Wine Regions of South Australia
During the mid 1800’s, a number of settlers moved to South Australia from Germany. They soon recognized that many regions within the state were ideal for viticulture and thus began to apply their vast knowledge on the subject. From these early beginnings over 150 years ago, wine growing in South Australia has evolved into a world class industry.
There are four main wine regions in the State of South Australia, all near to our home in Kadina. The nearest region, the Clare Valley, is approximately a 45 minute drive due east. The next is the Barossa Valley which at about one and a half hours of leisure driving through rolling hills and small towns. Further south is McLaren Vale which is probably a two hour drive and finally way down in the southern part of the state is the Coonawarra. No doubt the next time you go to the liquor store to buy a bottle of South Australian red or white, you can be assured that it likely came from one of these world class wine growing regions.
In addition to the aforementioned, there are other areas which, although not truly internationally recognized yet, are starting to produce some nice wines. Blended somewhere between the Clare, Barossa and McLaren Vale Regions is the Adelaide Hills area. Other locales further afield include the Fleurieu Peninsula, Mt Gambier and Murray River lands.
South Australian wines provide more than one half of all Australian wines exported aboard. The wine regions’ Mediterranean climate and associated variety of soil types produce a wide range of grapes. For example, the cooler climate of the Clare Valley is ideal for producing the Riesling grape whereas the sandy, clay loam soils of the Barossa Valley produce big, full bodied Shiraz wines – Gail’s favourite!
As a broad generalization, Claire Valley wineries are known for their white wines and in particular the Riesling grape. The wineries in the valley are small and boutique. In 2006, the Kilkanoon winery was acknowledged at the International Wine and Spirits Competition for producing the best Riesling in the world. On the “Red” side of the equation, local Cabernet Sauvignon’s and Shiraz’s have also received international recognition.
We are planning a weekend at Clare this September as the Valley lays claim to the “Riesling Trail” which is a 35 kilometre bike or hike trail through numerous vineyards with numerous “pit stops” at adjacent cellar doors. As you have probably surmised, the objective is to cycle or walk the trail making periodic stops to sample wines at the cellar doors. Coupled with the cellar doors are eclectic cafes and restaurants. Needless to say, as we wine and dine along the Riesling Trail, we will be thankful to either be hiking or biking or wobbling. The manual energy expended on the trail should also allow us to work off some of those calories.
One of the things that we have learned is that, on average, our South Australian friends are much more knowledgeable about wines than our Canadian friends. We think that this is likely due to two reasons: (i) South Australians live either in or adjacent to a world class wine area. A common past time is to go for a drive on the weekend to sample local wines at the numerous cellar doors in one of the many wine regions. Hence, through osmosis, they have become very educated about their wines. (ii) We have come to realize that South Australians also like to drink a lot of wine. It seems like every time we visit someone, a bottle of vino, and in particular a bottle of South Australian wine is being opened, and snacks of cheese, crackers, olives or other nibbles appear. It really is a nice way to visit with friends and enjoy each other’s company. Hence, after years of having consumed the magic elixir, South Australians have become most acquainted with their wines. Given this prelude and generalization with respect to our Aussie friends, they have advised us that if you buy a Riesling from Clare, you won’t go too far wrong. Based on our experience to date, their advice has been on the mark or as the Aussie’s would say, “Spot On!” Hornsy, you’d love it!
The Barossa, South Australia’s most well known wine producing area, is often referred to as the “Wine Capital of Australia”. As a generalization, the valley is probably best known for its red Shiraz. The region is considered equivalent to the world’s other great wine growing areas such as the Napa Valley in California and the Bordeaux in France. In the Barossa, there are literally over a hundred wineries ranging from the “Mom and Pop” specialty operations to the world famous Jacob’s Creek, Wolf Blass, Peter Lehmann, and Penfold vineyards. The Barossa is the State’s most visited tourist destination and when one has the opportunity to visit the valley, you can easily understand why it is on the “Must Do” list. Set in a fairy-tale like surrounding of rolling hills and vineyards as far as the eye can see, old German heritage buildings dot the landscape. Around and amongst this setting, numerous new buildings have been constructed to mimic the valley’s European origin.
While in the Barossa one weekend on a wine sampling expedition, we had the good luck to be present when the vintners celebrated the “Blessing of the Grapes”. On a Sunday in early fall (yes the seasons are reversed Down Under), all the wine owners gather to attend church so that they can pray for and bless the upcoming harvest. After church, the vintners march in a formal parade which congregates at the town square. Once assembled, they announce, to all present, their expectations of the upcoming year’s quality of wine(s). To commence the harvest, a ceremonial barrel of grapes is crushed and “quench wenches” or “juice girls” pass around the crushed juice for all to taste. We have never experienced such a sweet tasting grape juice right off the vine with no sugar added! If the grape juice is any indication of what the 2010 wines will be like, we think that this harvest will produce a stellar wine.
The Barons (i.e., Wine Owners) of the Barossa Valley declaring whether 2010 will be a Good Year – Based on our sample of the juice - we think so!
Ceremonial Crushing of the Grapes
Rick and Greig, who is from Cold Lake and whose wife is on Teacher Exchange in Keith South Australia, posing with their grape juice server
Rick's and Gail’s Ceremonial Harvesting of the Grapes
Prior to Wine Tasting at Jacob’s Creek Cellar
After Wine Sampling at Penfold’s Cellar
After Wine Sampling at Peter Lehmann’s – Note as the day becomes longer why are we absent from the picture?
Inside Peter Lehmann’s Cellar
Start of another day of wine sampling – Note Different Shirt and Blouse and it's early. Hence we are in the picture!
Given our limited knowledge on the subject, what more can we say about wines? Visiting one cellar door after another became a blur with each wine tasting better than the last. Does this sound like maybe we had one or two more wines than needed? Reds! Whites! They are all good.
While visiting McLaren Vale, we learned a few interesting tidbits.
- Similar to the use of the canary in the coal mine to detect methane gas, vintners from an earlier era use to plant rose bushes at the end of each row of grapes as an advance indicator of soil moisture. If the roses started to wilt, the vintner knew that he needed to water his grapes. Now the rose bushes have been replaced by a sophisticated series of soil moisture probes and timers to ensure that proper watering regimes are maintained. However, some of the vineyards still have roses growing at the end of each row of grapes. We don’t know if the roses are for “back-up” purposes, or simply to add beauty, or to remind the vintners of their ancestry. Perhaps the roses serve all three purposes.
- We have become frequent purchasers of the “Clean Skin” wine. A Clean Skin wine is a wine that has been bottled without a label acknowledging the origin of the winery on the bottle. How does this happen you ask? We’re glad that you asked because let us explain! Many of the fine restaurants will commission a winery to exclusively produce a fine wine for the restaurant. For illustration purposes, let’s say that the restaurant commissioned the vineyard to produce 5000 bottles of Shiraz. In order to ensure that the proper quota of 5000 bottles has been attained, the vintner may produce 7500 bottles. Thus there are 2500 bottles that the vintner must sell, but he cannot label the Shiraz as coming from his winery because the restaurant has exclusivity. While you are at the vineyard, you can sample a “Clean Skin” if one is available. If you think that the wine is pleasing to your palate, you can purchase the nectar of the Gods at an incredibly low price. Most Clean Skins are sold by the dozen at the vineyard. Local liquor stores will also sell clean skins, usually by the bottle, but unfortunately one cannot sample the product first. Fortunately, at the liquor store, some brave South Australian will purchase a clean skin - taste unknown. If it is a good one, he tells his friends by word of mouth and before you know it, the shelf is left bare. It’s also a bargain to purchase since there is no label on it. It is not uncommon for the elixir to sell for ¼ of its value or sometimes even less!
- South Australia produces a very good dessert wine that is comparable to our Canadian Ice wines. The dessert wine is made by allowing the grape to remain on the vine, become infected by a fungus and ferment. The dessert wine is known as a Botrytis, named after the fungus which creates this wonderful sweet wine. A small glass of incredibly cold botrytis with some strawberries and very dark chocolate makes a wonderful dessert after a scrumptious meal.
Barrels upon barrels upon barrels of wine
Inside Wirra Wirra Cellar with Doug and Dawn (see Blog Entry titled “Everyone Needs a Leon or a Jill or a…..”). Sampling has not yet made us that “wirry”
Rose Bushes planted along each row of Grapes. Roses act as an indicator of soil moisture.
This picture is for our friend Janet in Edmonton. For some reason, she just loves “Hardy’s” wine.
We really can’t tell you much about the Coonawarra because we have yet to visit the region. However, our Australian friends have told us that if you buy a Red from the Coonawarra you won’t go wrong.
We hope that you have enjoyed this brief overview of the wine regions of South Australia. Perhaps it will have provoked your interest enough to go to the liquor store (or bottle shop as it is called in Oz) and try a couple of South Australian wines. If you do, we hope for two things: (i) That you take pleasure in discovering the wine(s) as much as we have enjoyed them here, and (ii) You think of us while you take that first sip. If you wish, email us (Rick_Ferster@shaw.ca) and tell us your opinion on your discovery. We are interested to know.