I headed north east from Adelaide to visit the Riverland for the first time in my four years in South Australia. Working for the University of Adelaide’s Wine2030 network this had been a big omission from my local wine education since the Riverland is home to some of the country’s wine industry giants so I was keen to put that right.
For those who do not know this area, the Riverland is a three hour drive from Adelaide, depending which part of Adelaide you are starting from of course – I was starting at the ‘wrong’ side – the south west. Just to confuse me, when I asked friends how to get there I got two very different answers – via the Barossa and via the Adelaide Hills – so I went one way and came back the other, driving through two more of the state’s key wine-producing areas.
In preparation I was told to prepare for the locust plague – I had only heard of these as biblical events – but nevertheless my mate Brian put mesh across the front grills of my car. Heading off via Tailem Bend bound initially for Loxton where I would be staying, I drove through several clouds of locusts and accumulated a row of carcasses along the windscreen wipers and an array of splats on the windscreen. The blue-tongue lizards along the roadside were loving the free feast of readily killed locust mash. The sight of a red-bellied black snake reminded me I was heading into the Aussie countryside.
Beautiful, vast and typically Australian, with apricot orange earth, brush scrub and gum trees, I felt instantly relaxed in the Riverland. After an usually wet last few months of 2010, there was more greenery than would normally be expected at this time of year and the vine canopies were rich and full (pictured). Many commonly parched areas were flooded, with the river breaking its banks in multiple places. The stranded, strangely melancholic but peaceful park bench in the photo is by the river in Loxton.
On this trip I visited the main wineries of the region – Angove’s, Berri Estate, Kingston Estate and Banrock Station (see the blog entitled “Banrock Station – wetlands and wine”), and the smaller Salena Estate. Everyone I met was very welcoming and interested in hearing about the Wine2030 network, which aims to link wine-related research at the University of Adelaide with the wine industry, encouraging communication and cooperation.
First I went to Angove in the town of Renmark. Angove is one of Australia’s largest family-owned wineries, established in 1886. Tom Angove who died recently was the inventor of the bag in a box wine marketing concept (pictured). A lovely English lady called Jenny talked me through the many ranges: Vineyard Select is the premium range; Nine Vines is next; then comes Long Row; and there is also Misty Moorings, Butterfly Ridge and Red Belly Black. I tried quite a few, of course the Vineyard Select was best, using typical regional varietals: cabernet sauvignon from Coonawarra, riesling from Clare Valley, shiraz from McLaren Vale, sauvignon blanc from the Adelaide Hills and chardonnay from Limestone Coast. Most of the other ranges used more locally sourced grapes.
Angove is also known for St Agnes brandy, and for Bookmark and Paddle Wheel brands of fortifieds and makes Stone’s Green Ginger Wine under licence.
I was surprised to see a range of other iconic international brands on sale which Angove distributes, including Mount Riley and Gibbston Valley from New Zealand; Moss Brothers, Wick’s Estate and Shingleback from Australia; Nicolas Feuillate from France; and Glenfarclas (whisky) from Scotland.
This was a cellar door at which I spent well over an hour, with so many wines to try, friendly staff and lots of Angove’s memorabilia to look at. As with the wineries I was yet to visit the Riverland wine prices were all very low by Australian (and imported) standards. Misty Moorings were just $5.60 a bottle, up to $19.75 for the Vineyard Select range.
I headed next to Glossop, between the towns of Berri and Barmera to visit the enormous operation of Berri Estates Winery, established in 1922. Michael at the cellar door told me that this was Australia’s largest winery and distillery and is still expanding. The parent company is Constellation Wines Australia (CWAU), formerly BRL Hardy. So at the cellar door there were a range of Constellation wines on sale including Hardys, Banrock Station, Tintara, Yarra Burn, Omni, Renmano, Leasingham, Barossa Valley Estate, Houghton and Nobilo (of New Zealand).
At this particular site there were a staggering 2,000 tanks on site with a capacity of about 220 million litres, the largest tanks holding up to 280,000 litres each. During the 2009/2010 vintage, they crushed 171,000 tonnes of grapes at this winery. I had never seen such an enormous operation.
At this site they made mostly wines for the Nottage Hill label, Banrock Station, the base wines for the Omni sparkling, and fortified wines – mainly sherry and ports. I also tried Berri Estates’ quince liqueur brandy called Marnique which was rather delightful! Perfect on a cool night by a warm fire, 25% alcohol, it gave a spicy little buzz!
On my way back to Loxton I stopped by Salena Estate – who had just won three trophies and a gold medal at the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show for their 2010 Bianco d’Alessano, Ink Series. Once again there were several wine ranges, including Tyrone Estate and an organic wine range. The lady who served me – Chantelle – told me that the wine ranges were named after the son and daughter of the owners – Salena and Tyrone, a unique legacy for your offspring!
I was interested to try their petit verdot which I quite enjoyed – very soft with a berry fruit burst on the palate, giving pleasing chocolate and spice. A little young at 2009, I shall cellar that one.
On day two I headed to Kingston Estate winery at Kingston-on-Murray, around 220km from Adelaide. It was not a cellar door facility but their wines are easily available to try in Adelaide. I took the opportunity to talk to them about the Wine2030 initiative and could see that this was another enormous facility, with huge wine tanks. I discovered that this is the tenth largest Australian wine producer by volume. More than two thirds is exported.
Kingston Estate winery is also one of the largest family-owned wineries in Australia. The founders, Sarantos and Constantina Moularadellis, came from Greece, as reflected in the winery’s logo being the head of Dionysus, the Greek God of wine. Their son Bill completed his oenology degree in 1985 and Kingston Estate Wines was officially established. Bill Moularadellis is the Managing Director and chief winemaker.
There are two wine ranges – Kingston Echelon and Kingston Estate. Kingston Echelon is the premium range of limited release varietal wines – chardonnay, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. The Kingston Estate range uses fruit “from the two regions that will allow us to express the true essence of each varietal” (cited from the Kingston Estate website). This range includes chardonnay, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz plus merlot, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris.
Kingston Estate has the largest single planting of petit verdot in Australia. The 2002 Kingston Echelon Petit Verdot was awarded top gold at the 2003 Royal Melbourne show.
I was very much looking forward to the last stop – Banrock Station – not just because it is a huge and renowned winery in Australia but also because of the wetlands, where I knew I would be able to take a long walk and learn about their conservation initiatives. I was not disappointed – the Banrock Station Wine and Wetland Centre is situated in such a beautiful setting with panoramic views of the wetlands. Check out the next blog “Banrock Station – wetlands and wine” for some interesting snippets of information and some glorious photos. Here’s a sneak peak:
All in all, I loved the Riverland – wine, scenery and most of all people.