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Archive for the ‘Wine History’ Category

The History of St Andrews Vineyard…

For over 40 years, from 1891 until 1934, the St Andrews vineyard at Auburn was one of the leading wine producers in the Clare Valley.  The property was developed by two Scotsmen, John Christison (1849-1911) and David Alexander Lyall (1860-1956) and was named in honour of the patron saint of Scotland, St. Andrew.

On the 21st of September 1891, John Christison and David Lyall purchased Sampson Montgomery’s 323-acre farming property at Auburn with the intention of planting vineyards and orchards. Planting began at St Andrews in 1891 and continued for the next two seasons. By 1895 St Andrews had 115 acres of vineyards and 19 acres of orchard and it was already being referred to as ‘a model farm’. One agricultural journalist wrote, ‘The vineyard and orchard are the best laid out plantations it has been my privilege to see in South Australia.’

The suitability of the land for vine growing was recognised from the outset. To quote a contemporary writer of the time (1896), ‘The character of the country changes a good deal through the vineyard, but the bulk is a light loamy soil containing a quantity of decomposed slate, and this rests on a clay sub-soil. But occasionally there are belts of limestone subsoil, and wherever this is the case the 2½ year old vines have made wonderful growth.’

Ernest Whitington of The Register wrote in 1903, ‘The valley of the Wakefield contains some of the finest land in South Australia.  It does one’s heart good to drive through it.’

The grape varieties planted at St Andrews were Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Malbec, Mataro, Cabernet Gris and Zante Currant (used mainly for dried fruit). In good years they produced up to six tons of dried currants. The orchards were planted to apples (900 trees), plums (600 trees) and apricots (300 trees).

Construction of the stone, gravity flow winery and cellars began in 1895 and it was used for the first time in the vintage of 1896 when 3500 gallons of wine were made (15,911 litres). The original wine cage was the hollow log of a large gum tree and the press a 1.5 tonne log which worked as a lever.  Production of wine increased rapidly over the next few years – 10,000 gallons in 1897, 15,000 gallons in 1898, increasing to 28,000 gallons in 1903.

Historic St. Andrews winery - circa

Additions were made to the cellars in 1897-98 bringing the storage capacity to 65,000 gallons. A cooling system was introduced that same year.

In 1896, a reporter from the Observer wrote; ‘The Wakefield River runs through St Andrews, and Mr Lyall has ingeniously diverted a small stream for irrigation purposes.  The sight which met our view upon entering the property was delightfully refreshing and cheering…’

The winery cellars were described in 1897:  ‘The cellars are on the hill side, are well built, and every care has been taken in arranging, so that the whole work is done by gravitation.… The cellars are three stories high, one being underground, and the second storey is half underground. The cellar, casks, and everything connected with the cellar are scrupulously clean, and the wines sampled by us proved, without doubt, that Mr Lyall is determined that the St Andrew’s wine will make a name for South Australia.’

And the St Andrews wines did became very well-known. Christison & Lyall concentrated on making a light claret style wine for the export market with much of the wine being exported to England. They also produced ‘a very fine fruity port’ for which there was strong local demand.

Ernest Whitington from The Register, reported in The South Australian Vintage 1903, ‘Only the best sorts of vines are planted at St Andrews and most of them are trellised. In every way, the vineyard is worked on the most up-to-date scientific principles… The winery and cellars are well built, substantial and fitted with modern appliances… Mr Lyall has succeeded in making a first-class wine at St Andrews and it is admirably suited for the export trade…He is one of the most popular men in the district and everyone wishes him the best of luck.’

In August 1907 David and Emily Lyall purchased John Christison’s interest in the business. By 1910 the storage capacity of the winery had grown to 80,000 gallons, making it the second largest winery in the Clare district. The winemaker from 1919 to 1926 was Michael Auld, later Managing Director of Stonyfell Wines (1943).

Vintages in the 1920s produced up to 28,000 gallons of wine. The last vintage was in 1932. The Lyalls sold St Andrews in March 1934 to pastoralist Joseph Kenworthy. David Lyall retired to Walkerville. He died at Medindie on 27 August 1956 aged 96; buried at North Road Cemetery.

Joe Kenworthy was more interested in livestock grazing and race-horses than wine production and most of the vineyards were pulled out. He developed a Merino stud at St Andrews and converted the winery into a woolshed.  The St Andrews house was rebuilt in its current two-storied form in 1939. The Kenworthys were great supporters of the local community. They would often give the use of their place for a annual fundraising events.  Joseph Kenworthy died in 1943 aged 70. His funeral cortège travelled from St Andrews to the Auburn Cemetery.

Mrs Blanche Kenworthy remained at St Andrews for a further 30 years following her husband’s death. Mrs Kenworthy, who became one of the largest landowners in the district; died in May 1972.  In 1959, prior the Mrs Kenworthy’s death, the homestead and some of the Kenworthy’s land passed to Lawrence and Daphne Iskov. (Daphne was Blanche Kenworthy’s grand-daughter).

The Taylor family quickly recognised the potential of the adjacent St. Andrews property when they were first establishing their vineyards in the Clare Valley, and wanted to make it a part of the estate.  So, on 2nd of November 1995 the family purchased the property and became proud custodians of a piece of Australian wine history. They immediately set about the task of ‘recreating history’ and began restoring the property to its original purpose, a vineyard to produce handcrafted wines that stand alongside Australia’s iconic wine names and proudly showcase their Clare Valley origins.

The St Andrews vineyard now forms part of the overall Taylor family estate, which consists of 750 hectares in total with over 400 hectares under vine, planted in the finest terra rossa soils.

St.Andrews Original Winery

On Taylors St Andrews wines…

In 1999 the first of the Taylors St Andrews wines were released, including a Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Riesling.  Fruit for the St Andrews wines is selected from those blocks on the family’s estate that consistently produce the finest examples of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Riesling.

The Riesling is predominantly sourced from the St Andrews vineyard – block A80 and A81; an east-facing, sheltered site on the southern border of Watervale.

The Shiraz is predominantly sourced from two gently west facing sites; The 40 acre block (one of the oldest on the estate) and the St Andrews vineyard – block A30; a block that has been delivering fruit quality deemed ‘from heaven’ and so nicknamed ‘God’ by the winemakers.

Chardonnay is sourced from the St Andrews vineyard – blocks G30 and V20; a north-eastern site planted to French chardonnay clones that consistently delivers wine of greater ‘palate completeness’ and ‘elegance’.

The Cabernet Sauvignon is predominantly sourced from the St Andrews vineyard – block A60 and A70 block; vineyards that whilst basking in the sheltered warmth of the river flat still yield very shy bunches of tiny berries, resulting in those highly concentrated varietal fruit flavours sought by the winemaker for the flagship range.

St Andrews Range

The consistency of quality that these blocks deliver along with optimal viticultural techniques and a handcrafted approach to winemaking allow the unique site characteristics to shine through, making the St. Andrews wines a true reflection of what is known as ‘terroir’.  Indicative of the family’s commitment to producing a benchmark Clare Valley wine, the St Andrews wines are released only in what are deemed ‘exceptional’ vintages and with the Clare Valley region’s climate being what it is, this occurs more often than not.

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In 1969 when Bill Taylor Senior went searching for land to fulfil his dream of crafting Australian wines that would rival the best from France, he knew from experience that the Clare Valley was something out of the ordinary. High altitude, limited rainfall, warm days, cool nights, plenty of limestone underpinnings, and not too close to the big smoke… an excellent mix all round for a winemaker. At first, the Taylors were able to source 440 acres of prime land in the beautiful Auburn region of the Clare. Following this initial acquisition and with great enthusiasm, the pursuit of excellence in winemaking began in earnest.

A quiet yearning
And yet… the original Taylor family dream had always been to secure a substantial landholding of around 1,000 acres.
It had been a core vision of the family to create an old-world style ‘estate’, featuring contiguous vineyards surrounding the central winery cellars. With this flame continuing to burn across the years, neighbouring property owners were approached by the Taylors for a first right of refusal should selling their land become an option. And at times fortune certainly smiled upon the Taylors; bundles of adjoining land eventually became available and these were divided into blocks known as Promised Land, Broadway, Lodden and Wakefield and quickly planted with vines. Land acquisitions now crept well into the several hundred acres. But one particular, most desired property to the north – St. Andrews, remained out of reach.

The long, long wait

St.Andrews Original WineryFrom the very first day that brothers Bill & John Taylor strode onto their newly acquired Clare Valley property in 1969, they knew that the adjoining St. Andrews land (firmly held for decades by one local family) presented some of the best wine-growing potential around. Yet trying to persuade the owners to offer St. Andrews for sale… well that was a job for a very patient family! Bill would politely enquire every now and then – but no deal. It wasn’t until,more than a quarter of a century later, the northern neighbour agreed on a price and finally, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. Of course, when the opportunity finally arose for the Taylor family to acquire the St. Andrews property there was no debate about what to do. Never mind that funds had dwindled.  The family just had to find a way and thanks to an understanding bank manager, were finally able to add the crowning jewel to their estate vision!

The pinnacle
In terms of potential grape growing, winemaking and sheer beauty, St. Andrews was destined to be worth every penny – and every minute of the wait. St. Andrews really has become something very special to the Taylors – a chance not only for the family to resurrect a piece of Australian winemaking history, but also to showcase all that they’d been able to achieve over the years, via a select range of ultra-premium wines. These wines have become exemplars not just of the signature winemaking style, but also of the overall philosophy at Taylors. And it all started when Bill Taylor got the keys to the entrance gate of St. Andrews.

 Understanding the past

Historic St. Andrews winery
Part of making great wine is understanding the history of a wine growing area, which means getting your hands dirty – literally! When the boys were first wandering around the St. Andrews paddocks, there was plenty of rock kicking and soil sifting – getting a feel for the land as it trickled through the palm.  The beautiful old winery buildings were a site to behold as well and we were struck by the ability of our forefathers to create these amazing structures that stand the test of time.

The St. Andrews property is truly blessed with the rare terra rossa soil that is coveted by winemakers worldwide. This unusual soil type (literally translating as red earth) occurs most often in Mediterranean regions where prehistoric maritime landscapes once existed. Forming slowly across time, the original limestone eroded away and a rich red soil remains. Terra rossa-raised vines are able to balance perfectly on the knife edge where they are not too comfortable.  It is on this knife edge that the magic happens and the grapes that are produced display extraordinary character.

As well as paying attention to the soil, they also took their time to become deeply familiar with the topography, taking in sun paths, wind direction, rainfall history and frost patterns. These are all components that make up a wine’s unique terroir, or the subtle expression of its origin. Although the original vines had been removed by the time the land was purchased, Bill’s hunch as to why the historic owners had first chosen to plant grapes here back in 1891 proved spot-on, and the family now had the opportunity to create something special with their new plantings.

They were delighted to find discrete pockets of perfect growing conditions for a number of diverse varieties within the St. Andrews precinct. Rich, fertile soils for Chardonnay, sheltered east-facing patches for our cabernet and chill-loving riesling, and gentle western slopes for the sturdy shiraz – it was a vintner’s dream come true.

So it’s fair to say that before they got onto crafting any wine, the family gave these blocks a whole lot of quiet consideration. It’s a good idea to start at the beginning and let your winemaking journey evolve from there. And as they dreamed, they saw the growing potential for the St. Andrews range to become a true flagship of Taylors distinct winemaking capabilities.

Respecting the fruit

So much happens before the St. Andrews fruit arrives at the winemaker’s door. Precision pruning, careful frost monitoring and incredibly exact harvest timing are just some of the pre-vinification factors that ensure the delivery of pristine grapes for each variety and potential vintage. Even as the grapes grow, our winemakers are watching and noting pre-harvest factors to determine the very best and most nuanced manner in which to proceed with vinification.

Timing is crucial for fruit integrity and maintenance of flavours (we’ve been known to go like the clappers in order to get grapes from the St. Andrews blocks to the winery in about 10 minutes). Swift and gentle handling is the key preparation for a carefully composed fermentation sequence follow.

Our winemakers simply want to do justice to the grapes – plus to the land, climate and the hands that formed the fruit. For us, the grapes are royalty, and we greet them with the respect they deserve.

Quality and integrity

Sometimes we’re asked why certain vintages haven’t made an appearance in the St. Andrews range. The answer is simple – we just won’t skimp on quality. If conditions aren’t perfect, or a certain block doesn’t quite meet expectations, then a wine won’t be forthcoming from that year’s harvest. We insist on excellence and precision in the wines that we craft.

St Andrews RangeTo truly be our signature range, St. Andrews wines necessarily embody our philosophy: understand the past, know the place you’re in, and respect the fruit. If any of these factors aren’t honoured within a given vintage – well we’d rather wait and get it right. And if there’s one thing we have in spades, it’s patience! Whether it’s waiting for premium Clare Valley land to become available or holding off picking until just the right moment, it’s the Taylors way to allow all the time in the world whenever quality is involved. Via our flagship St. Andrews range of premium wines, we’re delighted to provide you with the heart and soul of the work that we’re carrying out here this unique corner of Australia.

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The first grapevines were brought to Australia with the first fleet and planted in NSW but how has the face of Australian wine changed since this time?  Here’s a little infographic that we have put together at Taylors to show the progress of the Australian Wine Industry

The Progress of the Australian Wine Industry

The Progress of the Australian Wine Industry

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