Adelaide Hills is a stunning cool climate region a short 20 minute drive east from Adelaide CBD located amidst the Mount Lofty Ranges. Surrounded by warmer climates both to the north and south, Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale respectively, this region offers distinctively different wines than its neighbors. Plus, Adelaide Hill’s vicinity to the city makes for the perfect location for a long lunch or easy afternoon of wine tasting.
The history of the Adelaide Hills region has a similar beginning to the other wine regions of South Australia – settlers from the U.K. Adelaide Hill’s highest point, Mount Lofty, was named in 1802 by Matthew Flinders. Years later in 1831, Collet Barker climbed Mount Lofty and at such high elevation was able to spot the Port River. Later in 1836, this sighting helped Colonel William Light determine the settlement location for Adelaide.
The first South Australian vineyard was also planted in 1836 in North Adelaide by a settler named John Barton Hack. He supposedly planted European cuttings of Syrah and Grenache. A few years later in an effort to escape the urban sprawl of Adelaide, Hack pulled his vineyard and transplanted near Mount Barker. Once production ramped up, Hack decided to send a case of wine produced from the Mount Barker vineyards to Queen Victoria. This was the first gift of Australian wine to be sent to an English monarch.
Many other grape growers and wineries followed suit and relocated further east, establishing wine production in the region known today as Adelaide Hills. In total, from 1840 to 1900 around 225 grape growers practiced viticulture and enology here. Unfortunately, due to the end of Imperial Preference, which had favored Australian produce exports to the U.K., many of these early wineries went bankrupt and closed. Thankfully, many pioneering producers in the 1970s and 1980s recognized the potential of the cool climate characteristics and diverse topography of the region. Vineyards were replanted, wineries opened, and over time Adelaide Hills became the beautiful premium wine producing region it is today.
Adelaide Hills is one of South Australia’s cool climate regions and one of the largest geographical wine regions in all of Australia. The region itself is a narrow 70km stretch of land along the Mount Lofty Ranges. All areas with an elevation of 300m or more qualify as part of the Adelaide Hills wine region, which also has two registered sub-regions – Lenswood and Picadilly Valley. Within that 70 kilometers, vineyard elevations range from 300m-650m. The highest vineyards are sited from Picadilly, Crafers, Summertown, and Carey Gully at around 600m-650m.
As elevation increases temperature decreases, dropping 0.5°C with roughly every 100m increase. These cooler climates at high elevations are especially important as grapes are ripening. The cooler nighttime temperatures help to enhance and preserve the color and flavor compounds in the fruit.
The average temperature during the growing season in Adelaide Hills is around 18.2°C compared to Adelaide CBD’s 23.3°C. Higher elevations in the Hills also means more rainfall averaging about 550mm per year and 270mm during the growing season.
Generally speaking, the most common soil types in Adelaide Hills are sandy loams, clay loams, and clay subsoil. In many areas of the region, the loams are also combined with shale or ironstone. The soil is typically acidic and occasionally can have a neutral pH. Due to the nature of the undulating hills and steep slopes in different areas of the region, soils at the top of the hill can be more stoney compared to the bottom where more peat, clay soil is found. This diversity in topography and soil allows viticulturists to make interesting decisions when planting vineyards. For example, vines can be more vigorous at the bottom of the hill in deeper, heavier soils while yields can be controlled in more stone based soils at the top.
Adelaide Hills is home to wonderful cool climate expressions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Shiraz. The region boasts phenomenal sparkling wines and is also home to emerging varieties relatively new to the Australian wine scene. Varieties like Cabernet Franc and Grüner Veltliner are being increasingly planted throughout the region.
Known for premium wines and breathtaking scenery, Adelaide Hills boasts 48 cellar doors and 90 wine labels to choose from. Below I’ve included my three favorites from my visit to the region. For more emerging, cutting-edge producers, check out the Basket Range area of Adelaide Hills. I’d also recommend grabbing a pizza at Lost in a Forest so you can taste Ochota Barrels wines, one of my most favorite Aussie wine producers with incredibly unique wines. Shaw + Smith also came highly recommended, although I didn’t get the chance to visit when I was in Adelaide Hills. Next time!
Penfold’s Magill Estate – Gorgeous cellar door. Friendly and knowledgable staff. Casual and fine dining options. Plus, tours of one of the biggest name’s in Austalian wine’s original estate.
Deviation Road – Sparkling wine from a female winemaker who studied winemaking in Champagne. Need I say more? Oh, plus a deck with a gorgeous view of the vineyards to kick back on with vino and a cheese board.
Howard Vineyard – Laidback, inviting cellar door with inviting staff. A an interesting variety of wines on offer and a casual restaurant if you want a bite to eat.