Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Beginning - History of McLaren Vale - Part 1

Picking Grapes at Reynella in 1896 (c) SA Library

Reynella. They named a town after him He must have been pretty important in his day.

The story of Reynella is well known, as it should be, it is the first story in what compiled becomes the history 'McLaren Vale wine'. Of course at the start it was nothing so grand. There was no marketing, no parades and no wine shows, just one man, his wife and a section of land in the Hurtle Vale.

Even early in our wine history if you were into viticulture in South Australia you owed a debt to John Reynell. He was the first settler to fence his property, on of the first settlers to plant a vineyard and the first to dig a wine cellar. Most notably, in 1850, he took on a young man named Thomas Hardy to help him to tend to the vineyards. By the 1860's he had twenty odd vintages under his belt.

Reynell as a young man.
Fellow McLaren Vale wine pioneers Dr Alex C. Kelly and George Manning got their inspiration from John Reynell. The three regularly traded grape cuttings, wine and ideas.

Sir James Hardy, the great grandfather of Thomas Hardy, reflected in 1984, on the day that Thomas walked down John Reynell's driveway and asked for a job. He wondered what they would have thought about the wonders of 1980's wine technology.

Sir James said,"I wonder what they would have thought about what we are doing today..."

I would answer, they would have been amazed by our technology, but we should be equally amazed that they made grape growing work without it, in a hostile land, without anything more complicated than a horse, cart and hand tools. These were flesh and blood people. Creative, bold and daring.

I think John would be amazed we remember him.

A pruning demonstration in Reynella in 1923 (c) SA Library.

The first vintage John Reynell produced was in 1842, in a time before yeast was discovered and he built the Old Cave cellar in 1845. This was his low tech version of temperature control.

The cellar survives in part of the grounds of Constellations Wines Australia Head Office.

John Reynell was born in Bristol, England, on February 9, 1809. After his father’s death when he was only 14, Reynell left England and worked in Egypt, America, Europe and Russia. He worked to better himself.

At age 29 he emigrated to South Australia, arriving in 1838. He had a shipboard romance and married fellow-passenger, Mary Lucas, in 1839.

Reynell's tough working life had given him a strong sense of resourcefulness. He was a capable, strong minded man, and with the support of his wife, he was an ideal pioneer.

John Reynell's own letters claim he was the first settler to enclose his entire 80-acre (32 ha) section of settlement land. A little later he had to cut his fences to allow for the alignment of a proposed road for the passage of a regular mail run to Encounter Bay which was established by the end of 1839.

The path that the mail route took became the 'Great South Road,' now Main South Road.

In 1841, Reynell began the planting of his vineyard with cuttings he had planted the year earlier at a temporary site on the banks of the Field River, now part of the suburb of Hallett Cove.

His first vineyard was called Stony Hill and he would have planted his vines as one year old rootlings. The next year he continued planting his farm establishing vineyards on his home farm which is now the winery site across the road.

By 1854 there was a demand for land for housing in the area and in February of that year, John Reynell drew up a Notice of Sale for a portion of his Reynella Farm for the establishment of the township of Reynella.

Reynell subdivided his farm and they named the town after his wine label.

By 1866 the town had a steam flour mill, hotel, post office, general store, school and chapel. However by the end of the Nineteenth Century as many farmers had moved to the Northern agricultural lands, Reynella was said to be "a village of the past, as several ruined houses along the road remain to testify.”

John Reynell died in 1873 and is buried at Christ Church, O’Halloran Hill. His sons, Walter and Carew Reynell, took over the wine production.

In the 1950s and 60s the town of Reynella became engulfed in urban expansion and has become largely a residential area. In a twist of fate, the company former Reynell employee Thomas Hardy created, Thomas Hardy and Sons, ended up purchasing the Reynella Winery in 1982.

Stony Hill Vineyard pictured in 2009 before it was subdivided into housing.
Ironically, today there a much debate today about plans to subdivide Reynell's original Stony Hill Vineyard, together with Reynella home block they have lasted into the modern age. The buildings are heritage listed, but Stony Hill has become separated.

The value of buildings can be measured, however old farming land less so. What value does the efforts of the Reynell's have? What value is the site where Thomas Hardy sweated in the summer sun, while John Reynell taught him how to weed using a horse drawn plough? On pure economics very little.

As a vineyard those original vines Reynell planted have long since gone. The Stony Hill vineyard has replacable stock, the oldest current vines date back to 1968. The vineyard no longer has significant value as a farm. Yet it remains as a link to a pioneer who we all owe so much. At the very least it is a living link to a man to took pride in his resourcefulness.

In today's wine world the name Reynella survives as the Chateau Reynella wine range and other similarly named products from Constellation Wines Australia.

More obtusely Geoff Merrill Wines also remembers those pioneering days as his Mt Hurtle Winery. Mt Hurtle was purchased by Mostyn Owen in 1897 and named after the original name for the wider Reynella area - Hurtle Vale. Geoff Merrill was the winemaker for Chateau Reynella during the 1980's and is a living link between the pioneering winemakers and the present age.


Burden, Rosemary – Wines & Wineries of the Southern Vales (Adelaide 1976)
Reynell, Lenore & Margaret Hopton – John Reynell of Reynella: A South Australian Pioneer (Adelaide 1988)
Hardy, Sir James - Age Newspaper, Oct 23 (Melbourne 1984)
White, Philip - (2009)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Winter weather - Winemaking Behind the Lens.

The Kuitpo region is a beautiful area, but it is cold at the moment. Many mornings have a frosty start which melts as the sun rises.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Top Wines Revisited...

In interesting re-visit, three years ago I wrote about the turning of the tide towards small producers in McLaren Vale. I picked my top eight Shiraz's from McLaren Vale that no one had ever heard of…

I mused that they were going to become regarded as some of Australia’s best.

Ambitiously I put Lazy Ballerina on the list. I will leave you, the reader to judge how Lazy has performed.

Of the others, with three years hindsight I can look at these predictions to see how they have gone.

Thomas Vineyard Estate -

This winery picked up a swag of awards for its 2004 wines, and this has continued with its later releases. Despite this it is still not a very well known wine, it is often confused with the wines of the late Wayne Thomas, but it has had strong reviews from Huon Hooke which has lead to distribution in the Eastern states.

2004 Shiraz accolades included;

Top 100 Blue-Gold Winner. 2007 Sydney International Wine Show
Gold Medal. 2006 Royal National Wine Show of Australia
Silver medal. Rated 13th best Shiraz - 2006 Visy Great Australian Shiraz Challenge
Gold medal. 2005 Commonwealth Bank McLaren Vale Wineshow
Silver medal. Rated 7th best Shiraz - 2007 Visy Great Australian Shiraz Challenge
Gold Medal/Outstanding Wine. 2007 Winewise Small Vinerons Awards
Bronze Medal. 2008 International Wine & Spirits Fair London

That is an impressive list. Very few wines would achieve these level of awards, let alone the first wine from a small semi-retired grapegrowers.

A pro. Since 2004 Adam Hooper has picked up a Decanter World Wine Trophy Winner (2005 Shiraz Grenache) & McLaren Vale Best Boutique Trophy Winner (2005 Shiraz). Hooper’s winemaking is as cutting edge as anyone, anywhere and he continues to push the boundaries of winemaking as far as anyone in the industry is prepared to go.
Within two to three years I think La Curio will for fill the prediction of being one of Australia’s best.

2004 Shiraz accolades
Gold Australia Small Winemakers Show
Silver McLaren Vale Wine Show


Picked up some good reviews from Winestate in its initial year. Produced a promising follow up in 2005, but owners Jon and Claire Wright have since concentrated on grape production and no further wines have been produced. Fathen is on hold looking to re-emerge when the vintages are more favourable.

Paul Petagna.
Petagna with phone and pressure gauge.

Paul Petagna behind is behind Piombo and Sellicks Hill Wines. After the 2004 Piombo Paul became a darling of followers of the Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker and Dr Jay Miller, exporting to the US almost exclusively, making full flavoured wines and getting full flavoured scores.

Sounds ideal? Not quite. Paul’s wines were overpriced in the US – calling gouging – by an importer and with the downturn in the US economy the market couldn’t sustain this.

The upside of Global Financial turmoil is that more wines are now available at home, rather than produced and sold for export only.

With a focus on the domestic market you will hear a lot more about Paul’s activities.

Windrow Chellaston Close

A ‘micro’ wine enterprise – a single vineyard special with the wine made from fruit from a single Sellicks foothill block. Unfortunately the vineyard was sold in 2007 and that has curtailed the wine.

We will never know if this wine would have reached its potential.

Pertaringa Undercover -

The winery has been owned and operated for three decades by two of the McLaren Vale most well-known and respected viticulturists, Geoff Hardy and Ian Leask.

It has been a sleeper.

90/100 The Wine Advocate
Silver medal – Royal Melbourne Wine Show 2005 (Class 20)
Trophy Decanter Magazine.

Inkwell produces single vineyard wines. Dudley Brown and his wife Karen arrived in McLaren Vale from Newport Beach, California in 2003 and established Inkwell. They took a rundown vineyard and quickly pushed it into the vitcultural limelight.

Then they were thrown a curveball when, in a freaky coincidence, a UK based wine merchant started to produce an unrelated ‘Inkwell’ wine. Confusion about who had the name first delayed the release of the original McLaren Vale Inkwell for 18 months.

Inkwell is now starting to get some traction with Campbell Mattinson writing - "A name to watch - and we also notice that grapes grown on this vineyard made it into Chapel Hill's top flight 2007 Vicar Shiraz. All the signs here are good.”

Pertaringa has a wide distribition and has continued to go about the business of making high quality wine. Fathen and Windrow have become casualties of the wine industry and we don’t know what these wines could have done.

Of our truly small winery predictions list perhaps La Curio has the biggest profile amongst the cult wine fraternity.

Thomas Vineyard Estate
is the most awarded winery here and if this continues the Thomas's are set to get an increasing share of attention. To go the the next level may prove difficult but any distributors reading this should give them strong consideration. You can't get better quality and more awards from such a small producer.

Now free of overseas issues Petagna Wines and Inkwell are looking likely to do the same. Watch this space.