From little labels, big wines grow in the Adelaide Hills

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By David Sly

The time to focus maximum attention on the Adelaide Hills wine region is right now.

An outstanding suite of wines presented as trophy winners at the recent Adelaide Hills Wine Show underlines that this region rides at the forefront of modern Australian winemaking – and continues to keep offering new sensations, illustrated by the show’s supreme winner being a winemaker most people would not yet have heard of.

Charlotte Hardy makes her small batch wines in the tiny hills sub-region of Basket Range, and releases them under the brand name of Charlotte Dalton.

The New Zealand-born winemaker first came to the district 13 years ago and was soon besotted, realising it produced the type of superior cool climate fruit that would allow her to make lean, sensuous wines of distinctive appeal.

As a result, the 2017 vintage of Charlotte Dalton Wines Love Me Love You Shiraz won three big trophies at the 2018 Adelaide Hills Wine Show – Best Shiraz, Best Single Vineyard Wine and Best Wine of the Show.

Charlotte Hardy of Charlotte Dalton Wines in Basket Range.

Named sentimentally in tribute to a lullaby that her mother sang to Charlotte in her childhood, this slender, spicy and nimble shiraz – more akin to pinot noir in structure, but with a more plush fruit palate – represents an exciting new benchmark for cool climate shiraz.

“I firmly believe that a wine must be made with a happy heart and a content soul,” says Charlotte. “And that is, simply, why I make the Charlotte Dalton Wines – to bring me joy, happiness and contentedness, and to share those feelings through the wines.”

Shiraz in the Adelaide Hills has come of age, and is now respected as one of the four vinous pillars of strength in the region, along with sparkling wines, chardonnay and pinot noir.

The wine show judges awarded seven gold medals for shiraz wines this year compared to three last year – with the great improvers being small, artisan producers.

Out of 592 entries in this year’s Adelaide Hills Wine Show, a vast majority come from small and family producers, and 315 were awarded medals – with a startling 56 being gold medals, signalling a new high water mark of quality.

Michael Downer of Murdoch Hill.

“Right now, this is the most exciting wine region in Australia,” said chairman of the wine show judges Nick Stock, addressing a capacity audience at the wine show awards lunch held at Bird In Hand winery on November 30.

Much of Nick’s excitement is directed towards innovative winemaking. Michael Downer of Murdoch Hill wines, awarded best Adelaide Hills producer making less than 100 tonnes of wine, also won best avant garde wine with the 2018 Murdoch Hill Happy Pinot Gris, an experimental orange wine produced from extended grape skin contact and longer oak maturation.

It has proved such a success from its small batch trial that Michael has confirmed he will make the same style again.

“Experiments can lead to popular styles,” says Michael. “If we don’t push the boundaries and break with convention at times, we don’t fully understand what’s possible in making great wine.”

Recognising boutique excellence extends through to sparkling wine production, illustrated by Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard being awarded best sparkling wine of show for its 2015 Pinot Noir, Chardonnay – one of the exciting categories identifying a raft of small producers throughout the Adelaide Hills region producing fine wines of exceptional quality.

Sharon Pearson and Garry Sweeney of Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard.

“The next step ahead for the producers of this region is focus hard on ultra-specialisation, in both the quality of the grapes we grow and the wines we make,” says Garry Sweeney, co-proprietor of Mt Lofty Ranges Vineyard with partner Sharon Pearson.

“We make 16 different wines from only five grape varieties, because we are intent on finding the best individual parcels of fruit and making the very best wines we can from them. Absolute attention to detail is what will continue putting the Adelaide Hills wine region on the map.”

Wine judge Nick Stock agrees. “The Hills winemakers are wonderfully capable of making great sparkling wine. Smaller producers are very committed and realise that the best thing for them is to go the extra step to give their wines that extra quality which will bring them notice and make them successful.”

The region is also abreast of fast-moving wine trends, especially the transformation in style of the booming rosé class, with the best examples becoming more pale, dry and nuanced.

Howard Vineyard winemaker Tom Northcott with a group of cellar door visitors.

This year saw Howard Vineyard 2018 Clover Rosé come out on top, earning the trophy in consecutive years with a refined, elegant and delightfully aromatic wine made from cabernet franc grapes.

Importantly, Howard Vineyard also won the trophy for best Adelaide Hills Cellar Door experience, marking the success of recent improvements to the Nairne winery’s visitor centre that have been introduced by owners Ian and Sharon Northcott with their winemaker son Tom.

“Making sure that visitors to the Adelaide Hills wine region have a fantastic experience is of primary concern to us all,” says Tom Northcott. “That’s how people remember our great wines – by tasting them in a great setting.”

All the results of the 2018 Adelaide Hills Wine Show can be found online here.

Header image: Michael Downer of Murdoch Hill.

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