Can you recall your life at 25? In popular psychology, 25 is typically the time one experiences a quarter life crisis – by definition “a period of insecurity, doubt and disappointment surrounding your career, relationships and financial situation“. For some it is the transition period from university to full-time employment. That awkward limbo between ambition and entry level reality. Time spent reminiscing on a fun former self, a uni timetable that revolved around Thursday’s $2 vodka sunrises and an immunity to hangovers. An age where Instagram is replaced by LinkedIn for aimless scrolling and horoscopes become gospel. In retrospect, perhaps I may have displayed signs of said existential crisis.

The Adelaide Hills, however, would be one of those enviable accounts on LinkedIn – their endless list of skill endorsements:
– winemaking
– sales & marketing
– process improvement
– innovation development

A high achiever on every front, and whom late last year celebrated their 25th annual wine show sponsored by Aston Martin. No Toyota Corollas here. Despite this, we were reminded of humbler beginnings by an equally humble Peter Leske. Peter was the inaugural Nepenthe winemaker and 2020 ASVO Winemaker of the Year. Like listening to Morgan Freeman – in a deep, resonant voice he recalls of these “show and tells”. Held at the Aristologist, a series of pioneers determined there was a need to benchmark wines against each other and reward the highest quality. Fellow committee member, Dr Terry Lee OAM, recollects this “soft judging and high quality”.

Standing on stage, Dr Lee gives the impression of an articulate, unassuming man. Certainly, not one that would unravel the entire PR campaign of the Adelaide Hills Wine Region. Behind the lectern, dated 12th February 1996 is a document of the first wine show. By calculation making this the 26th  anniversary. Controversy paired with Chardonnay – how could you not love the Hills?!

To “supress self-congratulatory”, non-bias palates were invited to judge with the likes of James Halliday and Phillip White. Comprising less than 20 entries, a Pinot Noir won the best wine of show. A varietal Prue Henschke affectionally refers to as “a naughty adolescent”. Prue along with husband Stephen Henschke were among the founding members of the Adelaide Hills Wine Committee – with a membership fee that could be funded by the loose change in your console. Married to six generations of Barossan history, Prue recalls how “it was great to go into a different climate” and based on the indicators of “good apples and pine trees”, deduced that the region “surely must grow wine”. In 1989, Prue and Stephen planted their first Pinot Noir grape and from seven clones, three remained. This unruly, ‘teen’ behaviour, explained by its “origins as a wild grape”.

Sharing Prue’s “high hopes” for the region was Geoff Weaver, whom first planted grapes in 1982 – when the hills were best known for stone fruit and apples. His initial goal, simple yet ambitious was to “create the best Chardonnay and Pinot in the world”. Today, he believes the region is doing just that. And it’s not just these noble varieties, 2022 show received 607 entries – including Blaufränkisch and Pecorino.

Having chaired the show from 2004 to 2006, Huon Hooke looks back to when “Chardonnay was the rising star”, “Shiraz had yet to emerge” and “Grüner Veltliner had yet to show its head”. Less than two decades on, Chardonnay is synonymous with the region, Grüner Veltliner has its own class, and a Syrah took out the best wine of show. Nobody could have predicted that in a mere 25 years, the Adelaide Hills would be producing world class wines. An astonishment I sense was mirrored by Mauricio Ruiz Cantu and Ben Caldwell when awarded wine of show. Nick Ryan summed it perfectly “the region is only just at the start and is one of the most exciting”. The little-known Seven Eves is testament to this.

To quote the Sound of Music “The Hills are alive”!

Written by 2022 WCA Wine Media Cadet, Tijana Laganin