Welcome to the South Australian Wine Region series, where every week we feature select wine regions from the stretch of South Australia's spectacular coastlines and thriving hillsides. Subscribe to our newsletter today or view other articles in this series to learn more about the wines of the region.
Just twenty minutes east of Adelaide, the Adelaide Hills wine region sits among the rise of the Mount Lofty ranges. Bordered by the Barossa and Eden Valleys to the north, and McLaren Vale and Southern Fleurieu to the south, the Adelaide Hills stretches about 70kms from top to bottom.
Like much of South Australia, the region was originally pioneered by free settlers who emigrated from Europe, bringing with them knowledge of viticulture and winemaking, and in some cases, grape cuttings themselves! But after a successful start in the mid to late nineteenth century, many vineyards in the region were pulled up or replaced with dairy and beef cattle, and other agricultural endeavours.
It wasn't until the 1970s and 80s, when iconic winemakers such as Brian Croser, Stephen and Prue Henschke, and Martin Shaw, saw the potential of the Hills' cool climates and high altitudes.
Since then, Adelaide Hills has grown to become one of the most sought after regions in Australia, attracting winemakers and consumers alike. It is also the epicentre for the Natural Wine movement in Australia, with a huge number of like-minded vignerons gravitating to the region.
The landscape in the Adelaide Hills is as diverse as the wines that are produced there. Altitudes range from around 150m to over 600m above sea level, with Mount Lofty's summit sitting at 710m. This variation in altitude creates an array of different microclimates, with varying slopes and aspects also adding to the diversity of the region.
Overall, the climate is considered cool continental, but there is a significant influence from the nearby Gulf St. Vincent, which moderates the cooler temperatures somewhat, particularly in the more southerly parts of the Adelaide Hills.
There are two official sub-regions of the Adelaide Hills: Lenswood and Piccadilly Valley. These were identified and recognised for their unique soils and specific microclimates within the Hills region. In Lenswood, the soils are mostly loamy topsoils with mica schists and seams of iron quartz running through. The wines produced in this cool sub-region are elegant and fine, with a distinctive mineral character to them. Piccadilly Valley on the other hand, has sandy loams and clay topsoils, with shale, sandstone and quartz-rich strata. Ripening conditions here are not dissimilar to Champagne, making it an excellent sub-region for sparkling wine production.
The high altitudes and cooling breezes from the gulf make the Adelaide Hills the perfect region for cool-climate wine production. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown throughout the region to great success, with a proportion of the fruit going into sparkling wine. The slow and stable ripening periods for these two varieties result in fruit that has developed wonderful flavours and complexity, whilst retaining natural acidity.
Another star performer for the Adelaide Hills is Sauvignon Blanc. Fresh and aromatic, these wines are highly sought after, especially as an alternative to the Marlborough style.
Rounding out the top performing varieties is Shiraz. The Adelaide Hills excels in producing elegant, cool-climate styles from this grape, with lifted floral notes, peppery spice and elegantly cool, fine tannins.
Some of the lower lying vineyards in the Hills achieve temperatures warm enough to successfully ripen Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Both of these varieties can produce excellent wines, with layers of depth and complexity, but vintage can play a big role in their success.
It's also interesting to note that a number of newer winemakers are experimenting with alternate varieties. Grapes such as Gruner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Savagnin and Blaufrankisch are being grown and produced with great success. It's exciting to see where this region can go in the future.
Shaw + Smith, Hahndorf Hill, The Lane, BK Wines, Coates, Tapanappa, Lucy M, Gentle Folk, The Other Right, Daosa, Terre a Terre, Casa Freschi, Jauma, Ochota Barrels, Mike Press, Ngeringa, Scintilla, CRFT, Murdoch Hill, Unico Zelo, Vinteloper, Basket Range Wines, Main and Cherry, Les Fruits, Commune of Buttons, Manon, Architects of Wine, Borachio.