Ashton Hills Pinot Noir 1999
Stephen’s pioneering work at Ashton Hills was one of the catalysts for the development of the Adelaide Hills as a wine region. In the early 1980s, the Adelaide Hills wine scene was very much in its infancy, with Brian Croser leading the charge but very little other vineyard development underway. Along with Croser, Stephen was one of the key players to put Adelaide Hills on the map with his resolve to produce the best Pinot Noir in the country from his site in the Piccadilly Valley. Buying the land from a market gardener, Stephen recognized its immense potential, often telling friends that “where apples and cherries grow, it’s a good pointer for producing classic European style wines”.
And so the journey began. Planting his vineyard at an altitude of 570 metres and with a south facing aspect that looks towards Mt Lofty, Stephen was drawn to the fact that the site was one of the coolest areas in South Australia. Determined that this was prime real estate for his winemaking vision, Stephen started with cuttings of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling and soon established himself as a leader in clone development for the emerging region.
For over 30 years Stephen experimented with up to 25 Pinot Noir clones, ultimately settling on five key clones that now make the acclaimed Reserve and Estate Pinot Noirs from Ashton Hills, plus a range of awarded sparkling wines. Eight carefully cultivated rows of Riesling also remain in the Ashton Hills vineyard, producing a highly exclusive and limited Ashton Hills Riesling each year.
Stephen has now taken a step back into semi-retirement to spend more time travelling to his beloved Burgundy, and has transferred his stake in Ashton Hills to Wirra Wirra Vineyards, with its pedigree in cool climate Adelaide Hills whites and quality McLaren Vale reds. Nonetheless, he continues to reside at his home at the winery and works closely at vintage with the Wirra Wirra winemaking team to continue the tradition of producing benchmark wines from the Ashton Hills site.
A narrow band of hills and valleys east of the city of Adelaide, the Adelaide Hills region is a diverse landscape featuring a variety of microclimates. In general it is moderate with high-altitude areas cooler and wetter compared to its warmer, lower areas.
Piccadilly Valley, the part of Adelaide Hills closest to the city, was first staked out by a grower named Brian Croser, in the 1970s for a cool spot to grow Chardonnay, then uncommon in Australia. Today a good amount of the Chardonnay goes to winemakers outside of the region.
Producers here experiment with other cool-climate loving aromatic varieties like Pinot Gris, Viognier and Riesling. Charming sparkling wine is also possible. On its north side, lower, west-facing slopes make full-bodied Shiraz.
Thin-skinned, finicky and temperamental, Pinot Noir is also one of the most rewarding grapes to grow and remains a labor of love for some of the greatest vignerons in Burgundy. Fairly adaptable but highly reflective of the environment in which it is grown, Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate and requires low yields to achieve high quality. Outside of France, outstanding examples come from in Oregon, California and throughout specific locations in wine-producing world. Somm Secret—André Tchelistcheff, California’s most influential post-Prohibition winemaker decidedly stayed away from the grape, claiming “God made Cabernet. The Devil made Pinot Noir.”