Why Adelaide Hills will rise from the bushfire ashes

Continuing to buy wine and visit wineries will help the Adelaide Hills and other Australian regions to recover from this summer’s devastating bushfires, writes Peter Ranscombe.

WATCHING the bushfires rip through parts of Australia has been heart breaking.

One of the worst-hit regions has been the Adelaide Hills, which I visited in early November as part of a press trip with Wine Australia.

Amid the loss of life and destruction of homes, it may sometimes feel a little callous to talk about damage to vineyards and wineries.

Yet the wine industry is a key component of the economy in the Adelaide Hills and other regions affected by the fires.

It’s guests coming to those areas that will help individuals and communities to rebuild their livelihoods by staying in hotels, eating in restaurants and visiting tourist attractions.

And it’s wine lovers continuing to buy bottles that will help to stimulate the local economy, bringing in cash to help with the rebuilding efforts.

As Tony Battaglene, chief executive of the Australian Grape & Wine producers’ association, put it: “Our message is that Australia is hurting from the fires, but we are open for business.

“We need donations to the relief funds, support for our emergency services, and consumers to buy our wine and visit our regions.”

Innovation and experimentation

What’s stayed with me since visiting the hills is the sense of innovation running through the area.

The region is one of Australia’s cooler climates and has been known traditionally for crisp chardonnays, elegant sparkling wines and more savoury styles of shiraz and pinot noir.

Yet also on show during our visit were the new varieties being planted, from gruner veltliner and fino through to nebbiolo and sangiovese.

Winemakers weren’t just experimenting with varieties either; they were also being innovative with their styles.

Producers such as Ochota Barrels, Gentle Folk, Basket Range, Worlds Apart, Commune of Buttons, and Lucy Margaux were experimenting with winemaking techniques too, with many adopting a hands-off, minimal interventionist approach, while others were seeking out single vineyards to capture the individual identities of plots that had previously been hidden within bigger blends.

Organic grape growing was important to many of them, while sustainability was key for all of them.

Some of their creations didn’t hit the spot for me – if you can’t tell whether a liquid is meant to be a wine or a cloudy cider then that’s just faulty, not minimal interventionist – but others really sang.

And it’s that sense of innovation and experimentation that will help the Adelaide Hills’ wine producers to rise from the ashes of the bushfires.

In the meantime, here is a selection of a half dozen wines to celebrate the breadth and the depth of the talent in the region…

Six of the best from the Adelaide Hills

Vinteloper Touriga Nacional 2016 (£24.95, Vino Wines)
One of the Adelaide Hills wineries to be worst affected by the bushfires, Vinteloper was opened in 2008 by David Bowley and Sharon, his wife, who designs the bottles’ awesome labels. I’ve loved all the wines I’ve tried from Bowley, but his touriga nacional is a favourite. He sources the fruit for this Portuguese variety from Langhorne Creek, another South Australia region, and turns it into a wine laced with ripe raspberry and red cherry on the nose before morphing into spicier black pepper, red plum and vanilla on the palate.

Smith & Shaw M3 Chardonnay 2017 (£24.85, Exel Wines)
Not just a cracking Adelaide Hills chardonnay but a cracking Australian chardonnay. It has those oaky aromas of lightly toasted brown bread on the nose to accompany the green apple and lemon rind, but it’s the bright fruit on the palate that I find really captivating, with peach and red apple sitting alongside the cream and butter to balance the fresh cool-climate acidity.

Petaluma Croser Adelaide Hills Brut (£17.99, Noble Grape)
Made from grapes harvested all across the Adelaide Hills, the current blend is based around the 2018 vintage. This wasn’t just my favourite sparkling wine from the hills but also one of my favourite bubbles from my whole Australian odyssey. It’s got about 10 grams per litre of residual sugar, so there’s a nice roundness to the mouthfeel, with a touch of cream here, a slice of pear there, and a healthy dose of fresh acidity for balance.

Ochota Barrels I Am The Owl Syrah 2019 (2017: £33, St Andrews Wine Company)
To be honest, I could have picked any of the wines made by Taras Ochota at Ochota Barrels, who must be one of the coolest winemakers I’ve met, with his simple techniques to produce bright and fresh wines. His syrah is a stand-out wine for me, full of blackcurrant, red apple and floral notes on the nose and then launching into blackcurrant, raspberry and red apple on the palate. The tannins in the 2019 we tried during a tasting at his home in the Adelaide Hills were straining a little, but I’ve been treated to an older bottle back in the UK, so I think the 2017 from St Andrews Wine Company will be an ideal age to taste.

The Lane Beginning Chardonnay 2018 (2017: £20.95, Corney & Barrow)
The Lane was one of the more-commercial wineries we visited in the Adelaide Hills, but it is still turning out some excellent, crowd-pleasing wines, including the Beginning single vineyard chardonnay. For those who like their chardonnays from Burgundy, this won’t disappoint, with classic toast, smoke, acrid struck match and green apple on the nose. It’s got grapefruit, it’s got lemon rind, it’s got toasty flavours and a hit of minerality too.

Longview Kuhl Gruner Veltliner 2018 (£17.49, Thos Peatling)
Gruner veltliner is Austria’s flagship variety – check out Pichler-Krutzler’s range by way of an example – but the grape is finding a new home in the Adelaide Hills, with some really interesting bottles on show over dinner at Crafers Hotel. Made in the “federspiel” style with riper fruit, there are savoury notes of dried apricot, lemon rind and butter on the nose, with plenty of textured fruit on the palate too. The acidity is really high to balance the roundness of the fruit. Delicious.

Peter Ranscombe offsets the carbon dioxide emissions from the international flights he takes for his wine trips by paying the Trees For Life charity to plant Scots Pines and other native species near his birthplace in the Highlands – find out more at http://bit.ly/SF_Trees

Wine Australia, the national marketing body that took Peter Ranscombe to visit the Adelaide Hills and a host of other wine-producing regions, is holding Scotland’s biggest Australian wine tasting at The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh on Monday 27 January. More than 350 wines from 60 producers will be on show. For more information about tickets please visit https://www.australianwine.com/en-AU/our-story/events/australian-wine-tasting-edinburgh

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