Thu 16 Oct 2014

South Australia: Five Regions in Five Days


Landing in Adelaide late on a Saturday night, Tim (Sykes, head of buying) and I were pretty relived to have our first day off in two weeks the following morning. I spent most of my Sunday sleeping, and washing the full contents of my suitcase with the prospect of a further two weeks’ travel, beginning with five regions in five days:

Rainbow in the Barossa

Rainbow in the Barossa

Day One

Peter Gago and Steve Lienert

Peter Gago and Steve Lienert

Tim and I started the day at Magill Estate with esteemed winemakers Peter Gago and Steve Lienert. After an unexpected but particularly wonderful breakfast we were privileged to try a number of back-vintage Penfolds wines. It was wonderful to talk these vintages through with Peter and Steve in preparation for The Wine Society’s upcoming Penfolds offer (autumn 2015).

We then took the hire car south to Langhorne Creek to see long-term Society supplier Bleasdale. One of the oldest wineries in Australia, Bleasdale was founded by Frank Potts in 1850. We had a great tasting and confirmed the blend for the next vintage of The Society’s Australian Shiraz.

Day Two
Having driven to the Barossa the previous evening, we began the day at Yalumba, went from there to Heartland and to visit Ben Glaetzer, lunch in Tanunda, and off to Torbreck and Lehmann.

Ben Glaetzer

Ben Glaetzer

A busy but fulfilling day: many great intense wines with lots of character, and increasing elegance. Some of the best wines we tried were older examples, confirming our belief that Australia’s wines can age and improve wonderfully.

A basket press at Rockford

Basket press at Rockford

Day Three

A camouflaged kangaroo at Clare Valley

A camouflaged kangaroo at Clare Valley.

An early morning drive to Clare Valley to see Grosset, Wakefield, Killakanoon and Wendouree.

We were delighted with Grosset’s new vintages of Gaia, Springvale and Polish Hill – all of which we were happy to confirm our allocation on.

Wendouree was both a high and low light in the trip: Tony was a wonderful host, and meticulous winemaker. We had a very rare tour of the Burgundy-esque winery and a tasting from barrels. However, the popularity of the wines domestically confirmed our worries that really there isn’t enough stock to ship.

‘It’s a long game,’ Tim reminded me on the way out, and I am happy to play!

Day Four
Our fourth day saw us in the McLaren Vale, with a very busy day fitting in Steve Pannell, Richard Hamilton, d’Arenberg, Dowie Doole and Wirra Wirra! Steve has a wonderful new winery which looked great and the large range set us up for the day. I hope everyone has filled their boots with our recent first release on the d’Arenberg icons as they were really looking smart (although need a bit of cellaring).

d'Arenberg: winemaker Chester Osborn with one of the 'Dead Arm' vines

d’Arenberg: winemaker Chester Osborn with one of the ‘Dead Arm’ vines

Arachnophobes beware!

Arachnophobes beware!

Finishing the day at Wirra Wirra with Paul was educational – a great tour and tasting, including a tasting of the new blend for our Society’s Australian Chardonnay.

Andrew, Sam and Paul - the team at Wirra Wirra

Andrew, Sam and Paul – the team at Wirra Wirra

Day Five
Tim had caught a very early morning flight home, but fear not – today was an Adelaide Hills day. Enlightening tastings with Geoff Weaver, Petaluma and Shaw and Smith were most reinvigorating at this point in the schedule, and I hope to highlight some of these wines in next year’s Australian offer.

Petaluma: Andrew Hardy

Petaluma: Andrew Hardy

So a jam-packed week, with some exceptional wines, wonderful people and many miles in the hire car.

Not that I rested on Day Six – that’s when I managed to squeeze in Eden Valley and the Henschkes before flying on to Western Australia!

Henschke's 'great-grandfather' vineyard

Henschke’s ‘great-grandfather’ vineyard

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer for Australia


  1. Tom Walker says:

    Please bring us some of the great Shaw & Smith Shiraz and M3 Chardonnay! This would be a knockout addition to the Society cellar. The 2012 Shiraz was Aussie best red at recent IWC.

    What about Primo Estate… One of the best wineries in the Vale knocking out an unbelievable range of Primo and Joseph wines. We will ever see these at the Society? I hope so!

    • Sarah Knowles says:

      Hi Tom, thanks for your comment. I agree the Shaw and Smith wines are very smart. I did not visit Primo this time, but will try to on my return. Best wishes

  2. Alan Ford says:

    Just back from visit to Australia, and managed to squeeze in a visit to Yarra Valley in Victoria. Fascinating to see how much love and effort producers put into wines that tasted, well… awful.
    But one highlight, well worth visiting if you are in the area, was Yileena Park, with a lovely tasting room and a genial proprietor, Bob Curtis. Some very good reds, including an interesting flagship Cabernet. Not seen the wines in the UK.

  3. Graham Adams says:

    Why a picture of Rockford’s press and no mention of a visit.. For 20 years have been a lover of the Rockford’s basket Pressed SHIRAZ> Priced his sparkiling Shiraz. Price range £69 to £72 per bottle. Searching for former as it seems much in demand. Tasted a 10 year old bottle against a bottle of Hill of Grace with which was on par. No wonder it is difficult to source. I cannot recollect the Society ever having it on wine list. Great pity!
    Unfortunately due to after effects of serious stroke, this 84 year old has drinking alcohol very limited but I intend to ignore advice and pleasure myself whilest I have time.

  4. Patrick Neville says:

    Having lived in Victoria and South Australia for some four decades and planted a small vineyard of Shiraz (now 15 years old and producing top fruit) I can vouch for the excellence of the winemakers and wines of both States. It’s just a pity Aussie wines are so expensive in the UK, although you can occasionally pick up a bargain for under £20. McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek and Clare produce some of the more reasonably priced drops, but apart from a few well-known names such as d’Arenberg and Wirra Wirra, they are hard to come by in Britain. Many of the formerly premium brands such as Hardys and Lindemans have been seriously devalued by the multinational wine companies and are now little more than loss leaders on supermarket shelves.

  5. Rod Stone says:

    Just back from holiday in Australia which included several very pleasant days in the Barossa and McLaren Vale. The quality of cab sav and Shiraz from some of the smaller wineries was staggering especially some from older vines. It seems a pity that the Wine Society isn’t exploring more of these smaller producers and sticking with larger producers like D’Arenberg and Wirra Wirra which already export to the UK. We’ve had some offers from Rockford in the past ( though sadly not their best wines) but there are many other small producers well worthy of support.

  6. Tim R says:

    Does the reference to Torbreck in this post mean the Society will soon stock their wine? Please say yes!

Leave a comment