Username:    Password:
Thanks for stopping by...
Regional Studies
The Landscape of Langhorne Creek and its Vineyards
 - David Farmer

The Location, Vineyards and a Brief History

The Langhorne Creek wine district borders Lake Alexandrina and vines now cover about 6000 hectares with most of this planted in the last dozen years. The Murray River flows into Lake Alexandrina on its way to the sea, and is a large body of shallow water that has ponded behind high coastal dunes that impede the flow of water into the Southern ocean. Except in times of drought when the ocean outlet of the Murray River may close there is an exchange of sea water from the ocean into the lake.

Langhorne Creek is very flat with the occasional metre or so roll in the landscape. It is the flat land and fertile, alluvial soils that makes the region so attractive to large scale mechanised viticulture. Plus there is evenness of the vintages and a low risk of crop failure, features that are very attractive to any primary producer. Even with these advantages and the knowledge that good and at times great wines had come from the region it was not until the export boom began in the 1990's that vineyards expanded rapidly.

This is surprising as it is not far from the old viticultural regions of McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley. About 15 kilometres north and to the east of Langhorne Creek, vineyards are planted beside the Murray River and plantings follow this river for thousands of kilometres back along its path to as far east as Rutherglen bordering the river in north eastern Victoria. These vineyard plantings began with the opening of irrigation schemes in the 1890's.

It would seem that Langhorne Creek was simply overlooked despite the very desirable features of the evenness of fruit quality and the low cost of production. About 200 hectares of vines had been planted by the mid 1980's.

The first vines were planted at Langhorne Creek by the Potts family on their property Bleasdale which was purchased in 1850. It is believed they were selling grapes to Hardys by the mid 1860's. It is likely that other small plots of vines were planted as this was commonly done as new agricultural regions opened up. One of these other growers was Edward Hector who was known to be harvesting grapes in 1869. The oldest existing vines are on the Metala vineyard and were planted in 1890 (Beeston says 1892). Production was never large with only one winery Bleasdale surviving the many ups and downs into the modern era.

Saltrams was a supporter of the area and developed the Metala brand though it was Wolf Blass who really saw the potential of the region, particularly the distinctive characters of the cabernet which was used in many blends.

Today four large production facilities exist in the region, the Belvidere winery, Langhorne Creek wines, Bleasdale winery, and Step Road.

Aspects of the Terroir

It is commonly accepted that the ripening conditions of grapes are modified by proximity to a large body of water and this is likely the case with Langhorne Creek and its frontage to Lake Alexandrina. The district is also only 30-35 kilometres inland from the Southern Ocean.

Both bodies of water will have a strong influence in regulating temperature particularly during the critical ripening period.

There are two types of vineyard settings.

The original and many recent vineyards are planted on the floodplain of the Bremer and Angas Rivers which flow into Lake Alexandrina. The soils from the upland areas formed on the old rocks of the spine of Fleurieu Peninsula and have been eroded and washed downstream and redeposited as alluvium that is tens of metres deep. This is a process that is repeated any time the two rivers flood. Most of these vineyards have an elevation of less than ten metres. They are called here the 'flood plain soils'.

Many of the newer vineyards are planted on an older surface that is largely flat but is slightly higher than the floodplain vineyards and have an elevation generally above ten metres. The origin of the underlying rocks is not defined on the geological maps but may be related to an earlier and much larger lake system. The rocks are calcareous and the overlying soils include wind blown sediment and remobilised calcium redeposited as 'calcrete'. These soils are referred to here as the 'upland calcareous soils'.

Calcium readily goes into solution and redeposits to form nodules and sheets, termed calcrete, which are an important near surface feature of much of the landscape of arid Australia.

The 'flood plain soils' are very young and have been deposited over the last 10,000 years. The 'upland calcareous soils' while recent are partly derived from sediments that date back several hundred thousand years.

Interestingly Michael Potts, winemaker at Bleasdale, feels there are taste differences showing up between these two landscape surface types.

The fluctuation of the sea level, the result of growth of the ice caps and their subsequent melting will have played a significant role in the development of the landscape at Langhorne Creek.

The growth of the ice caps, principally the Antarctic cap, lowers the sea level and at the height of the cycle by as much as 100 metres from the current level. The last cyclical peak of the ice caps was about 105,000 years ago. The consequence of this is that as the ice caps grow towards a peak the sea recedes and the outlet for the Murray River would progressively extend out over the continental shelf. Lake Alexandria, assuming it existed back then and it probably did, would drain and a large valley would be cut across the continental shelf as the Murray River flowed to its new outlet.

The increased gradient of 100 metres has been partly responsible for the river bank cuttings that extend up the Murray River to Morgan and beyond. It would also mean that any alluvium that had accumulated in the Bremer and Angas River valleys would be re-eroded and flushed out to sea as the high water point of Lake Alexandrina retreated.

From the glacial high point 105,000 years ago there has been a series of smaller icy peaks and warmer troughs to the present. The current warm period that began about 10,000 years ago with a corresponding rise in sea level led to the flooding of Lake Alexandrina and as a consequence the filling with alluvial sediment of the Bremer and Angas river valleys.

The glacial cycle that the earth is experiencing now probably marks the high point of the sea level before the earth again experiences the on-set of icy periods and a lowering of ocean levels. The history of the current ice age which goes back several million years has been very accurately mapped, particularly the last 500,000 years, and it is known that the time from maxima to minima in ocean levels is about 105,000 years.

For Australia the last 500,000 years corresponds with the general onset of a warm, dry, windy climate from a wetter, more humid climate. This steady climate change combined with the repeated infilling and eroding of the Bremer and Angas Rivers with the ice-age fluctuations are the important influences that have developed the Langhorne Creek landscape.

In summary while the soils of Langhorne Creek have a different origin-a range to the west versus a range to the east- to those along the banks of the Murray River they are not dissimilar and share an alluvial source combining with wind blown sediments and mobilised calcium redeposited as nodules, layers and hardpans.

In this respect Langhorne Creek can be thought of as the most southerly of the vineyards that border the Murray River and which extend all the way back to Rutherglen near Albury-Wodonga. As an experiment in taste and grape flavours it would be interesting to see what changes happen as you proceed along the Murray River from the sea level vineyards of Langhorne Creek, slowly getting higher and higher as you trace the Murray back eastwards to Rutherglen.

The Story of Canberra Viticulture and Wine

Tuesday, 21st June, 2016

The Federation debate continued the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne with the location of the new capital being of great importance. After reviewing many sites the Australia Capital Territory was selected in 1908 at a mid way point between the two cities and declared on 1st January, 1911. Canberra was named as the location in 1913 and Canberra Day is remembered on the 12th March. more...

The Landscape and Vineyards of the Murray Basin

Wednesday, 29th July, 2015

Few wine commentators wish to understand the significance of the Murray Basin taking the view that the basin is no more than a maker of industrial wines. The average wine buyer cannot afford the wines they like to write about and to make price sensitive wines you need regions like the Murray Basin. After all over 60% of the country's wine comes from the Murray Basin while supplying the 30% packaged as casks. more...

The Landscape and Vineyards of the Murray Basin - Appendix 1

Wednesday, 29th July, 2015

To appreciate the wine story of the Murray Basin it helps to understand how the basin formed, or its geological evolution. Please note this long section has no bearing on wine flavours. Also it is a simplification and re-arrangement of the published information. Three issues are of special interest in considering how the Murray Basin evolved; more...

Wine Flavours, Climate, Weather, Soils and Geology

Sunday, 12th January, 2014

The following six articles are based on a talk I gave to the Field Geologists Club of South Australia, on May 2nd 2013.

I took the opportunity to talk to this group to consolidate my thoughts which are captured in the general term 'terroir' which have been maturing since the late 1990s, a time when I wanted to understand the science behind the role of nature, as distinct from wine-making, in the flavours of wine. more...

Terroir Goes Higher and Higher

Friday, 19th October, 2012

Steadily the vine spreads into new regions across the globe and who knows what taste pleasures await us in the years ahead. The vast sweep of country from Turkey to China looks very inviting. more...

The Vines of the NSW South Coast

Wednesday, 28th March, 2012

The birthplace of Australian wines was naturally the Sydney basin. Urban pressure has swamped the vineyards of Sydney though a few lonely outposts survive, such as Camden Estate Wines at Camden where the first plantings date to 1820. Thus it was to be further north in the Hunter Valley that the early vineyards were to survive. more...

Remarks on the Geology and Wines of McLaren Vale

Monday, 6th February, 2012

In August, 2010, a geological map of the McLaren Vale wine region was published. This is the final version of a preliminary map from 2000. I love maps and to me both are works of art though the full blown 2010 version is a thing of beauty. This map shows in great detail the many geological formations from very young to old which underlie this famous vineyard region. more...

The Landscape and Terroir of Eden Valley

Thursday, 29th September, 2011

Quick Facts
The Eden Valley GI region adjoins the Barossa Valley to the east and is of a similar size.
This region is a hilly upland plateau divided in two by the valley of the North Para River which flows north.
This upland region is about 200 metres higher than the Barossa Valley and vineyards are planted at heights of 400 to 550 metres. more...

Altitude, Argentina and the Riverland

Sunday, 11th September, 2011

Should you be interested in creating a wine empire, The Daily Mail, 17th July, 2011, reports that the Estancia Punta del Agua; a one million acre estate, in San Juan province in western Argentine, is for sale. The estate lies about 150 kilometres NNE, of San Juan which has a wine history back to 1569. more...

A Comment on the Red Soils of Heathcote

Sunday, 1st May, 2011

When commenting about wine regions it's not a simple task to write about the geology and the origin of landscapes and soils. Consider this example of the confusion that one region has managed.

Heathcote, the Victorian region noted for fine shiraz makes great use of the districts red soils in selling and marketing. Some say the best vineyards are located on the red soils, and it's suggested, they produce the best wines. Here are nine recent comments. more...

The Excitement of Te Muna Road

Thursday, 7th April, 2011

Looking back over the last 40 years it is amazing the number of new wine regions that have developed across Australia and New Zealand. From farming land to vineyards and still pioneers are finding small sub-regions that are worth a shot. more...

The Soils of the Barossa Valley

Wednesday, 22nd December, 2010

For a dozen or so years now I have spent many happy days digging holes, chipping rocks, and studying the landscapes of a large number of Australian and New Zealand vineyard regions. The object is to try and understand what role things like soils, rocks, and the shape of the landscape, play in the role of creating wine flavours. This is an area French winemakers are very keen on and goes under the general topic of 'terroir'. more...

How Does Soil and Rocks Influence the Taste of Wine?

Wednesday, 19th May, 2010

My studies have lead me to the conclusion that the chemistry of the soils and rocks in which the vine grows add little if anything to the taste of wine. Wine does not show a taste that can be related back to primary or secondary minerals in the soils and weathered rocks. The soils and rocks do though have an important bearing on how necessary nutrients are taken up by the vines and most specifically how the vine gains access to water. This does affect the taste in a major way. more...

Discussions about Soil, Rocks and Wine with Max Marriott

Monday, 27th July, 2009

I have written a lot about the topic of 'terroir' and was recently asked by Max Marriot, landscape photographer and specialist writer, to offer some thoughts about geology, wine and the like. This was to help with an article he was commissioned to do for the New Zealand Grape Grower. more...

In the Footsteps of Colonel Light

Wednesday, 10th June, 2009

I have spent many a happy day wandering the hills and vales pondering how the Barossa landscape formed. An area of great interest is Rocky Gully that runs down from the eastern edge of the Eden Valley into the Barossa Valley. This gully makes no sense to me as it seems to be much bigger than the tiny stream that drains it could possibly have created. more...

An Expression of Unusual New Zealand Terroir

Wednesday, 1st April, 2009

The Chaytor family were early Marlborough settlers (1830-40?) and had grazing properties that spanned country from north of Blenheim at Spring Creek through to Picton. One of these properties, possibly 'Marshlands', near Spring Creek, is now part of the extensive vineyard, Shepherds Ridge, of 73 hectares. Alas I do not have firsthand experience of the Shepherds Ridge vineyard. Wine reviews have been very favourable with many wines scoring 90 plus. more...

On One Hand Terroir Gets Bigger - On the Other it's Taken Away

Saturday, 6th September, 2008

The concept of 'terroir' or a sense of place that it is said may be reflected in the taste of a wine is now embedded in the psyche of French wine makers and many disciples world-wide. It was not always so as there is little mention of this concept until the 1970's though it can be argued that it encapsulates the idea of single vineyards as represented for example by the 1855 Bordeaux left bank grading. more...

Specific Site or Blending?

Sunday, 22nd June, 2008

If you believe what wine writers everywhere are telling us you would come to the conclusion that the very best wines are always site specific. By this they mean you must be able to see the vineyard which produced the grapes and coupled with this they may discuss how the wine expresses the terroir of the site. more...

Buying Wines That Have a Sense of Place

Friday, 11th April, 2008

Currently a number of wine writers are emphasising that wines with a sense of place taste better, or those that express terroir have the true taste of wine. Indeed I gather they are saying that they can detect a wine with a sense of place from drinking it. more...

An Update on the Unfathomable Idea - Terroir

Wednesday, 3rd October, 2007

The idea that the site, the location and aspect, of the vineyard and its exposure to the elements of climate will affect the taste of the grapes and hence the wine seems so obvious as to be hardly worth debating. Any owner of a vineyard whether it is flat as a tack in the Australian Riverland or clinging to a slope in a cool climate region will tell you that part of the vineyard always produces superior fruit to the rest. The famous region of Burgundy has known for five hundred years that parts of its golden slope produce better wines than the rest. more...

Geology Cannot be Found In Wine

Thursday, 18th September, 2006

An aspect of marketing is to tell the story about the product and to enhance the story it can be a good idea to weave in a myth, a mystery or some 'undefined' extra element. The idea is to create for the consumer an emotional bond with the product that goes beyond the mere utility of the product. more...

Terroir - Can It Possible Shine Through the Background Noise

Tuesday, 4th July, 2006

It seems to make sense that the taste of a wine reflects where it is grown. After all Barossa wines do have different aromas and flavours to Tasmanian wines. The French use the term 'terroir' to describe the differences that refect the sense of place where the grapes are grown. more...

Wine Quality: Does Terroir Matter?

Friday, 14th October, 2005

Olivier Gergaud from the University of Reims and Victor Ginsburgh (pictured) of the Université Libre de Bruxelles deserved better than the couple of smart headlines they attracted when they presented a paper at the UK Royal Economic Society annual conference in Nottingham in March this year. The Sunday Observer declared "French bitter over wine study" and Decanter magazine on its website summarised that "Terroir plays no role". But apart from a reference or two on wine web sites that was the extent of the references that I found on Google for the paper Natural endowments, production technologies and the quality of wines in Bordeaux. Does terroir matter? Yet the Gergaud and Ginsburgh paper is one of the more significant contributions yet made to the debate about the comparative impact of terroir and wine making skills on the wine we drink. A look at the Observer's and Decanter's coverage of the story perhaps provides a clue to the overall paucity of the coverage. more...

Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines

Friday, 14th October, 2005

Any vineyard owner will tell you that certain areas of their vineyard make better tasting grapes than other areas. Why some areas of vineyards and vineyard districts deliver better grapes and hence better wine is the subject of terroir studies. The Europeans and particularly the French are very interested in this topic. They extend the meaning of the word which we can roughly say is the flavour effects that come from the vineyard location to include cultural ideas which unite man with the soil. more...

©2017 Glug  |  Contact Us  |  Privacy Policy  |   RSS Feed
Liquor Licensing Act 1997: It is an offence to sell or supply liquor to a person under the age of 18 years, or to obtain liquor on behalf of a person under the age of 18 years.
All transactions in $AUD. This web site is operated by Glug Management Company Pty Ltd ABN: 64 116 647 780 Licence No: 51401128