Anyone who wants to see the future of South Australian wine only needs to take a 20- minute car ride to the beginning of the Adelaide Hills. Tucked away in the tiny sub-region of Basket Range is an alternative wine universe that has been growing in force and magnitude for several years now. A posse of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed minds tumbled together to deliver a new expression of wine. ‘Nothing added, nothing removed’ is the backbone of a special bunch of people squeezing grapes into bottles in that magical pocket.
Unlike most explosive radicalisations, natural wine didn’t fizzle out the way some naysayers anticipated. While, inevitably, some have fallen away, there is now a core of seasoned wine makers executing stunning wines in adherence to principals they have grown and matured alongside themselves. The principals have bigger implications than the wines. This movement has expanded to create a new culture around how we perceive wine, drink wine, store wine, what makes it ‘good’, and what we call wine. The traditions of wine were thrown out the window, which only seemed fair. After all, why be in the New World if all you want to do is be the Old World? A new energy swept the wine industry and shook it by its starched pleats and waistcoats. The Adelaide Hills became a place to unapologetically make expressive wines, experimental wines. Wine wasn’t a liquid to keep on a pedestal away from the people. It was meant to be down here with all of us having the lid popped off and drunk, straight armed, from a shoe if it pleased you. It was a movement comfortable with its frivolity and self-assured in its seriousness. As time went on, it was proven that making wine this way was an art form and produced liquid worth drinking outside of it being a fashionable flash-in-the-pan.
The point, more than the booze, was the community that was built with it. These winemakers threw their doors open and welcomed everyone in, especially the hospitality industry. A fresh generation of front of house and chefs were swept up in a new wave and matched the enthusiasm they were met with. You couldn’t afford Penfold’s Grange but you could afford something beautiful and personal from Gentle Folk or Manon or BK Wines. The new guard made learning about wine and embracing it culturally less intimidating. Wine was just another tool in the kit of connecting with people rather than asserting that, perhaps, you were more than or less than based on what you knew about grape juice. It will always be exciting to consume the products of people you see regularly and who are kind enough to open their lives to you. It’s exciting to see the eyes of a person light up as they tell you about the essence of wine, rather than a slightly dead-behind-the eyes glaze while the specs are being recited. The specs still matter; nothing about these wines are amateur, but it was given a new language that broke down the barriers. There aren’t many people who disappear into that community who come out the other end the same person. Pretty remarkable for a bunch of people who claim to just crush berries for a living.
Wines from this weird little pocket are sweeter, especially now when we need community more than ever. Buying wines from your backyard and knowing it pays their school fees or their next batch of bottles or their mortgage when they’ve invested so much into their immediate community and beyond is, selfishly, satisfying and, altruistically, a choice you can feel good about. Drinking wine from the Adelaide Hills is the closest you can get to taking a liquid medicinal hug and we could all use extra of that right now.
Written by Nikki Friedli @fandangledfriedli