Nothing stirs creative juices like standing on top of a hill, looking out over rugged landscape with the distant sea breeze in your hair. Just ask winemaker Justin McNamee. “I get a sense of dreaming from the top of a hill,” Justin says. “That’s why we are where we are – I think space allows you to dream a little.”
He’s talking about Samuel’s Gorge, the winery and rustic cellar door he established in 2003. You’ll find it perched on a spectacular McLaren Vale ridge; the views are gobsmacking. To the north, there’s the Onkaparinga River National Park, to the west, crystal clear St Vincent waters. It’s all about location but there’s more to the inspiring Fleurieu Peninsula setting than meets the eye: the land is ideal for grape growing.
Justin prefers to source fruit from hilltop vineyards because they’re usually the hungriest in terms of geology – meaning they’re less fertile. “It’s arid here in McLaren Vale and there’s beautiful charm in the harsh geology.” The lack of humidity, the beautiful clean air, bright light and proximity to the ocean all complement the production of aromatic, exotic red wines. That’s what Samuel’s Gorge does best. Justin and winemaker Riley Harrison focus on grenache, shiraz, mourvèdre, graciano and tempranillo. Aromatic, textural, silky wines full of intrigue.
The beach, approximately 16 kilometres away, is an integral part of the flavour profiles. An airstream weaves its way from Gulf St Vincent, through the national park and cools the vineyard, making it more functional for flavour. Geologically and climatically, Samuel’s Gorge is sui generis. Mineral content from the different geological formations drives flavour and the hilltop location provides more exposure to daylight.
“We’re not chasing heat, we’re chasing white light,” Justin says. “It’s what we call ‘aspect’ – relationship to light and airflow. It’s about the elements we draw on. That could be minerality, the wind, and the botanical elements in the landscape around us; the breeze, and the direction of the sun. It’s about being at one with those elements – they become your ingredients.”
Another key ingredient is humans. “We often forget how powerful people are in creating flavour,” Justin says. “We talk about geology, about how important the grape is and that wine is made in the paddock… but that is a given. It’s what you do with place and what you do with grapes that is the real human element. We’re proud of that.”
Creativity is the secret ingredient when finding that extra dimension in wine. The winemaking team is motivated by peasant culture and applying the origins of food and flavour to wine. “You can do that in a smaller place; you take your time and you’re more responsive on a micro level.” There’s no industrial haste here. “We never put the winery under pressure, so we make decisions on our terms, not on the terms of the hectic summer harvest. That’s key.” Low and slow is by no means a new concept. It’s as simple as it gets and for Justin, it just makes sense. There are no yeast additions – instead, it’s indigenous to the atmosphere and grape. All this means is that fermentation takes longer – like any form of craftsmanship. “Anything done beautifully takes time and experience.”
Open 11am-5pm daily.
193 Chaffeys Rd, McLaren Vale, SA.