Stretching along the Murray River, near the border with Victoria and NSW, the Riverland wine area in South Australia produces more wine than any other Australian region. In a 40km radius of Bill Moularadellis’s Kingston Estate winery, 30% of the national production is grown. All of the industry’s major players source fruit from here for popular labels such as Lindeman’s Bin 65, Jacobs Creek, Nottage Hill and Queen Adelaide .
Moularadellis, Chairman of the Marketing Arm of the Riverland Wine Industry Development Council, said that whether the water comes from the heavens or drip irrigation is largely academic, the important thing is how the water is handled. Kingston Estate has invested heavily in drip irrigation and technology which allows them to monitor the moisture in the soil. By controlling the amount of irrigation it applies at different times, and with careful canopy management, 98% of the water they use in the vineyard is transpired through the vines, not lost to the elements. Moularadellis said that this compares with an industry average of 70 to 80%. While fragrant whites do not do well, 70,000 tonnes of chardonnay were produced in the region each year, more than the combined total of all other regions in South Australia. The quality of reds has improved in leaps and bounds, but the real star of the show is Petit Verdot.
Moularadellis’s 2002 Reserve Petit Verdot was one of 19 wines in the taste-off for the much prized Jimmy Watson Trophy in 2003. Despite producing nearly 30,000 tonnes of wine a year, Kingston Estate does not have a cellar door, focusing on developing their markets instead.
Just up the road, though, 100,000 people a year beat a path to the Banrock Station Wine and Wetland Centre, where the Hardy Wine Company combines an eco-tourism experience with wine and food. When Hardy’s bought the 1750ha property in 1994, it had been intensively farmed for 100 years. About 250ha has been converted to vineyard with state-of-the-art irrigation and the remainder has returned to its natural state. The cellar door restaurant offers bistro-style meals with an emphasis on native ingredients.
Two other Hardy wineries, Renmano Wines and Berri Estates, are based in the Riverland, each with long histories dating back to the early 20th century. Another company with a long history is the family-owned Angove’s, which began winemaking and distilling in 1886. The Riverland was traditionally known for its fortified wine and brandy, and Angove’s is still responsible for Stone’s Green Ginger Wine and Australia’s biggest selling brandy, St Agnes.
According to Robert Minns, Founder of Bonneyview Wines, Angove’s has invested heavily in improving the quality of their table wines through new irrigation methods, better canopy management, replanting and new winery equipment. While a number of boutique wineries have been opened, they are not a new phenomenon in the Riverland.
Bonnyview’s cellar door, which has a popular restaurant, offers tastings of Chardonnay, late-picked Frontignac, three red blends and several liqueurs and fortified wines, including a luscious fruity port. At least four new cellar doors, Salena Estate, Woolpunda, Tandou and Burk Salter, have been opened. Woolpunda is the cellar door for Thomson Fruitgrowers, which sell 80% of their grapes to large companies but also makes wine under their own labels, Woolpunda, Thomson Estate and Kangaroo Creek. Its Cabernet Tempranillo complements pasta and pizza well.
Burk Salter Wines offer bed and breakfast accommodation, as does Loch Luna which has a guest cottage overlooking the lake. Its boutique nature could not be in greater contrast with the gigantic McGuigan-Simeon, which has an outlet in what was originally the Loxton Cellars. It sells wine from many producers in the region, including some that do not have their own cellar door.