South Australia Masterclass

The connection between the Australian character, the grape grower and the land are inextricable. The Masterclass which Neil Hadley MW is presenting on the 25th May in Copenhagen celebrates the unique land that is Australia; the formation of its soils over millennia and resulting inventiveness and flexibility in the character of its people. The South Australian wines being tasted illustrate this with their continuing evolution of wine styles; whether Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet, or the new grape varieties such as Vermentino, Tempranillo or Mourvedre. In addition, there is a new generation of winemakers striving to make better wines.

Australia is different. The weather is different, the soils are different. Even the light is different – ask any photographer, or take a look at any Australian rainbow!

In the weather, soil and light we find a combination of natural forces that make the notion of ‘growing grapes’ far from the simple replication of know-how from other countries. Like all Australian farmers, grape growers have had to learn new ways of thinking in order to harness the natural environment and deliver grapes to their wineries that are literally bursting with the flavour of our land. Australia is the story of continually creative people and a story in which our wines are a very real part. The unique environment has no place for rigidity or dogma, and so a flexibility of thinking pervades the national psyche.

In his research, Neil goes back approximately 195 million years ago to the Jurassic Era and the formation of Gondwana land, moving on to approximately 45 million years ago when Australia was the last country to separate from Antarctica. At this time, Australia followed a different evolutionary curve for 30 million years in isolation from the outside world, without wind borne seeds or migratory birds bringing diversity to the flora.

Fire became a significant player in the Australian story just 10 million years ago. Geological records show that vast tracts of the land would burn for literally months or years at a time, uncontrolled and seemingly all-consuming. The fires, borne of months of drought, would often be followed by flooding rains, which washed away a large proportion of what little nutrients remain in the denuded soils.

From an agricultural standpoint, this has left a geologically ancient and fragile soil that is extremely low in organic matter and almost devoid of combustible nutrients such as phosphorus and sulphur. There just isn’t the natural fertility in Australia that you would expect to find in other lands.

When the land is so fragile, you tend not to take it for granted and this creates new thinking and new techniques to meet the challenges of scale, weather and terroir offered by the land that is Australia.

The practice of viticulture in Australia is far from ‘old style’ farming, but nor is it a mass, industrialized process that fails to engage with the land. Far from it, Australian grape growers are enormously aware of their fragile environment and work hard to maintain healthy eco-systems and develop further advances in ‘greener’ viticulture.

There are many single vineyard and single region wines made in Australia, but the winemakers of this nation are as diverse as their wines; there are those who have a mindset that transcends regional boundaries to create expressively ‘Australian’ wines. They are respectful of unique sites and their characters wherever they are found, some choosing to focus on wines from their unique terroir, but there are those who harbour a laconic distaste for rigidly sticking to single site production sourcing, if blending would clearly benefit the end wine.

Winemaking in Australia is a mix of practicality and irreverence that is in perfect step with national character. The underlying feature is a passion to achieve new heights and to produce ever-greater wines for fellow countrymen and the entire world to enjoy: the right wines, made in the right styles, for the right occasions.

For this reason, the evolution in South Australia’s wine story will continue. New vineyards are being planted in higher, cooler regions, viticultural practices continue to be improved, new clones of traditional varieties planted, new varieties introduced to Australia from Europe and elsewhere, and a new generation of winemakers looking to make its mark. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in South Australia, the Heart of Australian wine. With its 15 recognised wine growing regions from the “Terra Rossa” of Coonawarra (a relic of Australia’s formation and 12 ice ages when it lay under the sea), to the cool Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills, Clare Valley, Barossa and the maritime McLaren Vale all planted originally in the 1800s and probably the best known regions in Denmark.

Neil Hadley MW who is Export Manager of Wakefield Wines in the Clare Valley will be in Copenhagen on the 25th May to present a Masterclass of wines illustrating this evolution from various regions and producers in South Australia.

(Extracts from papers written by Neil Hadley MW)