Talent, be it for making great wine, business or music is little use unless coupled with effort and support. Take James Brown for example. Brown was one of the most dynamic performers of all time and was renowned around the world as the hardest working man in show business. He took all the plaudits: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Grammy Awards, Lifetime Achievement Awards… the list goes on and on. All deserved but James Brown was nothing without his rhythm section, nothing without the musicians that laid down the funky beats that powered his numerous hits.
South Australia’s wine region Langhorne Creek shares some parallels with many of James Brown’s musicians. Like them, the region isn’t instantly recognised around the world; regions like the Barossa Valley, Margaret River, Hunter Valley or McLaren Vale are far more well known and loved. Yet many wine lovers have enjoyed wines made from grapes from Langhorne Creek, albeit unwittingly so.
But the times, they are a-changin’ as another workaholic music legend put it. Langhorne Creek is coming out of the shadows and is region that is ready to enjoy its time in the sun as the quality of its wines shines ever brighter. So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, let us introduce you to the hardest working region in Australia, Langhorne Creek…
The storied history of Frank Potts
While for some it may be a relatively new name to many, Langhorne Creek has a history of winemaking dating back to 1860. One of the best-kept secrets in Australian viticulture, Langhorne Creek is also one of Australia's oldest wine regions. The region nestles among gum trees by the Bremer and Angas rivers, and has a flat, river delta landscape. It was here that Frank Potts planted the region’s first vines in 1858. Frank was in his mid 40s by then, but had already lived a hell of a life.
The modern Langhorne Creek wine region probably wouldn’t be what it is today without Frank. His pioneering spirit and D.I.Y. ethic helped lay the foundation for a proud and confident region. But Frank may never have made it to Langhorne Creek. At the age of just 9 Frank was doing one of the world’s most dangerous jobs, he was a powder monkey. Powder monkeys carried gunpowder to a ship’s cannons. It was a hellish job, but Frank gained a passion for the sea while in the Navy that would stay with him all his life.
After a successful naval career, Frank decided to head to the newly proclaimed British colony of South Australia on the H.M.S Buffalo. Upon arrival, he put the carpentry skills he’d learnt in the Navy to good use, building homes for many of the first European settlers. Frank loved nothing better than rolling his sleeves up and working hard. Before long he’d built himself a sailboat, then another. He used this boat, the 13-ton Ketch Petrel, to sail to Kangaroo Island and set up as a farmer, fisherman and salt trader.
After accomplishing more in a relatively short time than most of us will in our entire lives, Frank realised that he needed to build a legacy that he could pass onto his children. So, in 1850 he purchased 217 acres of land by the River Bremer and quickly got to work. He built a bullock-powered sawmill and water pump while clearing land for vines. Unsurprisingly, Frank was just warming up.
In 1858, he planted Shiraz and Verdelho grapes, established a winery and a still. In 1860, he constructed a huge redgum wine press that still stands to this day. All the while he was building large redgum vats for other nascent wineries in the region. And more boats. Big ones. Such was his frenzy of activity, it makes you wonder if we aren’t doing nearly as much as we could with our time!
The winery and vineyard was christened Bleasdale in 1868, named after the Victorian viticulturist, chemist and mineralogist Rev. John Ignatius Bleasdale. It wasn’t long before Frank’s children were adults and they assumed the running of the winery and vineyard. Frank went back to focusing on building boats but had already laid the foundation of what would become a tremendous legacy. Today Bleasedale is still in the hands of the Potts family and it is in better shape than ever. The winery deftly balances tradition and innovation, with an exceptional range of wines that are garnering more praise and fans with every passing year.
What’s special about the climate and the soils of Langhorne Creek?
Frank Potts was no viticulturist or trained viniculturalist. He didn’t go searching far and wide to find the perfect place to grow grapes and make wine. But whether by chance or just good fortune he managed to settle in one of the best places for growing grapes in South Australia.
The growing season climate in Langhorne is predominantly shaped by the onshore southerly winds blowing directly from the Southern Ocean across Lake Alexandrina. Lake Alexandrina is one of the final stops for Australia’s longest and largest river, the Murray, on its way to the ocean. These prevailing southerlies reduce daytime temperature fluctuations, decrease sunshine hours and overall summer temperatures, while increasing the relative humidity.
Like much of South Australia the majority of rainfall occurs in winter and spring and irrigation is universally practised, in much part by the unique method of diverting water from the Bremer River and deliberately flooding the land in late winter. One of the benefits of this method is the regeneration of the topsoil. Langhorne Creek’s fertile soils are predominantly deep, alluvial sandy loams that vary in colour from red-brown to dark grey, with patches of black, self-mulching clays.
All soil types in the region promote vine vigour, generous canopies and cropping levels. It’s easy to see how the region became an engine room, producing quality Australian red wines in significant volumes for a bourgeoning market around the world. But that was then and this is now. Today the region has a laser-like focus on quality, with a slew of boutique producers crafting a wonderfully diverse range of traditional and progressive wines.
The bright future for Langhorne Creek
When you combine the unique soil and climate of the Langhorne Creek region with passionate grape growers and winemakers the results are bound to be exciting. The region is a treasure trove of some of the world’s oldest vines and the classic Australian varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Shiraz have always flourished. They’ve never tasted better than they do today, from the strikingly fruit-forward styles through to elegant and complex examples that reflect the personalities of the people that make them.
In recent years these classics have been joined by some of Australia’s most thrilling wines being made from alternative varieties. Varieties like Fiano, Vermentino, Lagrein and Dolcetto are capturing critics’ attention for their superb varietal expression as captured through the lens of Langhorne Creek’s extraordinary terroir. Each year grape growers and winemakers continue to learn more about their region. and each year the community works together to share their special place with wine lovers around the world.
Frank Potts had no idea of what he was helping to set in motion on the banks of the Bremer River all those years ago. He’s be so proud of what the region has achieved, but he’d be even more excited by the future for this Australian classic. To use Frank’s much loved nautical parlance, ‘It’s anchors aweigh for Langhorne Creek wine’. And what a delicious voyage of discovery it’s set to be…
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