Highlights from my Australian sabbatical leave​

By Kathy Kelley, Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Managment 

I just returned from a six-month sabbatical leave in Australia where I visited many wineries and tasting rooms and talked with various industry members.  I have included a map of Australia’s wine regions for your reference.

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I spent a majority of my time in Adelaide which is surrounded by over 200 tasting rooms situated in the Barossa Valley (known for Shiraz), Clare Valley (Riesling), and more than a dozen other wine regions (see map below).

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South Australia has not yet been impacted by phylloxera (http://bit.ly/2J79Xep); however, several growers and winemakers indicated that they do expect the pest to impact their vineyards at some point.  Currently, they post signs asking consumers not to walk through the vineyards and politely ask those who do to kindly leave the production area.  A few indicated that they are considering other measures (such as fencing) to protect vines near their tasting room, some of which were planted in the mid-1800s.

The Cube, McLaren Vale

The d’Arenberg Cube is a multi-story, Rubik’s Cube-like building (Rubik’s Cubes that look like the building are can be purchased for $10 AUS/$7.40 US).  The building includes a restaurant, a 360-degree video room where visitors can watch an artistic representation of the brand’s various wine labels, and a space for fee-based wine blending sessions.  While the Osborn family has had a presence in the Australian wine industry since 1912, the Cube opened in 2017.

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There is also a sensory room where visitors can squeeze a handpump and smell what they might expect in a glass of wine and an art gallery.  Visitors can download an app that provides additional information about each room and display.

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The tasting room is on the top floor where visitors can taste the wines (included in the $10 AUS/$7.40 US entrance fee) while looking out over the valley.  Visitors can choose from over 70 wines, including The Cenosilicaphobic (which means a fear of an empty glass) Cat (https://www.darenberg.com.au/the-experience/cellar-door/).  Apparently, there was a cat on site that had a bit of a problem with alcohol.

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Sidewood Estate, Adelaide Hills

Sidewood Estate is a winery and cidery located in the Adelaide Hills (https://sidewood.com.au).  The tasting room has an intimate space for couples and small groups to taste their wines while large groups are served in another space a short distance away.  Having two separate spaces provides a nice quiet area for couples/small groups who want to interact with staff and another where large groups don’t have to worry about being loud.

In addition, all guest can buy golf balls and practice their swing.  If they succeed in hitting a ball onto the small green located in the middle of the pond or get a hole-in-one – they can win a prize.  Not only does the driving range give nonwine drinkers something to do while they wait for their wine drinking friends, it also keeps visitors on site longer which then encourages them to purchase additional food and drinks.

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Hahndorf Hill Winery, Adelaide Hills

Hahndorf Hill Winery focuses on cool-climate varieties (due to the cool temperatures at night) and Austrian varieties, especially Gruner Veltliner.  Several years ago, they began propagating cuttings they imported from Austria, evaluated them, and now share the cuttings with other vineyards in the region.  They make four different styles of Gruner Veltliner wines: a classic style, a fruit-driven style, a “more opulent style,” and a late harvest style (https://www.hahndorfhillwinery.com.au/Gruner-Veltliner). The winery has a Gruner-focused blog called “The GRU Files” (https://www.thegrufiles.com.au) and one of the owners, Larry Jacobs, is called Australia’s “Grandfather of Gruner” (https://www.thegrufiles.com.au).

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Terrior, several wine regions

While the staff did not overly focus on terroir, several tasting rooms did display soil samples, profiles, and maps where their vineyards are located.  Below are some examples of the various ways they displayed these items.

Yalumba Family Vignerons c. 1984. A map of their vineyards and corresponding soil samples are displayed at the tasting bar.  Yalumba, located in Barossa Valley, “is one of only four wineries around the world to have its own cooperage” (https://www.yalumba.com)

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Chateau Tanunda is “home to some of the earliest plantings of vines in Barossa Valley” with some planted in the 1840s (https://www.yalumba.com).  Staff refer to soil samples and explain how production in Alluvial Clay Loam soil can differ from production in Deep Sand.

Pooley Wines, established in 1985 and located in Tasmania, is the state’s first certified environmentally sustainable vineyard (for more information about the program: http://bit.ly/2NResYy).  A fairly unique display shows the soil profiles for two vineyards: a) Sandy Loams over Sandstone in which they grow Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Reisling, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir and b) Dolerite, black crackling clays, limestone over sandstone, in which they grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling (http://www.pooleywines.com.au/the-vineyards).

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Bleasdale, Langhorn Creek

In addition to seeing several vineyards that were planted in the mid to late-18oos, it was also incredible to see the various artifacts that wineries had kept from this period.  Bleasdale was established by Frank Potts in 1850 (https://www.bleasdale.com.au). Mr. Potts came to South Australia in 1836 and established the first winery in Langhorne Creek in the late 1850s.  As you can see in the images below, he was a skilled craftsman and built machinery that he then used to make wooden plugs for wine corks and vats, and also made his own vats and lever presses.

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The image below shows a red gum lever press that was built by Frank Potts’ sons in 1892.   It is the second press that was built on the property, the first one was built by Mr. Potts in the 1860s and had just one basket.  The design is based on basket presses Mr. Potts saw in Portugal.

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According to a sign at the winery: “Both presses were build of red gum, with the density of the wood meaning the levers would not need to be pushed down to provide mechanical advantage.”   The sign also stated that “the two presses stood side-by-side for around 20 years until the first press was deconstructed circa 1910-1915.”

Now, a little of what I saw in the marketplace.

A cider & wine concoction

While it has been on the market for a bit in Australia and New Zealand, Jacob’s Creek (Australia’s largest wine brand) released an alcoholic beverage that is a combination of white grape and apple juice called Pip & Seed.  Flavor profiles include: fruity (“exploding with the flavour of fresh, sweet apples and pears”), crisp (“bright floral aroma and fresh, crunchy apples on the palate), and sweet (“sweet taste sensation bursts with apple and pear aromas while sweeter, juicier apples party on the palate”) (http://www.jacobscreek.com/au/pip-and-seed).  At the time of this posting, the price for one 500mL bottle was $3.88 US.

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Is your wine at the correct temperature to drink?

Taylors Wines, a third generation wine business located in Clare Valley, South Australia, has taken the guesswork out of knowing when a wine is at the optimum temperature for drinking.  I found this bottle of Taylors Estate 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon ($14.42 US dollars) in a wine shop – and though it was mixed in with several other brands, the bottle neck tag attracted my attention.

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The neck tag instructs the purchaser to compare a glass of the red wine at room temperature and at the optimum temperature, per the temperature sensor on the label on the back of the bottle.

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Below, I’ve included an image of the temperature sensor printed on the back label.  According to their winemaker, this wine’s optimal drinking temperature is between 16 and 18C (60.8 to 64.4F), which correlates to the “raspberry” color section on the scale.  In the top-right portion of the image, you can see that the current temperature indicator is “lilac” which is in the range considered “too warm.”

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These are just a few of the winery tasting rooms and products that I saw in Australia.  There are many other wineries in these regions and others that provide visitors with an amazing experience and fabulous wine.  I will share more observations in future blog posts.

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