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The 8th Guardian Of The Barossa

Best Of The Cool Adelaide Hills

Tiny Single Vineyard Central Barossa Valley

The Festival of Adelaidean Shiraz
The 13 Wine Regions of the Adelaidean - Mount Lofty Ranges
Sunday, 8th June, 2014  - David Farmer

No wine region in the world can be exactly the same as another. The thin skin of crust which floats on the dense, black rocks of the earth's interior is endlessly crumpled and then weathered creating infinite variations of landscapes. It is this landscape diversity which creates shifts in the flavours of wine.

In turn large continental land masses right down to tiny scraps of land are positioned over the globe in such a way that the countless landscapes combinations cover all the latitudes, or the black lines as I call them, from the equator to the poles allowing vines to grow in every climate zone from hot to the most marginal and cold.

In my view the greatest wine district in Australia is the sweep of hilly, twisted country I term the Adelaidean-Mount Lofty Range. The diversity of wine styles produced along this rocky landscape which stretches from the Flinders Ranges, along the North and South Mount Lofty Ranges down the Fleurieu Peninsula, then plunges under the ocean to emerge re-appears as Kangaroo Island is unequalled for the diversity of wine styles which are produced.

I believe this country, 250 kilometres in length to 350 kilometres when you include Kangaroo Island, can be marketed better if it has a common name which is why at Glug we refer to it as the Adelaidean-Mount Lofty wine region.

Defining the Adelaidean-Mount Lofty Wine Region
The Adelaidean-Mount Lofty wine region is located between latitudes 33 S (South Flinders Ranges) and 35.36S at the southern tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula (Cape Jarvis) while across the passage Kangaroo Island is 35.90S. The most northerly vineyards of any size are those of the Southern Flinders Range, east and north of Port Pirie. The most southerly vineyards are on Kangaroo Island. Vines could be grown north of the southern Flinders Range and into the Flinders Ranges and beyond if water was available.

Currently 13 wine regions are identified:

Southern Flinders - Baroota

Clare Valley

Barossa Valley

Eden Valley

Adelaide Hills

Adelaide Plains - Gawler



McLaren Vale

Langhorne Creek

Currency Creek

Fleurieu Peninsula

Kangaroo Island

These outline the official boundary of each region or G.I for Geographical Indicator. Vineyards within these boundaries have the right to use the name of the region. These boundaries though are artificial and do not correspond to a particular taste. A region of large area may also have a tiny production.

Over time those with long established vineyards began to use a regional, district or town name to indicate the origin of the wine. Later it became an issue over who can use the regions name. For outlying vineyards where the numbers are small it is difficult to determine who may use a name and who cannot. This became a difficult issue when formal recognition was required and led to the many odd shapes on our map.

Thus the boundaries mean very little and are at best only a weak guide to wine flavours and should be used carefully when making buying decisions.

Here is a brief summary of each of these 13 regions.

Southern Flinders-Baroota
Plantings date to the late 1990s and while the area is huge the vineyard numbers are small. That the vine is this far north should not come as a surprise as if water is available you could grow grapes from the South Flinders to Tennant Creek.

At 33 S the South Flinders is little different to the latitude of the Hunter Valley while the northerly location makes the latitude of the lower Murray Basin seem almost cool climate by comparison. The vines are planted on flats close to Spencer Gulf and further inland at higher altitudes but it's hotter than Clare so the flavours are super charged by another degree.

The cooling influence of winds blowing up the Gulf tempers ripening as they do for the Clare Valley but this influence fades as you go north.

Clare Valley
I have always found the wines of the Clare a puzzle but really it is only one variety that has distorted my thinking which is riesling. This comes of course from seeing the wines of Germany as the benchmark and thus having trouble coming to grips with the sublime, delicacy, but most un-Germanic taste of Clare rieslings.

Yes it's the wrong thinking but so much of how we all act as consumers is based on prejudice, habit and silly subjective views. Perhaps the Clare should be the benchmark for riesling.

As for other whites, they do not tend to show their best, possibly it's a bit warm though of course wine always surprises; as for reds, well many are sublime with strange and often profound expressions coming from cabernet and malbec while mataro and grenache can also excite.

In many ways Clare has similarities to the Barossa but the striking difference is the narrow valleys, of which there are three or four, and the closeness to the western edge of the North Mount Lofty Range, whereas the Barossa is positioned closer to the eastern edge.

The landscape is complex and the North Mount Lofty Range rises in altitude enough to temper the increasing heat and combining this with the narrow valleys that have accumulated deep soils produces an interesting and variable range of vineyard sites.

I'm less certain about the vineyards that cling to the hill slopes as they struggle to survive in such a waterless landscape. I'm not a believer in vines and thus fruit becoming stressed though in the good growing years the wines are satisfactory.

Barossa Valley
This is home country and over the last decade I have got to know it well. I see the region as a fortunate fluke as the down throw of the Stockwell fault created the fertile valley which traps the water while cold air drops in from the surrounding hills.

The Barossa Valley is also just at the limit of clouds bringing in moisture before the rain-shadow begins. Further east and north the land dries off before dropping down into the arid lands of the vast Murray Basin.

There can be little doubt that the flavours of the magic three, shiraz, grenache and mataro equal the best globally. We are blessed as consumers though Australians, as is our way, are a bit grudging in appreciating riches that allow us to drink the 'best of the best' for modest prices on a daily basis.
Further detail can be found by clicking here.

Eden Valley
The Eden Valley is a large region lying to the east and south-east of the Barossa Valley and is really the northern extension of the Adelaide Hills region. There is no strong pattern of vineyards which are seemingly sprinkled at random over the region. There is great variability in altitude and thus in wine flavours.

The lower altitude easterly vineyards have low rainfall and are drier and hotter than those of the west and south and while at a higher altitude than the Barossa Valley produce wines which are very similar to those of the Barossa. Perhaps on average the Eden Valley is 200 metres higher than the Barossa Valley. There are though vineyards at higher altitudes, over 400 metres, and these are associated with cooler climate fruit characters. Soils are often thin so the vineyard landscape is patchy and localised.
Further detail can be found by clicking here.

Adelaide Hills
The Adelaide Hills is a very large area being the southern extension of the Barossa and Eden Valleys. Vineyard altitude varies with higher altitudes to the west and dryer lower altitudes to the east. The high altitude vineyards naturally make cooler climate styles of wine and while historic vineyards were planted the growth of the region is due to the search in more recent times for cooler climate wine styles.

Vineyards grew quickly from the 1980s and into the 1990s and the resulting wines have altered the perception of South Australia as only a provider of warm climate red styles.

The ridge and valley topography of the Adelaide Hills creates a scenic wonderland and roads twist back and forth as you travel across the region. This means no two vineyards have identical landscapes.

Thus the region is made up of hundreds of vineyards at variable altitudes, different slopes and facing directions, which means considerable differences in heat and cold and numerous other changes which creates wonderful variability in the wines.

Adelaide Plains - Gawler
The flat plains to the north of Adelaide have become the market garden for the city and vines go back to the first settlements. The low altitude and the distance from cooling influences of the sea create a hot environment and currently the region is seen as less favourable for vines.

This embayment though is important as it shows how, for example, the taste of McLaren Vale wines alters as you move north to warmer regions as in many other aspects the conditions are identical.

Founded in late 1836 and with vines planted in 1837 the region was for a few decades a producer of wine. As the city expanded the vines retreated as it did in the capitals of Sydney and Melbourne.

Early plantings were on the flat plains but the more interesting vineyards were planted on the hilly slopes that overlooked Adelaide. Auldana and the Penfolds property of Magill are famous examples.

There were still enough bearing vines in the early 1950s for Max Schubert to use almost 100% Adelaide fruit for his famous experiments to make classical reds in a warm climate. The vineyards on the plains were gone though he found enough along the slopes and gullies to the east of the town.

Magill has of course been preserved and a small Grenache vineyard still exists on the flats at Marion though releases 15 years ago were regrettably treated with no respect.

This region is a small fault controlled valley and the home of the great wine pioneer John Reynell. Now it is suburbia though a few vineyards remain. The wines naturally are similar to those of McLaren Vale though its significance now is historic.

McLaren Vale
This is a very important region with vineyards filling the floor of a large fault controlled indent east of the Willunga scarp, this fault having dropped a large block down to sea level.

McLaren Vale has the warmth of the inland tempered by the closeness to the cooling sea with the flat land from the town of McLaren Vale to Willunga and east to the fault line being the low lying traditional heartland of McLaren Vale.

McLaren Vale is the perfect foil to the Barossa Valley and the two regions tussle for supremacy over shiraz. One is by the seaside the other inland and how blessed are we to have both.

Barossa shiraz explodes with sweet mid-palate fruit while McLaren Vale shiraz is leaner, less exuberant with a more traditional and often longer palate. With that said they are not so easy to separate on the tasting bench.

McLaren Vale has other fascinating tiny sub-regions several due to the rise in altitude around the northern rim, or the Onkaparinga rim, and I call the vineyards along Seaview Road the golden mile. Then there are valleys that push north as they rise from the flat floor such as Blewitt Springs and areas like Clarendon.

I have the feeling we can expect a lot more from McLaren Vale as winemakers explore the possibilities of varieties such as sangiovese and nebbiolo that are better off the 'flat of the vale' with its at times fierce heat, with vineyards located in gullies at higher altitudes. Indeed the seaside setting of McLaren Vale is not dissimilar to Italy.
Further detail can be found by clicking here.

Langhorne Creek
Of all the regions of South Australia the uniqueness of Langhorne Creek is the most under appreciated. It is McLaren Vale, not by the sea but by a lake, yet in the same manner the heat is tempered by cooling ocean and lake breezes.

I hope customers are beginning to understand my train of thought as Langhorne Creek, being on the eastern edge of our Adelaidean-Mount Lofty wine region can also be thought of as a southerly version of the Barossa Valley. It has differences to the Barossa of course as the altitude is low and the summer warmth is washed away by the sea breezes.

I have the feeling this region, dormant in consumer's eyes; will spring to life at any moment. Wolf Blass a winemaking and marketing genius taught us much about this region but alas we did not listen and any popularity gained from his 1970s Jimmy Watson successive triumphs has slumped away. This region is of great interest to Glug as the wine flavours are profound.
Further detail can be found by clicking here.

Currency Creek
Further south of Langhorne Creek, adjoining the edge of Lake Alexandrina, the large shallow lake that sits impounded behind the sand dunes at the mouth of the Murray River, is the recently planted region of Currency Creek. Several of the better vineyards are along the Finniss River which flows down from the Fleurieu Peninsula and into Lake Alexandrina.

What is special is the closeness to the southern ocean and the low elevation. This gives a mix of the heat of the inland and the coolness blowing off the ocean. This is an excellent combination for creating complex wine flavours. Currency Creek is simply Langhorne Creek with slightly cooler flavours as it is closer to the ocean.

Fleurieu Peninsula
The southern extension of the South Mount Lofty Range changes its wine name from Adelaide Hills to the Fleurieu Peninsula. At this distance south and at the high elevation the cooling influence of the southern ocean is more marked. The inland heat is still apparent but changing the aspect of the vineyard markedly alter the wines flavours.

This is the place for small localised vineyards taking advantage of tiny pockets of favourable land and working hard with unusual varieties to bring diversity to the market place. I have seen some sensational wines from Fleurieu and Glug has more work to do exploring this high altitude but exposed region.

Kangaroo Island
The first settlers on the boats from England arrived in South Australia (1836) to start a new life before the survey crew had arrived so they waited at Kangaroo Island. There was already a settlement of sealers and whalers dating back decades but Colonel Light dismissed the idea of the capital being on the island.

Inevitably vines were planted with early settlement though the modern revival is recent and while the first wine dates to 1982 the recent expansion dates to the late 1990s with useful quantities appearing in the 2000s.

The vineyards are clustered at the north eastern, sheltered end of the island and with the favourable maritime climate excellent wines are made. It should be recalled that Margaret River a most favourable maritime climate is at 34S while Kangaroo Island is almost at 36S.

The parts in-between - No Name
We are left with all the land in-between the officially named regions so this becomes our 14th or no-name region.. Vines can grow anywhere and small vineyards exist in the 'no names' land between the 13 regions.

For example the land between the Barossa Valley and the Clare Valley is favourable and if the owners had water and wished to grow vines, there is no reason at all to suggest they would not do OK. Whether that makes economic sense of course is another argument.

I will cover other aspects of this fascinating region during our month of Festival of Adelaidean Shiraz.


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