Thursday, April 26, 2012

Names - McLaren Vale History - Part 5

Originally the area which we now call the McLaren Vale Wine Region had many different names, one for each of the hamlets or groupings of farms that were settled in the 1800 and 1900’s. Overtime these names have been swallowed up into the towns we now call McLaren Vale, McLaren Flat and Willunga, but for those with a sense of history they live on if you look closely.

View McLaren Vale Historic Names in a larger map

What is in a name? Click on the map to find out more.

One hamlet has survived with its own postcode almost into the present day. Landcross Farm, which had its own postcode, 5170, until recently centered on and named after the farm property which has been rejuvenated by Paxton Wines.

A few of the original settlement names have been merged into common postcodes but survived as map or service addresses. Whites Valley and Willunga South, which are both part of the Willunga postcode 5172, live on as utility addresses. Tatachilla also remains in common usage both as an address, winery brand and school, despite being swallowed by the McLaren Vale.

Some names live on as business names, Hillside formerly near McLaren Flat, lives on as Hillside Haulage the Sullivan families freight business. Taranga, which was the southern section of a farm established by William and Elizabeth Oliver when they settled in 1841, lives on in several business and property names.

Others names have fallen out of general use and remain as property names, like Bethany or Beltunga. Some have fallen out of usage entirely like Gloucester.

Why this happened makes an interesting story.

The first amalgamation of names was due to a natural increase in population. As settlers arrived in the area hamlets merged together to form towns.

Originally the region was survey in 1839 by a party led by John McLaren. McLaren was appointed as Senior Surveyor was given the task of surveying the southern districts of Adelaide. McLaren divided up the south of Adelaide into three districts - B, C and D to be released to the settlers in stages. Section C included all the land south of the Onkaparinga River to Willunga Hill as was released from 1840.

McLaren Vale was the general name for the wide valley south of the Onkaparinga Gorge. The township of McLaren Vale originally consisted of 2 small villages; Gloucester, a triangle between the Salopean Inn and Kangrilla road, established in 1851 and Bellevue, where The Barn and Limeburners stand, established in 1854.

Both small towns had a unique character. In 1841 two of the early settlers were Devonshire farmers, William Colton and Charles Hewitt. The farmers bought workmen with them and established neighbouring farms, Daringa and Oxenberry Farm. These farms formed the nucleus of the hamlet Gloucester. Daringa and Oxenberry live on as cellar doors on Kangarilla Rd.

Bellevue, to the north, began on land purchased by Richard Bell at settlement who built a little colony of thatched pug houses. He also built a hotel in 1857 and named it the Clifton in honour of his wife, nee Clift. Ellen Street also bore her name until recent years, but is now retitled as part of Chalk Hill Road. Ellen Street lives on as a wine made by Mark Maxwell. The Clifton Hotel is the Hotel McLaren.

The Gloucester and Bellevue towns grew together so that by 1923 McLaren Vale was gazetted by the Lands Office as a private town. In that year Mr CE Pridmore, situated half way between Bellevue and Gloucester at Sylvan Park, applied for a transfer of the portion of section 156 in the township McLaren Vale. All previous transactions for that locality were designated as in the township of Gloucester in the McLaren Vale (or Valley).

Approximately 4 kilometres to the southeast of these towns in the McLaren Vale was Wesleyan chapel was opened in 1854 and was given the name Bethany Chapel. Other cottages were established which gave rise to Bethany the hamlet. Later Bethany was also home to the first illuminated tennis courts which can still be seen on McMurtrie Road. 

Bethany Chapel c. 1990 prior to renovation.

I have always assumed Wirra Wirra’s Church Block wine is named after the chapel as Wirra Wirra's vineyards sit directly opposite. Can anyone confirm this?

North of Bethany is the town of McLaren Flat. McLaren Flat had the satellite villages, or hamlets, Hillside which was located west towards Kangarilla and Beltunga, to the north whose houses were mostly built at the instigation of Richard Bell, founder of Bellevue.

Blewitt Springs was further north and consisted of a series of sandy ridges linked by roads that ran in between. It has maintained its ‘independence’ on maps and as a street address although shares McLaren Flat’s telephone exchange and the greater 5171 postcode.

Bush Grenache vines at Paxton Wines - Landcross Farm.
Traveling back towards the McLaren Vale township was known as Seaview. Sir Samuel Way’s 1870’s farm called Sea View lent its name to a Seaview hamlet complete with a chapel built in 1880’s, now the cellar door for Chapel Hill Wines. Sir Samuel in turn lent his name to Justin McNamee’s Samuels Gorge winery now based in the former Sea View blacksmith’s and olive press house.

Along the road back down the hill to the McLaren Townships, George Manning established Hope Farm in 1851, which was turned into a winery over the years. The winery was renamed Seaview in 1951 by its new owners, Mr Edwards and Chaffey. The names Seaview and Edwards & Chaffey live on a wine brands.
A look back in time... Chapel Vale, now Chapel Hill, circa 1973

Around the town of Willunga were Willunga South where the slate mines were grouped and Whites Valley which lay on the direct road to Port Willunga to the north of Aldinga. The Whites Valley village was centered on Adey Rd, Aldinga Rd and Little Rd. Several historic building remain. Some have been restored while some of the farm houses and mills have fallen into ruin.

Olivers Taranga in the 1990's.
I have been told that the Sellicks Hills, part of the Mount Lofty Ranges, which stare down on Whites Valley, were once known as the Front Hills, and are marked as such on some old maps. I haven’t seen these, but I believe it possible this name was then corrupted to be called foothills. Foothills are dryly defined as gradual increases in hilly areas at the base of a mountain range.

We get the sub-regional name Sellicks Foothills from this, but Front Hills has a ring to it in my opinion and might warrant a comeback.

Postcodes were introduced in Australia in 1967 by the Postmaster-General's Department (PMG), the predecessor of Australia Post. At this point many of the smaller regional names were swallowed up. Landcross Farm survived with a fresh postcode but Tatachilla, McLaren Flat, Blewitt Springs, and remnants Hillside, Beltunga and Bethany were all merged into McLaren Vale 5171. Willunga 5172 took over Willunga South and Whites Valley. Willunga Post Office also had responsibilities for Hope Forest, The Range, Dingabledinga, Montarra (where Lazy Ballerina the cellar door is located across from the southern tip of Kuitpo Forest) and Kuitpo.

What is in a name? A lot of the history of this region.

 Wine Fight Club June 09

If you know more to these stories please comment below. It is worthwhile checking out Oliver Taranga's Cellar Door to see their old map of the region. Also the main source for this article is the great book - McLaren Vale: Sea and Vines - Barbara Santich.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sustainable Farming - Now, Now, Now.

Could the McLaren Vale region be one big sustainable food basket?

Standard farming practice c. 1970.
With the launch of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, James Hook argues the answer has to be yes.  

If McLaren Vale has a future as a farming region it must embrace sustainable farming.

The recently launched Sustainable Winegrowing Australia programme gives the region a vehicle to do just that.

Why? We needs to produce products that attract premium prices to be financially sustainable. Why? Farming needs to act as a steward for the region and protect the area from the perils of urbanization. 

The widespread adoption sustainable, high quality farming taking the best from organic and/or biodynamic techniques will maintain the vitality of the region and give McLaren Vale producers a sustained competitive advantage in their winemaking. This will allow higher prices for grapes which increases the value of the land, which decreases the pressure to put in housing.

I feel the way to do this is to adopt sustainable farming as a code of practice for the whole district, as an industry and as a community to challenge ourselves and reap the benefits.

Reduced demand, lower wine grape prices and diminishing profit margins mean production of high quality fruit in McLaren Vale has become vital for winegrowers. For ill or good the strength and growth in the wine industry has greatly contributed to the region. The future of the grape growing and winemaking and the future of the area are intertwined. At present there is an oversupply of C grade fruit in the region, fruit that is made into wine in the $10-15 dollar per bottle range. There is high demand for A grade fruit which produces wine above $25 per bottle. It is at these quality levels that the majority of viticultural businesses need to be producing to be profitable. Conventional agriculture has not given us that with much of our fruit falling below the top grades. 

The McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing Australia launch, held at the Bocce Club, was a huge success with more than 100 grapegrowers in attendance.

What we describe as conventional agriculture is a recent trend. With the appearance of cheap mineral fertilisers and pesticides in the early 1950s, farmers quickly abandoned traditional or organic methods of farming and became heavily dependent on both agrochemicals and labour-saving machinery. Farmers discontinued organic methods not because they did not work but because they could not compete with the new type of agriculture.

Accepted practice viewed organic farming as inefficient. The race was to grow the most, not to grow in the most sustainable way. Grape growers received similar prices whether they grew 5 tonnes to the hectare or 15 tonnes. The emphasis was big is better. In spite of this, organic farming was pioneered because many local growers looked for ways to reduce the amount of fertilisers and pesticides they were using.

Blewitt Springs McLaren Vale.

Enter the modern concept of sustainable farming. Not a return to the past, rather a marriage of scientific advances with traditional practices.

In the McLaren Vale wine industry, Battle of Bosworth, Rino and Greta Ozzella at Grancari Estate and many others certified their vineyard organic. Unsung growers like the late Modestino Piombo developed a successful vineyard at Sellicks Hill with little more than a dodge plow and wettable sulphur. Recently Paxton viticulture have successfully converted significant amounts of vineyard to BioDynamics, an organic system with soil as the key factor in farming, and sustainability as the goal. The Leask family, Paxton Wines and Gemtree wines have all converted vineyards to this system.

Following the lead of these pioneers elements of the organic and biodynamic philosophy have been starting catch on with mainstream grape growers.

The pioneers were concerned, above all else, about the soil beneath their feet. Organic and Biodynamic philosophy is centred on practices designed to improve the richness and stability of the soil by restoring its organic matter and avoiding synthetic chemicals.

Not surprisingly this commitment to soil balance also has a flow on effect to wine quality. Many of the characteristics of a well maintained organic or biodynamic vineyard have the same traits of vineyards that achieve A grade results. This is particularly the case with McLaren Vale staples Shiraz and Grenache. They have moderate vigour, develop open canopies, catch a good deal of sunlight, have thicker skins, are not over fertilised and have balanced soil.
Brad Cameron driving pick up for his families vineyard.

McLaren Vale has many advantages that make sustainable wine production a reality. The area has creek lines and roadsides that can be re-vegetated to offset farming energy demands and electrical power can be generated from shed and winery roof space. McLaren Vale’s soils are perfect for farming and we have a ready supply of organic fertilisers from Adelaide’s waste and animal farming nearby.

Currently 40% of the grape growers water needs are filled by reclaimed water from Adelaide with plans ahead to increase this, and the balance of water comes from underground sources which are carefully monitored to make sure are healthy.

Pastures grow well in between our vine rows stopping soil erosion.

Mechanical weeding or new plant based herbicides can control weeds where they are not needed.

Bush Vine Grenache at Paxton Wines.
McLaren Vale has relatively low risk of disease affecting yield and quality. Powdery Mildew is a slow creeping disease that is limited by sunlight. Open canopies that let sunlight into the fruit zone inhibit its growth naturally; these same open canopies have the advantage of suiting A grade red wine production. Organically registered products like sulphur are effective in controlling the disease.

Downy Mildew is a rare occurrence in the district with the last significant outbreak in 1992. Downy Mildew needs wet summers where significant rain occurs in November and December. Wet summers are infrequent. When the next wet summer comes with increased knowledge about the disease, I believe with the correct timing, grape growers can use copper as an emergency measure to limit Downy’s effects and still meet organic requirements. Botrytis is a hit and miss problem. A grade red varieties with tough skins will always fair better than those which are pumped up and weak skinned. Nature is clever like that.

The pioneers have showed the district how. Organic practices use cheap and locally available resources. Vineyards are being successfully farmed avoiding factors over which farmers have little control: mineral fertilisers and synthetic pesticides. The opportunity is here to make the region the centre of sustainable grape growing.

I feel adopting organic practices on a wide scale represents an effective way to reduce the oversupply of C grade fruit and promote more fruit into the A grade. Is organic certification, or whole hearted Biodynamics in its pure form the solution, maybe not? However the concept of widespread semi-organics by adopting organic techniques to increase soil health, decrease the use of unnecessary farm inputs and push towards sustainability is attainable and attractive.

The Pines by Horace Trennery. c. 1940.
I am not suggesting we change the world, just look at what is happening in the region and see where we fit into it. The scientist in me tells me this is possible. It is all practical and we have made a reasonable start, now is the time to keep striving.

The Cult of Personality - History of McLaren Vale - Part 4.

There was a time in Southern Vales where there were no cellar doors. Up until the 1970's wineries did not sell direct to the public or undertake direct tourism. One of the first cellar doors in McLaren Vale was started by Enzo Berlingieri as Settlement Wines in the 1970's.

"In 1984 the most flamboyant figure in McLaren Vale, Vincenzo Berlingieri, purchased Oliverhill with, as usual, grand schemes in mind." Oliverhill Wines- Excerpt from "The Australian Wine Compendium" 1985 Edition by James Halliday

"Old times... good times... when dirty ashtrays were a socially acceptable part of the whole cellar door experience", says Enzo's daughter Annika, "As well as tops off Fridays."

Wayne Thomas was a McLaren Vale veteran, having started his winemaking career in 1961, working for Stonyfell, Ryecroft and Saltram before establishing a cellar door at Fern Hill with his late wife Pat in ’75.

Fern Hill in 1984.
When they sold Fern Hill in 1994 they started again, launching the Wayne Thomas Wines label, using grapes sourced from growers throughout McLaren Vale.

Wayne Thomas passed away in April 2007.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Helping McLaren Vale farm ; After we are gone.

Already recognised as one of the world’s most sustainable viticultural regions, McLaren Vale has strengthen its sustainability status after region launched the world leading McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, 'Sustainable Winegrowing' for short, Tuesday night.

We are really proud to have been a part of a great collaborative, open, forward looking program.
In 2005 when Lazy Ballerina's proprietor James Hook was working for MVGWTA he developed the outline of a self-assessment system for grape growers. Over the last 7 years this as developed into a system for growers to assess their operations and gain sustainable certification.

James authored the first two chapters of Sustainable Winegrowing which were peer reviewed by Dr Mike McCarthy and Dr Trevor Wicks respectively.

“Sustainable Winegrowing is the first program of its kind in Australia and we expect other regions will follow our lead and adopt the program, tailoring it to their region,” MVGWTA Chair Peter Hayes said.

“The program embraces the triple bottom line approach relating to economic, social and environmental considerations and is independent of farming systems, meaning conventional, organic and biodynamic grapegrowers alike can benefit from participating.”


Above - The launch, held at the Bocce Club, was a huge success with more than 100 people in attendance.


Above - Chester Osborne - d'Arenberg Wines, Stephen Strachan - WFA and Peter Hayes, MVGWTA.

For more information check out