If you live anywhere near Piccadilly in the Adelaide Hills, it will come as no surprise at this time of the year that the name of the tiny village and valley is one of the most appropriate of all in the Cockney rhyming dictionary.
It’s a bit Piccadilly, the slangsters say, when things get a tad chilly.
Up there in the eastern fall of Mt Lofty, it’s exactly that cooler climatic note that encouraged the development of the modern era of winemaking in the Adelaide Hills.
When Brian Croser looked for the right site to grow and create Chardonnay that could stand beside the best from Burgundy and California, he chose the Piccadilly Valley, planting his now revered Tiers vineyard in 1978 where his family’s Tapanappa winery and cellar door also resides off Spring Gully Road.
He identified it as the coolest and wettest vineyard site in South Australia.
It was the first vineyard to return to the wider Hills region since the pioneering era of winemaking there from the 1840s to the early 1900s. At its peak, more the 220 grape growers plied their trade in the Adelaide Hills, from Echunga to Kanmantoo and closer in through Mt Lofty, Norton Summit, Houghton, and the foothills of Auldana and Magill.
After the industry collapsed at the beginning of the 20th century due to the end of what was known as the Imperial Preference – a trade deal that favoured Australian exports to the United Kingdom – the region reverted to beef, sheep and dairy farming as well as fruit and vegetable growing.
This was largely how it was, still, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Stephen George also took a shine to the district and particularly a slope further north in the Valley, where he planted Pinot Noir and a range of other cooler climate varieties like Chardonnay, Riesling and several Cabernet family members. So began the celebrated story of Ashton Hills Vineyard wines.
Now more than 40 years after those opening moves, the Piccadilly Valley still hosts fruit and vegetable farms but many, many more vineyards that are the prized source blocks of mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for many of the Adelaide Hills’ better-known producers.
Shaw+Smith has just planted its own on the eastern slopes of Mount Bonython. Nearby, Croser’s daughter Lucy and son-in-law Xavier Bizot tend their own blocks for their sparkling brand DAOSA. Michael Downer taps into the Valley for several of his Murdoch Hill wines, so too Brendon Keys for a few of his BK Wines’ numbers. Even Jeffrey Grosset, based in the Clare region, continues his line of Piccadilly Chardonnays and Pinots.
They’re just the tip of the iceberg, and they all note similar winemaking reasons for their love of the Piccadilly Valley, especially when it comes to Chardonnay.
Adam Wadewitz sources three areas for Shaw+Smith’s famous M3 Chardonnay: Piccadilly, Lobethal and Lenswood.
“The beauty of Hills Chardonnay is you get this character that embodies the power of Chardonnay and the mid-palate weight, but you don’t lose the acidity, the structure and the scaffolding – that’s what we’re chasing,” Adam says.
While Lenswood offers delicate aromas, subtlety and delicate acidity, from the coldest Piccadilly sub-region you get power, more acidity and more flavour.
“It’s a unique place to grow Chardonnay,” he concludes.
Xavier Bizot concentrates on the variety for his DAOSA sparkling wines, and agrees Piccadilly Valley is especially ideal.
“It’s a combination of very good, complex soils, and good north-eastern and north-western aspects, which are really nice conditions for quality and low yields, as well as cold nights and sunny days for good ripening and good flavours.
“That’s the luck we have here: we can get really good flavours for sparkling wines. It’s fantastic.”
Brian Croser champions all of the Adelaide Hills wine region as climatically suited to growing “good to great” Chardonnay. However, he says there are district to district nuances, with warmer locations producing richer fruit-sweet, fig and honeyed examples compared to the cooler districts of the Piccadilly Valley and Lenswood, which encourage finer, intense stone fruit and higher acid wines.
“However, given the choice to grow Chardonnay in any other location after 43 years in the Piccadilly Valley, I wouldn’t stray from the Tiers Vineyard and the surrounding Piccadilly Valley vineyards,” he says.
For visitors to the area, while it might feel like you’re in some kind of picturesque Tuscan or French wine landscape as you drive its delightful byways from the Mt Lofty Botanical Gardens at the hamlet of Piccadilly itself, to the villages of Summertown, Ashton and Uraidla, there are strangely very few cellar doors in or close to the Valley itself.
The best plan if you want to explore more deeply the wines of the area is to follow the recently developed Piccadilly Trail, which links four wineries as an informal guide to what the Valley does best.
Tapanappa cellar winery and cellar door showcases three variations on the Tiers Vineyard chardonnay, as well as an opportunity to taste the DAOSA sparklings.
Greenhill Wines is more about a range of sparkling rosés, pinots and another Hills white of note, Gruner veltliner. Depending on availability, winemaker Paul Henschke may also have a chardonnay worth tasting.
Ashton Hills is, without doubt, the foremost exponent of Pinot Noir in the region, though its Chardonnay and Riesling and long-range views to Mt Lofty are major attractions as well.
And to the east of Uraidla is CRFT Wines, a tiny organic vineyard, winery and cellar door that sheds light on Pinots, Gruners and Chardonnay from either their own block or those in close proximity, highlighting a genuine terroir focus of their immediate surrounds.
The foursome can give you a pretty decent picture of what the Piccadilly Valley is all about in 2021. And there’s no better time to get up there than autumn, as the seasonal vineyard and garden colours turn gold, crimson and burgundy.
It might be getting a little chilly, of course, but it’s definitely worth a “butcher’s hook”.
The coming month has special event status in the region, as it celebrates Chardonnay May, with many wineries offering tastings, dinners, and masterclasses to highlight the signature white variety of the Hills. Listings are at the website.
Tapanappa Piccadilly Valley Chardonnay 2018
Adelaide Hills / $39
From a warmer-than-average season and taking in both upper and lower blocks from the estate vineyard, a nine-month rest in oak has brought a delicate roasted nut influence to its otherwise ripe, white stone fruit and citrus notes, typical and celebrated in the district. A pithy texture builds in the palate and the wine’s acidity, not overly tight, holds everything together. A fresh, invigorating style while celebrating the Chardonnay fruit’s full flavour expression.
CRFT The Arranmore Vineyard Chardonnay 2020
Adelaide Hills/ $45
From Candice Helbig and Frewin Ries’s home block in the Carey Gully corner of the Piccadilly Valley, this wine is certified organic, wild-fermented finished in barrel then spends seven months in 30 per cent new oak. Still quite tight in its early days since release, yet it is starting to show its specific stone fruit and citrus characters, and even a little beeswax, butter and cream through the palate. Let this wine come towards room temperature at this time of the year, rather than drinking straight out of the fridge, and you’ll see its best expression at the moment.
Ashton Hills Chardonnay 2020
Adelaide Hills/Piccadilly Valley/ $40
Sourced from vineyards across the Valley as Ashton Hills’ own blocks are devoted to Pinot Noir and Riesling, there’s blossom and nectarine and sweet-fruited apple juice to begin, immensely expressive in its very early days of release. Similarly, the flavour profile continues that theme, including an extra “squeeze” of grapefruit, then comes the thing that lifts this wine to the next level – a superfine citrus pithy texture through the palate, lingering forever in the mouth. Delish. And there will be much more to see, I expect, as it gathers more mature complexities over the next few years.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.