Looking at a map of the Adelaide Hills, it’s easy to forget just how much area this South Australian region covers. Its northern tip approaches the edge of the iconic Barossa Valley at Mount Crawford, weaving down south through Woodside, Basket Range, Lenswood, Piccadilly Valley and Mount Lofty – just to name a few. At its most southern point, the Adelaide Hills borders another iconic, yet very different region: McLaren Vale. Here at this southern border is where the subregion of Kuitpo (ky-poh) lies. While Kuitpo is in the Adelaide Hills GI, it sneaks up very close to McLaren Vale, and finds itself influenced by its climate while still holding the elevation the Adelaide Hills is known for.
The first commercial planting of vines in Kuitpo was in 1987 by Geoff Hardy, who is also the great-great-grandson of Australian wine icon Thomas Hardy. Aptly named, the K1 Vineyard (winesbygeoffhardy.com.au), which is now also the name of Hardy’s dedicated Kuitpo label, has been planted to 23 varieties across the 40 hectares. Classic varieties like pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc have found their home there, along with alternative varieties like grüner veltliner, tempranillo and durif.
“We needed a cool climate that was suited to early ripening varieties like chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, in order to make high-end quality,” says Hardy when speaking about the decision to plant in Kuitpo. “We chose to plant on generally low fertility soil, mainly east facing, for cooler afternoons and warmer mornings. The soil types, being rocky, ironstone gravels and sandstone, keep it a little bit warmer and regulate the moisture, creating a little bit more stress and more evenness to the moisture availability.”
Kuitpo is nestled in between McLaren Vale and the central Adelaide Hills, resulting in a unique microclimate that is influenced by a combination of the surrounding regions in terms of temperature, elevation and winds. Temperature-wise, Kuitpo is much cooler than McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley – by around 2-3 degrees – thus allowing for slower ripening and a later vintage.
“Kuitpo being cooler than McLaren Vale and the Barossa, meant that we really did have an area where those early ripening varieties were going to perform well,” says Hardy. “Because you’re getting closer to winter while the ripening is happening, there are fewer hot days and the flavour builds steadily in the extended photosynthetic time that the fruit exists on the vine, resulting in fabulous varietal definition.”
Along with those cooler temperatures, Kuitpo also has the elevation of the Hills, with most of the region sitting around 300-400m, which is around mid-range for the Adelaide Hills GI. This, combined with the coastal winds from the Gulf of St Vincent via Kuitpo’s southernly neighbour of McLaren Vale, results in a unique microclimate.
“We’re pretty unique in terms of some decent elevation and the coastal influence as well here in Kuitpo,” says James Hamilton of Golden Child Wines (goldenchildwines.com.au). Hamilton’s father David was also in the wine gig, planting vines in Kuitpo in 1997, with the help of Geoff Hardy. While David never released anything commercially, James found himself working at larger wineries before heading back to Kuitpo to start Golden Child Wines as his own label.
With its first vintage in 2016, Hamilton is an example of the new wave producers in Kuitpo who are crafting a portfolio of wines possessing vibrancy, energy and place. He’s heading toward organic certification across his sites, while employing lo-fi methods in the winery, using whole bunch and wild yeasts, and picking earlier for freshness. For Hamilton, the mix of elevation and coastal influences make Kuitpo a unique and fascinating area in which to produce wine.
“Our vineyard is only about 500 metres from the McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills boundaries. So we’re basically the Hills above McLaren Vale, but we’re the Adelaide Hills GI,” says Hamilton. “The thing that makes Kuitpo most unique – apart from being the most southern part of the Hills – is that we get a coastal influence. Our site’s a bit over 15km from Aldinga and Port Willunga, where the Gulf St Vincent meets the land. Those winds that travel through McLaren Vale then come up the Hills, over the crest of Willunga Hill and then travel through Kuitpo.”
Duane Coates MW of Coates Wines (coates-wines.com) is another producer focusing on the Kuitpo subregion. Coates employs minimal intervention with his winemaking, and has experience in winemaking across Europe, including in Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and the Douro Valley. For Coates, Kuitpo’s cooler temperatures are invaluable.
“The one crucial thing here in Kuitpo is that we peak up and have a slightly higher daytime maximum, but we do have very good overnight and early evening temperatures,” he says. “We’re very cool and sometimes a lot cooler than Mount Lofty and that really does help preserve acidity. The acid levels we get in a lot of our fruit, especially with our whites, is really, really sensational.”
The rapid afternoon cooling is also something Hamilton makes note of when it comes to the uniqueness of Kuitpo.
“The coastal winds kick in, followed by the southerly winds usually around three or four o’clock most days once veraison has finished and the grapes are ripening up,” says Hamilton. “So we cool down more quickly than the rest of the Hills.”
The combination of its cool climate, elevation, coastal breezes and rapid afternoon cooling sees a range of varieties thrive in Kuitpo, in particular pinot noir, syrah, nebbiolo, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, grüner veltliner, pinot grigio and fiano. Riesling also works well, according to Coates.
“Sometimes with riesling, you look at the acid numbers and you can’t really pick because you have to wait for the acid to soften out,” he says. “But here in Kuitpo we are getting very good natural acidity.”
Coates’ experience in Burgundy sees him craft an elegant style of pinot, which he keeps low in alcohol through earlier picking. In the winery, he has a natural, minimal-intervention approach, not using any fining agents and limiting any additives to only a small amount of SO2 at bottling. The result is wines with good clarity and structure. Coates also has a cellar door in Kuitpo open for tastings on Sundays. His partner, Rebecca Stubbs, is a talented chef, so keep a lookout for their themed lunch events, too.
While producers in the area have already found a range of well-suited varieties, they are still experimenting to see what might take off in their microclimate. In his K1 Vineyard, Hardy has a number of experimental blocks with new varieties.
“We’re finding out that Northern Italian varieties like lagrein and teroldego are really doing well up here,” he says. “We’ve also got tannat, which is a late ripening French variety we are now totally besotted with. Also our Italian whites like fiano and arneis are showing great promise and the Central European’s riesling, gewürztraminer and grüner veltliner are all performing really well. Our grüner veltliner is a particular standout for us.”
Coates also believes there is potential for Italian varieties. “There’s a lot of demand for nebbiolo around the region, and also dolcetto,” he says. “Italian varieties, particularly Piedmontese, I think are really going to find a good home in Kuitpo. Looking forward, especially with global warming, Tuscan varieties such as sangiovese might end up having a really good home in Kuitpo, too.” Cabernet sauvignon might also flourish in the area, too.
Meanwhile, Hamilton has his eye on gamay, along with nebbiolo and nerello mascalese, for his sites.
“We have planted some gamay on its own roots, which can be a bit of a slow process compared to grafting, so we’ll get probably the first proper crop in 2023,” he says. “Nebbiolo would be great to plant as I think our site would be right on the edge as to whether we could ripen it or not. Nerello mascalese also has my interest.” Victoria’s Chalmers family are currently quarantining some nerello mascalese cuttings, to be released soon.
But these producers aren’t the only ones with Kuitpo on their mind, with a range of other South Australian producers (Treasury Wine Estates and Shaw + Smith to name a couple) already looking to the subregion for their fruit.
“We’re getting approached more and more every year for fruit from Kuitpo,” says Hamilton. “Australia is starting to do a better job of talking about not just regions but also subregions – and the Adelaide Hills in particular has been pretty good with that. I think Kuitpo is another area that is fairly distinct and has enough of its own traits that we can push the story.
“People are interested, and also like the wines we’re producing along with our potential for other varieties as well.”
2021 Aphelion Wines Welkin Sparkling Chenin Blanc, A$28
This is the first sparkling in the portfolio for McLaren Vale’s Aphelion Wines. Sourced from the Tregarthen Vineyard, it’s a lively, refreshing chenin blanc with golden delicious apple and lemon citrus.
2021 Coates The Riesling, A$35
An elegant and refreshing riesling that truly expresses Kuitpo’s ability to retain flavour and acidity with its lower temperatures and slow ripening. Coates says the wine is inspired by riesling from Germany’s Pfalz region, and also employs barrel fermentation for texture.
2021 K1 Grüner Veltliner, A$25
From an ideal vintage, this is an example of how well the Austrian grape grüner veltliner does in Kuitpo, and the wider Adelaide Hills. Expect notes of Fuji apple and lime, with nice acidity and minerality on the palate.
2019 K1 Chardonnay, A$35
Chardonnay was one of the first varieties Geoff Hardy planted at the renowned K1 block in Kuitpo back in 1987. The wine sees time in French oak and undertakes partial malolactic fermentation, presenting notes of baked pastry, almond and apricot.
2021 Jericho Adelaide Hills Fumé Blanc, A$27
Sourced from the Morialta Park Vineyard, this fumé spends time in seasoned French oak and is held on lees for four months. It boasts a palate of rich, tropical fruits like stewed pineapple and fresh passionfruit. Nice weight with apricot and savoury, nutty notes.
2021 Golden Child Wines Party Juice, A$30
A blend of Kuitpo pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, which winemaker James Hamilton says is inspired by the heavier, European rosés. Hints of red jube and grapefruit before opening up to a textural, crunchy palate with a hint of spice. Drink chilled.
2021 Golden Child Wines Lazy Sunday Light Red, A$30
This 50/50 blend of pinot and syrah has jammy, ripe red fruit characters with vibrant acidity and a hint of spice from the syrah. There’s a lot of whole bunch pinot in the mix along with syrah that has undergone carbonic maceration. Can be chilled.
2019 Coates The Nebbiolo, A$50
Geoff Hardy mentioned Duane Coates’ nebbiolo to me and I can see why. It’s an exceptional example of the Italian variety with ripe cherry notes, and floral hints of violet and rose. It’s a medium-bodied wine with velvety tannins. Drink now until 2035.
2021 XO Wine Co Adelaide Hills Barbera, A$32
This single-vineyard barbera from the Berry Vineyard shines in the glass with a striking, purple hue. Freshness and vibrancy are at play here, with zingy, bright blackcurrant notes along with ripe, red fruit. You’ll also catch hints of cherry cola and nice acidity from 50% whole bunch.
2020 XO Wine Co Games Night Pinot Syrah, A$32
A 70/30 split of pinot noir and syrah, sourced from the Christmas Hill and Topnote vineyards in Kuitpo. Expect notes of ripe red fruits like strawberry and raspberry, rounded out with a hint of earthiness and peppery spice.
2018 Jericho Syrah, A$38
An elegant wine, with notes of stewed rhubarb and rose petal. A touch of French oak rounds out the palate nicely and provides a pleasing weight to the wine. Can be cellared if you’re patient enough.
2018 K1 Cabernet Sauvignon, A$45
Blackberry aromas with herbaceous notes and a touch of fennel. The palate is well structured with nice body. An ideal wine for a family roast, and can be drunk now, or popped away until 2030.