cen­tury by lighter-weight, finer­boned, spicier ren­di­tions from cooler re­gions.

The Hills is one of these re­gions. The warmer, lower-al­ti­tude sec­tions such as Bal­han­nah (such as Shaw & Smith) and Mac­cles­field (such as Longview) are ideal for grow­ing wines that com­bine the highly de­sir­able spicy, some­times slightly pep­pery aro­mas and flavours with sat­is­fy­ing rich­ness, body weight and tan­nin struc­ture. These are some­times la­belled as ‘Syrah’ to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them from the afore­men­tioned heftier styles.

Hand in hand with the rise of Ade­laide Hills Shi­raz/Syrah is the na­tion­wide trend to­wards lower al­co­hol and con­comi­tant higher nat­u­ral acid­ity, less ten­dency to add tan­nin, and more sub­tle use of oak. In other words, more nat­u­ral wines. Whereas in the dis­tant past it may have been dif­fi­cult to ripen Shi­raz ad­e­quately ev­ery year in some sites, those same sites are now yield­ing de­li­ciously lush, ripe, medium- to full-bod­ied Shi­raz with per­son­al­ity.

It is telling that Shaw & Smith has re­placed Pinot Noir vines from around its win­ery at Bal­han­nah with Shi­raz, the re­sul­tant wine now a sin­gle-vine­yard bot­tling and one of its best and high­est-priced of­fer­ings.

Stephen Pan­nell’s SC Pan­nell Ade­laide Hills Syrah (from an Echunga vine­yard at 410m) won him the coun­try’s most lauded wine show tro­phy, the Jimmy Watson, in 2014. The granitic soils in this lo­cal­ity also help, Shi­raz hav­ing a well-known affin­ity for gran­ite. The 2016 vin­tage of this wine is a har­bin­ger: it in­cluded 30% whole bunches in the fer­men­ta­tion, and the wine was mostly ma­tured in large, old French oak vats – not spank­ing new bar­riques, as might have been the norm in by­gone years. These mod­ern Ade­laide Hills Shi­razes al­low the grape and site to speak more clearly through the wine.

Names to kNow: Bird in Hand, Ge­off Hardy, Longview, mur­doch Hill, Pe­taluma, Ri­poste, sC Pan­nell, shaw & smith, side­wood, the Lane.

Nat­u­ral wines in the Bas­ket Range

So-called nat­u­ral wine is a sig­nif­i­cant trend in Aus­tralia, and the Ade­laide Hills has its own pocket of wine­mak­ers, some trained, some not, pur­su­ing this pas­sion: to make wine from sus­tain­ably grown vines, vini­fied with­out in­ter­ven­tion, save for a min­i­mal dose of sul­phur diox­ide – and some not even that. The back-lane wine bars of Syd­ney and Mel­bourne, with wine lists di­rected by bearded, tat­tooed or body-pierced som­me­liers, pro­mote these wines with fer­vour. They may be pro­duced in tiny vol­umes and their sales may be mi­nor eco­nom­i­cally, but cul­tur­ally they are one of the big­gest trends so far this cen­tury, and they ap­peal to the youngest wine drinkers. The best of them are very good, the worst of them se­ri­ously faulty and un­ap­peal­ing.

A com­mu­nity of like-minded al­ter­na­tive wine­mak­ers has gath­ered in a tiny en­clave of Ade­laide HIlls called the Bas­ket Range. They buy most of their grapes from other grow­ers, as they have few vines of their own. These are gen­er­ally not wealthy peo­ple: their wealth is in their pas­sion and their com­mit­ment to the en­vi­ron­ment and to sus­tain­abil­ity.

Some are highly trained: Taras Ochota (Ochota Bar­rels) and An­ton Van Klop­per (Lucy Mar­gaux) are univer­sity ed­u­cated in wine; Alex Schulkin (The Other Right) is a sci­en­tist at the Aus­tralian Wine Re­search In­sti­tute. Gareth Bel­ton (Gen­tle Folk) and James Ersk­ine ( Jauma) have also achieved aca­dem­i­cally. Their wines are sold very young be­cause they can’t af­ford to age them – but they’re de­signed to be de­li­cious young. They are mostly pro­duced in tiny vol­umes and are not widely distributed. You need to seek them out.

Names to kNow: Bk wines, Com­mune of But­tons, Gen­tle Folk, Jauma, Lucy mar­gaux, ochota Bar­rels.

Above: Pe­taluma’s vine­yard in the Pic­cadilly Val­ley

Be­low: Xavier Bi­zot, owner of Terre à Terre

Above: Hah­n­dorf Hill Win­ery is owned by Larry Ja­cobs

Left: the white wine cel­lar at Shaw & Smith

Left: Side­wood’s Map­pinga Chardon­nay 2016 has scooped an im­pres­sive nine gold medals

Be­low: Stephen Pan­nell with his wife Fiona

Be­low: Bas­ket Range pro­duc­ers in­clud­ing Bren­don Keys of BK Wines (sec­ond left), Taras Ochota (third left), James Ersk­ine (third right) and An­ton Van Klop­per (sec­ond right) with col­leagues

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