Few wine regions are as aptly named as Eden Valley the home of Pewsey Vale, located 500 meters above sea level and in the hills that rise up above the Barossa Valley. Gone are the deeply coloured red, yellow and black soils of the Barossa valley floor with their generosity and richness, and that create similarly powerful and muscular wines. In Eden they are replaced by exposed hillsides, more meagre and weathered soils with underlying bedrock breaking through to the surface and that bring with them a special and unique character.
The true source of the Eden name though is unknown to this day. It comes from a single word, “Eden”, that was scrawled on a tree in the early 1800s by a mystery author. Perhaps written by one of the early settlers or even a traveller passing through remarking on the area’s inherent beauty – no doubt describing the Eden Valley’s green rolling hills and the cool bite that comes with its additional altitude over the nearby plains. Surveyors found the tree as they mapped the area and thereafter named the town Eden Valley.
Around the same time, William Macarthur, son of Australian wool industry pioneer John Macarthur, was building on his father’s plans to launch the wine industry in Australia at his property west of Sydney. They had a particular interest in Riesling, and imported the first vines in 1837, alongside with German viticulturists to tend the vines – some of the first non-British immigrants to land in Australia.
Riesling as a vine is best suited to cooler climates and no doubt the Macarthurs were searching for a proving ground for their new prize grape variety. They soon had it and the first Riesling vines were planted in South Australia in the Eden Valley hills, one of South Australia’s coolest wine regions, at a property by the name of Pewsey Vale in 1847. For almost 80 years the Pewsey Vale vineyard was the source of many award winning fine wines and were considered some of the best in South Australia.
Like much of the Australian wine trade the growing taste for fortified wines made the business of table wine production a significant challenge. At Pewsey Vale World War, bushfires and changing Australian wine tastes saw the last vines removed in 1929.
By 1961 wine tastes were again reversing and the fortunes of table vine began to rise with a small part of the original Pewsey Vale vineyard replanted, likely from the same German vine stock that had been originally planted there over a century prior.
Today Pewsey Vale is lucky to have true custodians that nurture the quality of its wines. For almost 50 years the Hill-Smith family have owned the plot and in that time they have worked tirelessly to bring its quality to the fore. Vineyards were expanded past the original 1961 block and at a winemaking level Pewsey Vale Riesling was one of the first Australian wines to be sealed under screwcap in 1976.
On the ground in recent years has been the award-winning and leading Australian winemaker Louisa Rose. Ably assisted in the vineyard by Darrell Kruger there has also been a distinct change at Pewsey Vale towards modern viticultural techniques with constant experimentation and a movement into more organic and biodynamic principles.
In the winery Pewsey Vale has been in some ways, conversely, reverting to more traditional winemaking methods – wild ferments, less protective winemaking and some time on lees help to create more textural wines with greater detail and depth.
Concurrently the range of Pewsey Vale has also been expanded. The first addition was in 2000 with the release of the 1995 Contours Vineyard Riesling, sourced from the coolest corner of the vineyard to give a more acid-driven style well suited to long aging. More recently the Prima Off-Dry Riesling was launched in 2007, taking advantage of growing interest in this style.
Perhaps the finest addition of all though to the Pewsey Vale range is the recently released 2017 Riesling drawn from the oldest blocks, planted in 1961, which are located in the heart of the vineyard and receive the most sun during the growing season. It has all the hallmarks of a new South Australian riesling benchmark, although at an embryonic stage, and only time will tell if its potential is fulfilled in the bottle.