Eden Valley, Barossa, Australia
The best wine regions in the world usually have an interesting climatic niche - something quite particular based on wind or altitude or a quirky interplay of topography - that plays a defining role in the wines that can be produced. These climatic conditions are something that wine lovers really get into. Soils are important as well of course, just as important in fact. But soils and the genesis of those soils and the layers of subsoils and bedrock are the domain of very science-y people. People who like to dig pits and look at dirt. I think most of us rely on the simpler climate-based analysis - something like: “Oh, this place has a cooler climate because of ‘x’ and ‘y’ and that explains the character of these wines”. I’m not saying this simple approach is best but I have to admit I am a bit lazy that way myself.
So without taking away from the soils of Eden Valley (after all these are the soils that produce the $800 Henschke Hill of Grace Vineyard Shiraz), I like to think of Eden Valley in terms of its climate. Maybe it’s because this is how Eden Valley was first explained to me. In any event, it’s a fascinating story.
The story, as I understand it, is that in 1847 Joseph Gilbert moved to the area and, recognizing the cool climate that of the area based on higher altitude than the neighbouring Barossa, planted Riesling vines. These were some of the earliest vines planted in Australia. Gilbert went on to make very good wines from his vineyards, including the now-famous Pewsey Vale. Decades came and went, the vines survived difficult times but in the 1960’s the winemaker Wyndham Hill Smith saw the potential of this high altitude site and seized the opportunity to buy and develop the vineyards. To this day the vines are descendants of the original plantings. Now the key here, the secret that both Gilbert and Smith recognized, is the distinctly higher altitude above the neighbouring, very famous Barossa Valley. And with that extra altitude comes a cooler climate. Which turns out to be fantastic for making some of the world’s great wines.
Why Eden Valley for Wine?
Eden Valley produces many varieties of wine grape and produces spectacular wines. We have already mentioned the stratospherically-priced Shiraz wines of Henschke. There are also Cabernet, Merlot , Grenache, Chardonnay and Viognier wines made here and many of them command high prices based on superior quality. But in this post I’d like to talk about Riesling. Because the Rieslings of Eden Valley are world class and they can also be a remarkable value.
Riesling as a wine variety has recently come back into vogue among wine drinkers. People still drink much more Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris) than Riesling, at least in most parts of the world. However, New World wine drinkers have caught up with their European friends in terms of appreciating Riesling. They’ve tuned-in to how Riesling comes in quite different styles and the wine purchase decision can be calibrated to individual taste. The currently trending style of dry Riesling (with very light or extremely little residual sweetness) has been a revelation to many because they remember the sweet Rieslings their parents drank back in the day. Whether you have been drinking Riesling for a long time or you are a more recent fan of this, the most noble of white wine grapes, Eden Valley Riesling will likely be a fond notch in your wine belt.
Where is Eden Valley?
Eden Valley’s Riesling wine advantage is it’s location and climate. Technically part of the Barossa region, Eden Valley is differentiated because of the elevation rise from Barossa proper. It is located between 350 - 550 meters above sea level and, in the warm-weather context of this region, the cooler climate here allows for a longer ripening period which is fundamental to Riesling. From a wine traveler’s perspective it is also tremendously attractive for all of the other joys of the area. Eden Valley is only an hour’s drive from the City of Adelaide. Enticingly, the whole area around Adelaide is sprinkled with some of Australia’s most storied wine regions: Clare Valley; Barossa; Adelaide Hills; Coonawara; Langhorne Creek; McLaren Vale; and the list goes on. Plus there is gorgeous, mountainous and rugged Aussie landscape throughout. Visitors to the Adelaide area are in one of earth’s wine nirvanas and the city itself, with a population of 1.3 million, is a bumping, exciting, cultural and culinary destination. What’s more there is captivatingly beautiful wilderness in every direction, like the Adelaide Hills and the Mount Lofty ranges. And here’s a cool idea - why not plan to drive along the beautiful coastline from Melbourne to Adelaide?
Who are the Winemakers?
Eden Valley has a smaller number of wineries than its more intensively farmed neighbour Barossa. But it is home to some very big names and there are a number of excellent, less well-known producers as well. The Rieslings of Pewsey Vale are highly recommended and their introductory level wine is a sheer delight.
Photo credits www.edenvalley.org.au, www.barossawine.com and www.henschke.com