McLaren Vale, the home of the Curtis Family Vineyards, is just 45 minutes’ drive south of South Australia‘s capital of Adelaide, has been making wine for one and a half centuries. That’s not as long as wine has been made in Italy, but the results are just as encouraging. And how a family with its ancestry dating back to the 15th Century has brought its expertise to McLarenvale with a new range of wines with an impressive European lineage.
McLaren, whist upon his surveying journey to Section C, 40km south of Adelaide his party came across a wide valley that members of the party instantly named after their leader. It was agreed, ‘This wide valley of McLaren gave promise of much beauty and fertility’. Settlers began taking up holdings south of the Onkaparinga River by the end of the year. Two of these early settlers were Devonshire farmers, William Colton and Charles Hewitt. The farmers bought workmen with them and established their neighbouring farms of ‘Daringa’ and ‘Oxenberry Farm’ at the eastern end of the Vale, from here came the development of Gloucester.
Inquiries so far have not revealed why it was so named. Blackfellows Well, a spring on Oxenberry Farm was the only source of water for many years for the nearby residents. Here too under a large spreading gum tree, the first church services were held using a wagon or dray for a pulpit. The venue was changed to William Colton’s brick barn during inclement weather until, in 1844, the small church, “The House of the Lord” was erected, and opened for use of seven separate denominations. This little building still stands on the corner of Aldersey Street and Tatachilla Road, at the back of the former Congregational Church that was built in 1861 (now a gallery), followed by a manse (now in the hospital grounds) in 1864. The township of McLaren Vale originally consisted of 2 small villages; Gloucester, to the east, established in 1851 and Bellevue to the west established, in 1854.
This accounts for the towns long main street. Gloucester, which was south of the current Tintara winery, grew into a thriving community. Walter Leonard purchased Lot 1 in Gloucester and built a mill opposite Charles Lewsey Lot 2, where he made wine and Brandy and conducted his business as carpenter and undertaker. By the 1870’s the community included the mill, two hotels (the Devonshire Arms 1849 and the Salopian 1851), a saddlery, stores, a brewery, a blacksmith, a butcher, five schools, and later a creamery. Bellevue began on land purchased by Richard Bell 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, and is now part of Chalk Hill Road. In 1852 a group of local farmers held a meeting at the Devonshire Arms, and decided to build a Mill in Bellevue, and a month later, the foundation stone having been laid, the company returned to the Devonshire Arms to celebrate the occasion. It functioned until the 1870’s and was purchased by Thomas Hardy who converted it to a winery that became the Mill cellars; parts of it are included in the present Hardys Tintara Winery. Bellevue had a Tannery, a blacksmith and a Coach stop Way station that is now the Barn restaurant, and a lime burner who conducted his trade at the rear of the cottage that bears the name today. The Wesleyan Church opened for worship in 1858, and this Methodist – Uniting Church was demolished in 1987, and in December 1988 the new church was opened. The Bellevue school established by Reverend Prior was conducted in a house near The Barn in Ellen Street. Successful mushroom culture was carried out near by also. Bellevue flourished for a while until the closure of the flourmill and the primary school as well as the de-licensing of the hotel. In 1882, Thomas Hardy, who was prospering from his newly established wine empire decided to purchase these substantial buildings. He converted the flourmill into a winery, used the school as a residence for his employees, the Barn as stables for his workhorses, and re-established the Clifton Hotel as a wine and refreshment inn. He changed its name to the Hotel Bellevue and regained a license after some renovations.
The hotel was later named the Hotel McLaren amid some opposition from the local community. Approximately 4 kilometres to the southeast of McLaren Vale lay a pug cottage on the estate known as Wirra Wirra. This property eventually became the home of Bob Wrigley who by 1895 had planted 124 acres of vines and a few years later opened wine cellars. Nearby, a Wesleyan chapel was opened on 4 June 1854 and was given the name Bethany Chapel. Other pug cottages were established which gave rise to the recognition of Bethany. About 1.5 kilometres to the north of Bethany is the settlement of McLaren Flat. Evelyn Pitfield Shirley Sturt took up a section on 20 November 1839 and held it until 1849. Clinging to the foot of the hills 2 kilometres from McLaren Flat is the hamlet of Beltunga, whose houses were mostly built at the instigation of Richard Bell, founder of Bellevue. To the north of Beltunga lay Seaview, the property that loomed so largely in the lives of the surrounding settlers that gradually its name was adopted for the locality. Originally owned by Mr Luney it passed into the hands of a Mr Ryan, succeeded by Mr Chambers, thence OK Thomas, FR Thiele and finally to Southcorp Wines. Close to Seaview lays the Kay property originally known as Hope Vineyard, named by Mr George Manning when he planted his second vineyard south of Adelaide in 1855. The cuttings for this vineyard were obtained from Reverend Thomas Quinton Stow thus ensuring that the founder of the congregational church in South Australia also unwittingly became a key instigator in the propagation of McLaren Vale’s flourishing vineyards. Another old home in this locality was Amery, which was built by Richard Baker Aldersley. In 1890 the property passed to the ownership of the Kay family. Vines were planted and a cellar built on the same lines as the model exhibited by JG Kelly at the Chamber of Manufacturers Exhibition and utilising natural gravitation. The winery was first used in 1895 when 2000 gallons of wine were made. Thus Bethany, McLaren Flat, Hillside, Beltunga and Seaview completed an encirclement of Bellevue and Gloucester, which starting to lose their separate identities. Halfway between them Thomas Colton built Sylvan Park in 1858. He became resident magistrate and a prominent figure in public affairs forming a link between the two villages. As the names of outlying hamlets fell into similar disuse, the settlements along the main road gradually became known as McLaren Vale, it was forgotten that this had been John McLaren’s name for the whole valley. In the history of South Australia it has often happened that custom has verified the names given to places by early settlers, and so it emerged that ‘McLaren Vale’ became known to the Lands Office as a private town until 1923. In that year Mr CE Pridmore 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 McLaren Vale. From the 1920’s McLaren Vale continued its steady growth with increasing reliance on the wine and brandy industries and exports to the United Kingdom, particularly fortified wines. This trade continued to prosper up until the 1960’s except for the period 1940 – 1945 during World War II. During the 1970’s increased domestic consumption of wine and changing preferences in wine styles cause significant restructuring within the region and such changes have continued into the 1990’s.
- Change to Lonely Grape and Taste McLaren Vale (lonelygrape.com.au)
- Jamie Drummond on Food and Wine #101 Fred Howard (DogRidge, McLaren Vale) (goodfoodrevolution.wordpress.com)
- d’Arenberg The Dry Dam Riesling 2011 (winefront.com.au)
- Charlie visits the McLaren Vale Public Wine Tasting (deadreds.wordpress.com)
- McLaren Vale Wine – Vinrock (lonelygrape.com.au)
- McLaren Vale Wine – Gilligan Wines (lonelygrape.com.au)
- McLaren Vale Wines – Backyard Shed Cru Red Pack #5 (lonelygrape.com.au)
- South Australia: A Brilliant Blend (hotelclub.com)
- Hamilton Vs Button (netcars.com)
- Wine and Food Lovers Can Have It All at Brick Kiln (pitchengine.com)