By David Sly
Langhorne Creek’s reputation as one of Australia’s most exciting wine regions is rising on a tide of wine show trophies.
Bleasdale Winery’s Paul Hotker leads the charge, having won 50 wine show trophies in the past decade – including five last year, with five different wines.
“If our success is consistent, it sure says a lot about what our vineyards produce,” says Paul. “It underlines that Langhorne Creek has been under-rated for far too long.”
The best way to obtain a precise snapshot of how Langhorne Creek is developing and to identify its best wines is via its annual wine show, which this year is judged between April 30 and May 1, with the winners announced at a gala luncheon in Langhorne Creek on May 3.
The rising appeal of this showpiece, which attracts an audience of about 300 people, is helping Langhorne Creek to assert its regional identity, according to Marina Goldsworthy, marketing and communications manager for Langhorne Creek Grape and Wine Incorporated.
“It’s all part of an ongoing education to best explain what this region is all about,” says Marina. “People’s perceptions are being changed by the quality of what they discover in Langhorne Creek.”
The extensive reach of this region surprises many, with vines covering 5800ha, making it larger than McLaren Vale – although 75% of the fruit is sold to companies outside the region that rarely credit its source location on wine bottle labels.
However, more Langhorne Creek growers are retaining fruit for their own wine brands, which is reflected in the rising number of entries for the annual wine show.
These wines reflect the district’s rich vinous history. The first shiraz and verdelho vines were planted in 1850, then the district flourished with a surge of 1970s vine plantings, mostly in the wake of Wolf Blass winning a trio of Jimmy Watson Trophies in consecutive years from 1974, featuring Langhorne Creek cabernet sauvignon.
While this grape variety remains a formidable regional signature, much more has been added to the picture that impresses, and transforming Langhorne Creek’s previous regional wine showcase into a formal wine show in 2014 was designed to herald this development.
Becoming an accredited part of the national wine show circuit immediately strengthened the credibility of 23 local brands, with more than 200 wines submitted for judging showing exceptional diversity – especially a new generation of alternative Mediterranean grapes varieties that are flourishing in the district.
The maritime climate and stark cooling effect of breezes sweeping in from Lake Alexandrina and the Southern Ocean ensure longer, slower grape ripening periods in Langhorne Creek that are ideal for developing big flavours in both red and white wines.
This is highlighted by Bremerton winemaker Rebecca Willson reaching beyond her parents’ 1991 plantings of cabernet, shiraz and verdelho to also nurture alternative varieties that she believes perform best in the local environment, led by vermentino and fiano.
Enthusiasm for alternative varieties extends to such boutique producers as Hofer Family Wines. Launched in 2017, Marcus Hofer’s focus on lagrein was inspired by his parents originating from Austria’s southern Tyrol region, but he has also broadened his interest to make textural fruit-driven wines from barbera, sangiovese, montepulciano and aglianico grapes.
This has brought Langhorne Creek to the attention of many winemakers. Leading boutique wine brands from other regions – including S.C. Pannell, Alpha Box & Dice and Jill Gordon-Smith’s Fall From Grace – are sourcing these varieties from Langhorne Creek, noting that they are especially well suited to the region.
The annual wine show also highlights the region’s far-reaching influence by including a class for multi-region blends that feature mostly Langhorne Creek fruit.
“No other wine show does this, but we added the class because it helps tell the complete story of what happens in this region,” says Bremerton Wines marketing manager Lucy Willson.
The rise of these wines has ensured that visitors to Langhorne Creek wineries have increased by 15% for each of the past four years. More cellar door outlets have opened, starting with The Winehouse that offers tastings and sales for Ben Potts Wines, Heartland, Gipsy Jack and John’s Blend Wines, along with generous farmhouse lunches and local craft beer Meechi.
The region’s latest attraction is Kimbolton Wines’ fashionable cellar door, made from repurposed shipping containers to create a handsome sit-down tasting room beside the Kimbolton vineyard.
“Two years ago we had six wines; now we have 12, and because we feature a lot of alternative varieties, that’s a story we need to tell in detail,” says Nicole Clark, who runs the wine brand with her brother Brad Case.
“We get people to stop, sit and enjoy matched cheeses with our wines to help explain their specific characteristics. A cellar door tasting needs to have an educative factor.”
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