Adelaide Hills

South Australia

About

Overlooking a city outline of church spires, the Adelaide Hills is a high-altitude region that is home to a wealth of excellent wines. 

Nestled east of Adelaide’s CBD, this wine country is more than just rolling hills stretching from one undulating mountain range to another; it’s full of increasingly innovative winemakers. For gourmet offerings and top wineries producing benchmark red and wine styles, step into an array of cellar doors dotted throughout the hills. Expect to sample the region’s fragrant and lightly spiced pinot noir, and discover the exceptional intensity of its esteemed chardonnay. Passionate winemakers are taking advantage of the region’s diverse climate to produce other varieties, including distinctive shiraz and its flagship sauvignon blanc.

Don’t miss the enclave of Basket Range with its left-of-centre producers focusing on minimal intervention wines. And seek a little further and discover the hills are very much alive with fine foods; the region is a hotbed for artisanal produce and enticing dining options, from cafes to restaurants and cellar door venues. Weave northbound up the Adelaide Hills scenic route for Australia’s oldest-surviving German settlement in Hahndorf, or roam the elevated slopes of vineyard sites across the region.


James Halliday on the Adelaide Hills


Laws relating to the sale of alcohol have never been rational, and are unlikely to ever become so: there are too many competing forces, ranging from neo-prohibitionists to governments wishing to extract ever-increasing tax revenue. But Walter Duffield must stand as one of the great martyrs: in 1844 he sent a case of Echunga Hock to Queen Victoria, and was promptly prosecuted for making wine without the requisite licence. Notwithstanding this bizarre start, viticulture flourished in the Adelaide Hills, with over 530 hectares of vines in bearing in the 1870s. 

For the same reasons that bore down on other cool-climate regions across South Australia and Victoria, vines slowly but surely disappeared until the last were removed in the 1930s. When viticulture recommenced in 1971, it was in the warmest north-western corner of the region, courtesy of Leigh and Jan Verrall, but the arrival of Brian Croser to found Petaluma in 1976 marked the birth of the Adelaide Hills region as it is known today. From the outset, the 400-metre contour line circumscribed the southern and eastern boundaries, and continues to do so. This might suggest a neat parcel of climate, soil and wine type, but in fact there is considerable climatic variation between the northern and central areas.

In the northern vineyards spread around the hamlets of Paracombe, Birdwood and Gumeracha (and most notably those with a west-facing tilt) heat summations rise substantially, and full-bodied red wines are made. In the centre, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir are dominant, producing fine table wine. But even this constitutes a dangerous generalisation, for site selection is all- important: as Brian Croser has handsomely demonstrated at Petaluma, chardonnay grown within the Piccadilly Valley subregion is profoundly influenced by the aspect of the vineyard, with north-, east- and west-facing slopes producing wines with markedly different aromas and flavours. This subregion and the adjacent Lenswood subregion are particularly attractive. The roads twist and turn, rise and fall, offering cameo vistas with bewildering frequency. 

It is exceedingly beautiful in autumn, yet is still a largely undiscovered treasure. Although it is less than 30 minutes’ drive from the centre of Adelaide, no one should venture into this country without a detailed road map, for it is impossible to navigate by simply using one’s sense of direction. Further south still is the Kuitpo area, not far from the escarpment leading down to McLaren Vale. Here are some of the largest vineyard developments – notably those of eminent viticulturist Geoff Hardy and that of Rosemount Estate – and the accent swings to semillon, shiraz, merlot and sauvignon blanc. There is a distinct change in the character of the countryside, more akin to that of the north, and the wine style follows suit, even though ripening is very late. The potential of the Adelaide Hills is limited, only by the need to protect the water catchment by restricting development, and by alternative land use for intensive horticulture – market gardening, apple growing and so forth. It will be interesting to see how the competing interests are resolved in the long term, but it is certainthat viticulture will claim a significant portion of the available resources. Proper control and disposal of winery effluent into such a sensitive water catchment area is the major concern, and only five winery licences have been granted since 1976.

However, regardless of the number of operating wineries, this is a truly outstanding region for a day trip from Adelaide. The historic and beautiful Bridgewater Mill and Mount Lofty House offer first-class restaurants for lunch (and Mount Lofty House luxurious accommodation and dinner). Particularly in spring and autumn, the patchwork quilt of little hills and valleys blazes with colour.

Facts

Wineries 151
Tasting Notes 5278

Geographic

Latitude 34°50’S
Altitude 400–500 m
Heat Degree Days 1270
Growing Season Rainfall 310 mm
Mean January Temp 19.1°C
Harvest Mid March to late April