Now – I’ve tempted you with tales of the culinary feast at the Chefs of the Murray dinner and given you a little hint of the diversity of food production that is happening in South Australia’s Riverland, but after tucking into some of the local gourmet treats you’re bound to be a little thirsty and looking around for something to drink, aren’t you? Well, you’ll be pleased to hear it’s not just the local food producers who are embracing the chance to shake things up a bit in the region! The Riverland has long been known as a bulk wine growing region, with significant amounts of their grape crops going anonymously into some of the respected wines of nearby regions. Now there is a newish group of winemakers and vignerons who are looking at which alternative varieties of wine grape might successfully be grown in the area, but if you prefer you refreshments to be brewed it is also possible to get your hands on some very special beer – if that’s what floats your (river?) boat.
Wilkadene Station, just out of Paringa, was once a famous wheat and sheep station of 8,000 acres run by the the Wilkinson family, until being bought by Tom Freeman’s family in 1988. Like many young people from the country, once done with school Tom moved to Adelaide, but was quick to return to the family property when his parents decided that they needed a quieter life away from the farm. Tom and his partner, Sarah Doudle, had a look around and decided that they could see a new future for Wilkadene and set about developing the region’s distinctive micro-brewery – the Woolshed Brewery.
Using only rainwater for brewing and solar panels for power, the brewery is housed in the atmospheric 100 year old woolshed. Complete with original timbers, The Woolshed Brewery is situated on the banks of the Murray River and has a view from the deck that is utterly conducive to long, lazy afternoons with a cleansing ale – or two. Tom and Sarah have developed their refreshing “Amazon Ale”, an Australian Pale Ale named for a local creek and have recently released “Judas the Dark” a rich dark ale flavoured with wattle seed sourced from local producers, Australian Native Bushfoods. Justifiably proud of their award-winning ales, Tom and Sarah are dedicated to their region, limiting their production to 30,000 litres per annum with plans to keep it (largely) local and a product unique to the Riverland – making it a significant inducement for a drive for the beer lovers among you.
If fine varietal wines are of interest to you, then there is much to attract you to this region. With a view to adapting to the changing climatic conditions and altering some of the perceptions around wines produced in the Riverland region, a group of vignerons, winemakers and others have banded together to form the Riverland Alternative Wine Group. With 20 different members producing around 20 different varieties of wine grape the area is generating a reputation for some very fine drops. The group is working hard at developing the less familiar alternative varieties which will grow well in the region and promoting them to the wine drinking public.
The aromatic Italian white wine variety Vermentino which has been grown experimentally in the area for some years is now swelling in popularity and is produced by many different labels including the Riverland’s 919 Wines and Banrock Station. The late ripening, distinctive and delicious Fiano is another grape that has adapted well to the local conditions and a very fine example of this is produced by Peter Rogers of Oak Works. Other grape varieties that are thriving and making a mark are the French white wine grape Petit Manseng, the Bordeaux red grape variety Petit Verdot and the Italian red wine grape, Montepulciano, which is used by the biodynamic and organic label, Whistling Kite, to make a simply lovely rosé. Most recently making it’s mark has been 919‘s Pale Dry Apera, the new name for what used to be known as Sherry, and which took out the Number 1 spot in the Hot 100 wines of 2011 competition run by Adelaide magazine, The Adelaide Review. Winemaker at 919, Eric Semmler, points out that this win is an important testimonial for both the wine and the region, showing that it might not pay to have preconceptions about Riverland wines – there is much more going on up there than you might think. With the passion, dedication and skills of this group, I think things can only get more interesting.
While in the Riverland, Lambs’ Ears and Honey was a guest of