The Best Excuse to Visit SA


At first I thought, no, silly, too busy. We didn’t win, but we came runner up in the NASAA Organic Wine Tasting for 2015, and we were invited to attend the awards ceremony last Friday at the Adelaide Convention Centre. Its true that there are not really any prizes for second place, but it meant that our preservative free shiraz was up there amongst the best in Australia – including the prestigious Shiraz regions of Barossa and McLaren Vale!

So, Simone and I had second thoughts. Actually, this could be the excuse for the trip we had dreamed of for so long – for me to visit some fantastic SA winemakers, and for Simone and the kids to have a family road trip. So with just a weeks notice, we decided to go, attend the presentation and visit some of our favourite organic vineyards of McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley.

1 NASAA  tasting
2015 Organic Wine of the Year Presentation. We met Rod and Em Hooper from Macaw Creek Wines, who won the award for Organic Wine of the Year with their 2014 Em’s Table Clare Valley Riesling – an absolutely delicious wine.



From Adelaide, we drove south for about an hour into the hills between the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale wine regions, to stay with old mates who moved there from Canowindra and had a beautiful 25 acre bush block for us to explore before starting our wine tour. With kids the same age as ours, it was perfect, and only a half hour drive to Willunga and McLaren Vale. I thought a couple of pics of the original forest would give a good intro to the vineyards of the beautiful McLaren Vale wine region.

3 Forest moss
The beautiful forest around Kyeema, SA, just south of Adelaide in the hills overlooking McLaren Vale. We helped pull out African Daisies and other feral weeds in this area with the local bush regeneration group. The forest was lovely and moist, despite the recent lack of rain and the moss and mushrooms were abundant.


2 Forest mushrooms
Very cute mushrooms by the forest path, Kyeema area. These are just some of the many variety of mushrooms growing in the forest above McLaren Vale. A good omen of the rich biological tapestry of the region, for our tour of organic vineyards down the hill.


Joch and Louise are some of the pioneers of organic viticulture in South Australia – Battle of Bosworth wines. they produce some fantastic wines and their hospitality to us fellow organic growers was fantastic. We had a lazy Sunday afternoon barbeque and tour of the vineyard, which at 200 acres is far larger than ours and I was amazed that until recent years it was pretty much just Joch and Louise that ran it alone. Now they have the equivalent of 7 people in the business, reflecting their growth sales, addition of a new winery as well as a new cellar door, export and tourism. Battle of Bosworth was an inspirational first vineyard to visit.

4 Bosworth cellar door
Joch Bosworth and Louise Hemsley-Smith of Battle of Bosworth in the new cellar door. The ancient looking stone farm buildings date back to the 1840s.


5 Bosworth vines
When you drive into the Bosworth vineyard the first thing you notice is the abundant Soursob, which features not only on the Bosworth logo but all over the McLaren Vale. Its a classic example of a “weed” only being a “weed” in the eye of the beholder. In this vineyard, its actually encouraged because it does such a great job as ground-cover during the hot summer when it dies off and forms a natural organic mulch.


6 Bosworth vines2
Battle of Bosworth vineyard, with legumes planted between the rows. You can see the beans and clover amongst the Soursob. Even though there has not been any rain for a month or two, its looking amazing. This should supply plenty of nitrogen for next seasons crop.



The next stop was quite a different operation. Higher up in the hills of the McLaren Vale is Yangarra, and I got a cooks tour from the vineyard manager, Michael Lane. This substantial sized vineyard is actually owned by a company from the US, and Yangarra has been managed using biodynamic methods since 2007, in the aim of improving the soils and producing more distinctive wines. Michael has been making a lot of compost and putting it out quite thick in certain areas. The vineyard’s most sought after wines come from Grenache bush vines planted back in 1946, their Roussanne is also very good and the 2015 preservative free shiraz is delicious. Some of the wines are made in the Livingwater “Egg” fermenter, just like some of ours, with great success.

7 Yangarra compost
Michael Lane at the Yangarra compost heap – producing about 300 cubic metres a year using grape marc from the new winery, straw, manures, biodynamic preparations and a local contractor to turn the heaps on site.


8 Yangarra fencing
Adaptation – converting a bird scarer that never worked into a mobile electric fence for sheep. Sheep appear to be used in quite a few McLaren Vale vineyards for winter grazing, weed control and to fertilise the soil.


9 Yangarra old vine
A beautiful Grenache bush vine, planted in 1946. The moss growing on the base of it is not only beautiful, but a testament to the natural farming practices that have been used for the last 7 years.
10 Yangarra sands
At the top of the Yangarra vineyard is a sand hill that is about 1.4 metres deep, with clay subsoil underneath. The soil is low fertility but allows deep root growth. This is where the best wines come from. Unfortunately I couldnt afford a bottle of this but I got my hands on some other, very good wines!



D’Arenberg is a bit like Coopers to me – its a family owned, authentic South Australian company making real, traditional beverages. I was cheering when the D’Arenberg winemaker Toby Porter returned my call and offered to give me a tour. As a lover of interesting wines, made in small batches, with minimal mechanisation, lots of tradition and plenty of courage to be different, this was an eye opener. The vines are old, largely. The wines are fermented in open concrete tanks, which they say means better ferments so the the thermal mass of the tank. They are then pressed in open baskets rather than in a modern air press. They are then put into barrels, mainly old ones, even before fermentation is complete, then they do their malolactic fermentation in barrel, and are bottled without further racking and fining. This is great, simple stuff aiming to  express the uniqueness of the variety and vineyard. 

In terms of organic farming, D’Arenberg is now NASAA certified, however I didnt see any wines with the logo on them. There are plenty of sheep in the vineyard, which certainly looked to be using organic practices.


12 Darenberg Press
D’Arenberg’s famous old 2 tonne wooden basket press
13 Darenberg barrels
Some of D’Arenberg’s 7000 barrels
14 Darenberg vines
Vineyard at the D’Arenberg winery entrance, grazed by sheep



Max Allen introduced me to Wayne Ahrens a couple of years ago, at a tasting of “retro” Rhone and Languedoc varietals, where I first tried Wayne’s “cloudy” rose – a truly natural wine, made very low tech, and unfiltered and unfined, but absolutely delicious. When I called Wayne I was surprised again at his great hospitality, as he and his partner Suzi Hilder invited the whole tribe of us over for dinner. And that was after we had lunch at Artisans of the Barossa, and did a relaxed afternoon vineyard tour.

Half a decade ago Wayne and Suzi bought the ancient vines in the valley floor which is now their Barossa vineyard, partnering with their Eden Valley vineyard they have had for two decades. The care and effort they have put into the old vines, using biodynamic methods, is a testament to their deep respect for the heritage of the Barossa Old Vine. A repsect which you can taste in the wines – made is a soft euro style without oak or heaviness. Check out Small Fry Wines.


15 Smallfry Wayne
Wayne on some reworked rows of trellised old vines. The soil is very sandy, and Wayne has been applying plenty of BD compost to it. The vigour of the vines is variable, but overall pretty healthy.




16 Smallfry Suzie
Suzi amongst the giants – ancient old Basossa Bush Vines.



17 Smallfry BD Shed
Waynes nice little Biodynamic Shed setup with flowforms and worm farms. He uses the horn manure for soil improvement and the worm juice he adds to the Whey he uses for powdery mildew control.




If you are a wine lover on Instagram you must have heard of Josh Pfeiffer, one of the young guns taking the Barossa in new directions – good directions. As the latest generation at Whistler Wines with his cousin Matthew also at the helm, Josh is a busy man – he had his Queensland distributors there when we arrived – but his dad, Martin, was out pruning the Semillon near the cellar door and I had a great chat with him about the vineyard. He is so happy to see his son taking the reins and implementing his organic methods in the vineyard, and making wine on the property since 2014.


18 Whistler Semillon
The new organic direction at Whistler Wines makes much use of the dodge plow. This is a manual hydraulic weeder, which dodges in and out around the vines and pulls out the weeds. Later, another pass with a blade pushes the weeds and soil back under the vines. Compost is also applied, and so the whole mound turns into a seething mass of microbial life from the decomposing weeds and the compost. I am expecting Josh will enjoy improved vigour and reduced water use from this system.



19 Whistler flowers
Soursob, clover and vetch provide a diverse leguminous ground cover between the rows at Whistler Wines.



20 Whistler Josh
The man himself, looking bushy after a trip to Queensland, shows us his newest wines. Mostly not bottled, they are exciting wines. Soft, complex, aromatic and drinkable – a move away from the heavy reds of Barossa tradition. Delicious!


4 thoughts on “The Best Excuse to Visit SA”

  1. I like the old bush vines at Yangarra Estate…….1946, the year I was born! Great reflections Sam.

  2. What a great trip Sam, the Southern Vales are my favourite part of the world there. I did a lot of my Wine Diploma studies in that area. Did you try the D’arenberg 2013 Hermit Crab a really gorgeous interesting wine.
    Beautiful photos the land and trees and plants all looked so fertile. It seems to me Organic and biodynamic farming in this area is more problematical.

  3. How beautiful to see our heritage of old vines being respected and nurtured, when nowadays so many are bulldozed after a few years to suit a changing market. And to share the wisdom and practices of other wineries is wonderful too. This is what wine is about for me – tradition, uniqueness, provenance, sustainability. Oh, did I mention taste? Congratulations on your 2nd – it’s well deserved.

  4. Hi Sam,
    Very informative blog- lots to learn even for local growers around here.
    I must do some research on the ‘dodge plow’.
    Hope the winter is being kind to you and yours

Comments are closed.

Join Waitlist Sorry, this is not available at the moment. Please leave your email address below and we will notify you as soon as it becomes available.