IN 1837 IN NORTH ADELAIDE, John Hack planted some vine cuttings taken from Launceston. Seven years later, he became the first Australian to ship wine to a monarch, to Queen Victoria no less. Clearly a hack in name only.
Hack spurred a procession of successful private vineyards and wineries throughout the settler colony of South Australia. The earliest and still surviving is Reynella, started by John Reynell in 1838. Reynell planted some 500 cuttings he secured from Hobart’s New Town, as well pineau vines from the Macarthur family in NSW. Reynella wines became synonymous with quality. Dr Max Lake of Lake’s Folly colourfully recounted in the 1960s that the bold, aged Reynella cabernets had a “mouth-filling flavour that goes on and on, lingering after the reluctant swallow”.
Soon enough, South Australia became home to many famous vignoble families and wine brands still prominent today.
Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold established Makgill Estate (now Magill Estate) in 1844 with Cape of Good Hope cuttings and grenache rootstock from southern France. Penfold built a cottage called The Grange and with his wife, Mary, made the first limited edition Grange grenache; the doctor prescribed it to his patients as a medicinal tonic to treat anaemia. The tonic included a white blend of “Sweet Water and Frontignac”, according to Mary Penfold’s diary. His treatment didn’t last the distance – unlike Penfolds Wines, which he and Mary founded.
Meanwhile, Dr Alexander Kelly set up the Trinity and Tintara vineyards in the mid-1840s in McLaren Vale. Soon they became part of the burgeoning Thomas Hardy wine stable. Hardy was Australia’s first true wine mogul, cutting his teeth with Reynell, then buying out the distressed Tintara operations. His wines won many awards including a gold medal at 1889 Paris Exhibition. By the mid-1890s, the Hardy group was SA’s largest winemaker with more than two million bottles – more than 80% of McLaren Vale production.
In the mid-1840s, George Angas settled in the Barossa Valley at what is now Angaston. He attracted viticulturists to the area, hiring a swag of German and Silesian Lutherans escaping persecution in Europe.
In 1847, Johann Gramp planted the first Barossa Valley vines on the banks of Jacob’s Creek, his operations being the precursor to the giant Orlando wine group. Johann Henschke, another Silesian, set up in nearby Keyneton, then known as ‘North Rhine’, building a small hillside cellar to store his early vintages of riesling and shiraz. Nearly 100 years later, his great-grandson Cyril became one of first in the area to produce single vineyard wines, notably the dynamic duo of Hill of Grace and Mount Edelstone.
One of the most famous of the Silesians was Joseph Seppelt. In 1851, he and his wife Johanna planted the vineyard that was greatly expanded under son Benno and his wife Sophie. The couple extended the operations to the Great Western district in Victoria in the early 20th century, creating one of the largest wineries of its time. Ironically their expansions were to protect against the phylloxera risk to SA; that never came but it decimated Victoria. By end of the 1800s, more than one-third of Barossa production was Seppelt’s.
dney planted Yalumba’s first vineyards in Angaston, the start of the six-generation dynasty. Today Yalumba is Australia’s oldest family-owned winery and its early specialty, albillo, (now known to be chenin blanc) became a best seller here and in the UK until well into the 20th century.
Barossa soon enough became highly regarded, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing. World War I and the German backlash saw names being anglicised: the Kaiser Stuhl brand overnight turned into Lord Kitchener.
Although William Wilson was first to plant in the Coonawarra, the region was expanded considerably by John Riddoch, the ‘Squire of Penola’, in the 1890s. Riddoch ran a general store in gold-mining Beechworth before he found his riches in the precious terra rossa, planting mainly cabernet, malbec and pinot. Although located in the middle of nowhere (wine writer Oz Clarke described it as an “Antipodean Siberia”), Riddich’s claret was highly regarded.
The Wynns – Samuel and David – were to make their lasting mark in the following century. Wynns bought the Riddoch vineyards in 1951 from Tony Nelson and established the iconic, stone-gabled brand Wynns Coonawarra Estate.
The year Riddoch died in 1901, a certain Bill Redman arrived to stake his influence that continues today in Redman Wines. The legendary Maurice O’Shea once noted that the Redman vineyard was a “winemaker’s dream”. Redman was renowned for the international acclaim for the extremely rare Treasure Chest Series he made in the 1950s for Tony Nelson’s Woodley’s label.
Coonawarra was flourishing just as the dreaded phylloxera louse hit Victoria and Victoria’s pain became South Australia’s gain – the prime reason for SA being home to the oldest surviving vines in Australia. In fact, the 1853 Hewitson-Koch Mourvèdre is believed to be the oldest mourvèdre in the world. Meanwhile some of the old gnarly vines that give us Henschke’s Hill of Grace, Elderton’s Command Shiraz, Penfolds’ Block 42 Cabernet and Yalumba’s Tri-Centenary Grenache are more than 125 years old.
The overseas success of Australian wines early on owes much to Patrick Auld and his Auldana Vineyard in Magill (acquired by Penfolds in 1944 and from which fruit from early vintages of St Henri were sourced). Auld placed marbles in tin cans attached to the vanes of windmills – the resultant racket was apparently a very effective bird repellent. He established the Australian Wine Co, adopting the Emu export label in the late 1880s. The stable of wines grew to include a Wirra Wirra McLaren Vale red under the Kangaroo Red label. Along with UK-based Peter Burgoyne, these were two of the more prominent early marketers of Australian wine to the world.
Auld garnered good press to match. A local reporter of the day noted that Auld: “Has got such wine as I have never tasted … it is entirely free of all earthy and disagreeable taste …. Like a bunch of flowers for fragrance. His fortune is made if he keeps such quality.”. And so it proved.
Australian winemakers however were soon to encounter a series of speed bumps in the early-mid 20th century, from phylloxera to the Great Depression to world wars – and waning wine exports. But their resilience never wavered. Roseworthy Agricultural College, founded west of the Barossa in 1883, was a mainstay for this resolve. Australian vignerons were also keen to learn from the best. And that inevitably meant France. The 1900s would herald a new wave of enterprising winemakers who would become revered.
A Taste of History
2019 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, A$45. First made in 1954, this is from the regenerated Riddoch’s original vineyards. (wynns.com.au)
2016 Hardys Tintara Grenache Shiraz Mataro, McLaren Vale, A$30. Made from classic trifecta of varieties from the Hardys’ Tintara Winery, founded in 1861. (hardyswines.com)
2016 Redman-Balnaves William Wilson Shiraz Cabernet, Coonawarra, A$300. A collaboration between the Redman and Balnaves families to mark the 200th anniversary of the Coonawarra founder’s birth. Only available at the cellar door. (redman.com.au/balnaves.com.au)
2016 Hewitson Old Garden Vineyard Mourvèdre, Barossa Valley, A$88. Made from just eight rows of what is believed to be the oldest surviving mourvèdre vineyard in the world. (hewitson.com.au)
2019 Pewsey Vale 1961 Block Riesling, Eden Valley, A$30. From the oldest of the rejuvenated original vineyards, where plantings were propagated from the original 1847 vines. (pewseyvale.com.au)
2016 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz, Eden Valley, A$225. From vines planted in 1912 by George Angas, it’s thought to be the longest consecutively produced single vineyard wine in Australia. (henschke.com.au)
2019 Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz, Adelaide, A$180. Sourced from the Magill vineyard just 8kms from Adelaide, and matured on-site at the original 1844 winery. (penfolds.com)
2018 Langmeil 1843 The Freedom Shiraz, Barossa Valley, A$185. Made from some of the oldest surviving shiraz vines in the world. (langmeilwinery.com.au)
2016 Turkey Flat The Ancestor 1847 Vineyard Shiraz, Barossa Valley, A$200. Made in tiny quantities from a vineyard planted in 1847. (turkeyflat.com.au)
2013 Ox Hardy 1891 Ancestor Vine Upper Tintara Vineyard Shiraz, McLaren Vale (by allocation only). Made from the last remaining 2.5 hectare block planted by Thomas Hardy. (oxhardywines.com.au)
2019 Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling, Barossa, A$50. Including fruit from the Steingarten Vineyard planted by Johnann Gramp’s great-grandson Colin in 1962. (jacobscreek.com)
2018 Yalumba The Tri-Centenary Grenache, Barossa Valley, A$65. This popular grenache is made from dry-grown bush vines planted in 1889. (yalumba.com)
2001 Seppeltsfield Tawny Single Vintage Para Tawny, South Australia, A$95. This vintage marks the 150th anniversary of the first plantings at this winery. (seppeltfield.com.au)
Tintara Winery and Magill Estate and The Upper Tintara Vineyard are all on the homeland of the Peramangk people. The Steingarten Vineyard, The Mount Edelstone Vineyard, Seppeltsfield, “Yealumba”, Pewsey Vale, Langmeil Turkey Flat and The Old Garden Vineyard are on the homeland of the Peramangk, Ngadjuri and Kaurna people. Wynns Coonawarra Estate, Redman and Balnaves are on the homeland of the Bindjali people.