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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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When you come across a family that’s as passionate as we are about creating excellent wine, you might ask – what originally ignited that fire in the first place? And who exactly are these Taylors down there in the Clare Valley? Well, like any family – we certainly have our fascinating stories that have come up through the decades. And we also have our fair share of characters! In many ways, it’s the diversity of our interests and our personalities that really makes the Taylor family tick, both as relatives and as business associates. In an undertaking such as winemaking, you can probably imagine the huge variety of projects and tasks that need doing. In this way, we tend to find that family members are drawn to (or occasionally catapulted into!) aspects of the business where their unique talents can best be utilised.

Maybe it’s cheeky to make the analogy with wine, but there are Taylors who are focused and a little flinty, some full of ripe fruit character… and other Taylors who are light and subtly sweet enough to calm the rest of us down. Together, we think we’ve got most bases pretty nicely covered.

From merchants to makers

Before Bill Taylor Snr and his sons Bill and John headed down to the Clare Valley in 1969, they were busy working in Sydney as successful wine merchants and hoteliers. In their city trade they became deeply inspired not only by the beautifully-crafted wines procured from Europe, but also by Australia’s own fledgling promise as a winemaking nation. Bill was particularly keen to test a theory. The Bordeaux region of France certainly excelled in the rich clarets that he adored – but could Australia maybe use her climatic peccadilloes to create prime cabernet sauvignon? Well, the Taylor instinct that has continued to flourish in the winemaking field was certainly on-target back in ‘69. Bill and his boys took a southern journey to SA and found the perfect landholding. Not only were they right about those cab sav grapes growing well in the Auburn area – it’s the stuff of legend that upon entering a first vintage offering in the Royal Adelaide Wine Show, the Taylors Cabernet Sauvignon walked away with the Montgomery Trophy for best red wine in show. Talk about ‘it pays to trust your gut’! It was the start of a dream run of awards and accolades across the decades, with Bill Snr and his descendants continuing to demonstrate incredible winemaking prowess. Some in the area had their nose out of joint a little. But although we were ‘mere city slickers’ in the 1960s, we were determined to show what our passion for fine wine and love of the area could produce.

Good research, courage, instinct and working hard together as a family – it’s certainly turned out to be a formidable combination. Three generations ago, the stage was set for a pretty remarkable family to get to work on some outstanding wines. And we think that every person in the Taylor family (plus our extended family of beaut employees) adds their own unique ‘something’ to the business, to the community and to the wine itself.

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Growing potential

If you take the newer generation of Taylors, in Mitchell, Justin and Clinton, it’s possible to detect both the enduring similarities and notable differences that come from a line of strong personalities. These younger Taylors each present the kind of singular determination and can-do positivity that led Bill Snr and his sons to follow that original winemaking dream. They also have in common that rare combination of respect for tradition, plus a hunger for new possibilities. How this combination plays out in each Taylor is fascinating. Mitchell for example works tirelessly as Managing Director and winemaker to maintain the heritage of his father and grandfather. Yet he also brings his exceptional technical capabilities both to the broader strategy of the business, and to the scientific aspects of crafting exceptional wines. Knowing the family principle that ‘kids don’t just walk into a job at Taylors Wines’, Mitchell tried other fields after obtaining his commerce degree. He travelled and worked through the 1980s, gaining invaluable experience in London’s heady banking and stockbroking arena. Returning in 1988, Mitchell at first just ‘helped out’ at Taylors on contract (like helping staff turn the computer on…not kidding!) at the Petersham office. Slowly but irrevocably Mitchell’s role grew, and he was drawn into the fascinating aspects of both growing grapes and creating wine and so took time out to gain his oenology degree. Now Mitchell manages to successfully combine his passion for the business with his knowledge of wine craft.

Justin Taylor has carried forward the enduring legacy of his wine trading forebears by helping take the passion of the family philosophy out into the wider market. An intrepid traveller, Justin tends to ask – like his grandfather Bill Snr – what’s possible? What can we do here? How can I grow this vision? In the role of Company Director and Asia Pacific Market Manager, Justin utilises the latest analytics and data to feel the pulse of wine lovers in the region. Joining the winery in 1996, Justin quickly earned his stripes and became National Sales Manager by 1999. He then took his sales skills and love for the product to the US in 2008, establishing our crucial American base. As well as his never-ending enthusiasm for our beautiful reds and whites, Justin adores Australia and came back to us in 2012. Like all Taylors, Justin places family front-and-centre in his life and currently combines his vision for Taylors with his cornerstone role as a family man.

Clinton Taylor has always felt the call of the winery itself, replete with beautiful Clare Valley terrain, bracing breezes and frenetic activity across the various operations. The youngest Taylor brother, Clinton is devoted to ensuring that the production of our premium wine rolls out like a well-tuned orchestra. From his start in 1995, Clinton showed his passion and aptitude for operational management, taking on various project and development roles. Having gone off on other adventures outside of the Clare, Clinton then moved with his family to the main winery precinct in 2012. Like all of the Taylor family, he is committed to sustainable practices and helps to build these into our everyday business operations.
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