Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What is in a name?

View McLaren Vale Historic Names in a larger map

What is in a name? Click on the map to find out more about some of the old names in the McLaren Vale.

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.

One hamlet has survived with a different postcode. Landcross Farm, which is uniquely put in with Maslins Beach as 5170. Landcross Farm is centered on and named after the farm property which has been rejuvenated by Paxton Wines. The Landcross Farm postcode is a throwback to an age when the farm and the buildings around it formed their own unique community.

A few others 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Water stress; vigour and quality.

Vigorous vines.

Notes on McLaren Vale Irrigation and vigour strategies. 

Reds ain't reds...

I found these notes from 2004 on the differences between McLaren Vale's big three red varieties. How much is still true in 2009?

I think the comments about water stress ring very true. Water stress, not to be confused with limiting water and drying soil, is a negative for wine quality.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Maintaining sufficient vigour to achieve fleshy rather than small berries was identified as the main issue with this variety. Too much fruit exposure is undesirable as it reduces colour in Cabernet berries. Excessive growth and shading can lead to undesirable flavours. It was noted that symptoms of stress in Cabernet Sauvignon are less obvious than in Shiraz and for this reason monitoring of soil moisture is a valuable management practice.


Shiraz in McLaren Vale is commonly over vigorous. Regulated Deficit Irrigation (RDI) after fruit set can help to slow shoot growth and reduce berry size. It was also noted that too much stress leading into and after veraison was not desirable as it can be detrimental to fruit quality. Canopy management, trellis design and irrigation were identified as important tools for controlling vigour. Bud dissections, pruning and yield records are thought to be useful in making pruning decisions that would ultimately achieve balance between fruit and foliage.


Vigour is a huge problem! Grenache is physiologically different to Shiraz as it will ‘shut down’ earlier on a hot day. Once established Grenache needs very little water or fertiliser. Grenache vines under aggressive RDI or dry grown seem to produce the best quality fruit. Shoot thinning on trellised vines, bunch thinning and use of competitive mid row crops to remove soil moisture are suggested as management options to achieve a balanced Grenache vine.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Albarino misidentified.

CSIRO have confirmed through DNA testing that their Albarino is not Albarino but Savagnin Blanc also know as Traminer.

They have stated;

1. The DNA profiles of the Spanish Albarino and Savagnin Blanc samples were different, confirming that Albarino and Savagnin Blanc are different varieties.

2. The DNA profile of the CSIRO’s Albarino plants matched the Savagnin Blanc (Traminer) sample from Spain.

3. The DNA profile of the Spanish Savagnin Blanc (Traminer) sample was identical to the eight Traminer samples from the CSIRO’s collection.


All material supplied by McLaren Vale and other vine improvements was sourced from the SARDI collection which they received from CSIRO. Other nurseries also have been supplied directly or indirectly from CSIRO or Vine Improvement.

Either way all Albarino has been sourced originally from CSIRO and is in fact Savagnin Blanc.

To my knowledge all 'Albarino/Savagnin' except for very recent private imports from Nurseries and South Australian Vine Improvement are from the CSIRO source. Most of these recent imports are not commercially available.

It is likely that all the vineyards in the McLaren Vale area are Savagnin not Albarino as labeled. If you have concerns about this please contact me, or refer to the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporations press release here.

How did this occur?

There is some confusion in Spain about the true identity of their Albarino vineyards. It could be that some Savagnin Blanc is mixed in with Albarino vineyards, or maybe that many vineyards called Albarino in Spain are actually Savagnin Blanc.

It is also possible that during the importation process there may have been an error.

Strong wine quality

Regardless of the identity of the grape, the wine is performing very well in Australia. The grape shows the ability to hold flavour in warm ripening areas, including McLaren Vale.

For the sake of those growers and wineries with the misidentified Albarino, we need to be positive there and start telling the public how lucky we are in Australia to have discovered this fantastic wine as a result of an identity error.

Unfortunatley Savagnin sounds very similar to Sauvignon which presents a hurdle. It is likely the public will confuse the wine with Sauvignon Blanc. To add to the confusion Savagnin's alternative name is Traminer, very similar to Gewurtztraminer, in fact Gewurtz is more commonly called Traminer in Australia. The two are different grapes.

We would look to strong leadership from the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation on the issue of what to call this 'new' variety.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cover Crop Revisited.

October 2008 - Fully grown oat covercrop.

October 2008 - The oat crop rolled and flattened to produce a 'weed mat.'

April 2009 - Residue of oats still suppressing weeds. Note their is no Fat Hen or Wireweed in midrow. Importantly for this grower the weed mat has made Innocent Weed control much easier.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Open letter concerning SA Water Recycled Water Dam.

To whom it may concern,

Today in the mail I received a reply from the Hon. Karlene Maywald MP, Minister for Water Security addressing my concerns about reclaimed water in McLaren Vale. Those who also expressed a concern about this I am assuming will receive the same supply.
As many would have noticed the Sunday Mail and Independent Weekly also featured stories on the weekend about the slow construction of a recycled water dam in McLaren Vale by SA Water.

I still feel this project is vital to the future of the region, even for growers who are not using mains water or reclaimed water.

The State Government has committed $1 Million to the Mains Water Substitution Program and the Federal Government has committed nearly $4 Million, yet SA Water has not built a dam in time to convert growers from mains water. The lack of a dam has stopped growers converting to recycled water.

Subsitituing mains water for recycled water will free up drinking water for houses, reduce outflows to the Gulf and ensures that up to an additional 2000 acres of Australia’s best vineyard land remains planted to vines. This would be a win for the environment and industry.

The main concern is the government committed to the McLaren Vale Wine Industry or does it favour that reclaimed water (currently being pumped out to sea during winter) is diverted away from sustainable agriculture to new housing projects as a third pipe system?

There is a concern that SA Water would prefer to use recycled water for housing supply and may think agricultural usage not part of its business. A statement in the letter supplied by Karlene Maywald MP to Leon Bignell member for Mawson, dated 25th of February 2008 would indicate this has been the case since 2008.

"As part of the WPS (Water Proofing the South) strategy SA Water is looking to build approximately 1GL of storage on the southern side of the Aldinga Waste Water Treatment Plant. The cost of this is approximately $8 million. This storage is to enable SA Water to supply Class A water for a three pipe systems and for Public Open Space. In the short term while the development builds it may be possible to ultilise some of the capacity as storage for WBWC (Willunga Basin Water Company). This would depend on suitable commercial arrangements."

With is being the case the McLaren Vale wine industry may not be able to convert over its mains water users to recycled water. If the system does not have greater supply then the Willunga Basin Water Company would not be able to add new irrigators.

I am concerned that alot of work went into securing $1 million dollars of State funding and nearly $4 million of Federal funding will be for nought. Of more worry the environmental and industry benefits will not take place.

James Hook

Basalt - Volcanic Rock Dust

Above - This winter DJ's Co-owner, Derek Cameron is applying rock dust to his vineyard in an effort to increase his soils minerals and moisture holding capacity.
Volcanic rock dust, correctly called basalt ground rock, has a long history of use in human agriculture.Volcanic rock dust contains Basalt the mother rock renowned for producing the worlds most fertile soils. It is now commercially available where it is  mixed in with other fertilisers to provide better nutrition.


Less demand for water. For the last three years Derek has been applying organic compost at 2.5 tonnes to the hectare. This has increased the amount of organic matter in his soil. This year he is adding Volcanic Rock Dust @100kg per tonne (10%) to the organic compost on half of his vineyard.

Through making the soil more fertile and increasing plant root masses, water use is limited as the vines need less persistent watering in order to survive. As a bonus organic matter holds many times its own weight in water increasing the amount of water soil can hold.



Volcanic Rock Dust is basalt mined from volcanoes. It contains Silica, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, Molybdenum, Copper, Sodium, Sulphur and Cobalt.

As elements, the average composition is:
Silicon 22%
Iron 11%
Aluminium 8%
Calcium 7%
Magnesium 6%
Sodium 2%
Titanium 2%
Potassium 1%



Rock Sulphate comes in 1 tonne bags and 25kg bags. It is a very fine powder. DJ's can arrange for this to be mixed in bulk or you can mix it yourself.


As an added advantage it is a BFA organic registered product suitable for organic growers. If you are interested in adding basalt contact DJ's for more information and pricing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wine grape crush figures 1.6 million tonnes.

Total Australian winegrape production is forecast to fall by 13% to 1.6MT in 2008-09. ABARE has published its figures in the media today.

Comment: Note this is a forecast only. ABARE is commissioned by the GWDC to publish forecasted winegrape figures.

This must be a difficult task. Picking is only part way completed in climates cooler than central South Australia. Where do harvest figures from Victoria, the South East of SA and other cooler regions fit?

One of the key issues that facing the Australian wine industries direction is good figures and meaningful statistics.

Is it time for McLaren Vale to have a sustainable farm system?

In spite of hard times New Zealand grapegrower are taking to a sustainable farming accreditation system reports 'The Marlborough Express.'

The number of wine growers signing up for Sustainable Winegrowing accreditation continues to increase with 1157 vineyards now accredited or working toward accreditation, a 69% per cent increase on June 2008 figures.

Of that figure, 583 Marlborough vineyards are accredited or working toward it, representing 15,166 hectares of grapeland.

Many feel McLaren Vale would benefit from a similar system. Instead of relying on individual efforts and wine marketing, regional business could join a system and work towards meaningful goals that can be recognized.

Look out for this McLaren Vale system to begin soon.