Sacred sites & sacrilege: McLaren Vale producers fight development

Last week at the Landmark Tutorial, Yalumba’s Director of Winemaking, Brian Walsh presented a session entitled “Single vineyards and sacred sites versus [multi-regional] blending.”  Without doubt, Australia successfully adopts both philosophies when it comes to making fine wine – there are pros and cons for each.  But I think it’s no mistake that Walsh used the term “sacred sites.”  In the same way that he concluded that “to some extent we know what we mean by fine wine,” there are some vineyards in Australia which, for reasons perhaps not wholly divined, produce wines of the highest order.  Should not these sites be awarded Living National Treasure status and conserved so that their wines may continue to evoke that sense of place and belonging which, for so many, encapsulates the finest of wines?

It’s a question that arose for me when, back in March, I learned that Cullen Wines was objecting to plans to build a microbrewery next door which could potentially have a detrimental effect on their vineyard’s unique indigenous yeasts and, it follows, the quality and character of their wines, among Australia’s best.  The case is being heard this week, but  leaving the question of legal entitlement to one side, one has to question why it’s deemed necessary to build a microbrewery on that spot if there’s even a scintilla of risk that the vineyard may be compromised.  There’s no such thing as a sacred site for a microbrewery is there?  At least leaving aside commercial considerations. 

And it goes on.  Is there a sacred site for a housing development?  Yes, of course people must be housed, but today I received an email from Dudley Brown, Chairman of McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association questioning why it is proposed to develop a huge 177 hectare new suburb called Seaford Heights on the doorstep to McLaren Vale.  Phase 1 envisages commercial centres, 1200 dwellings and 2500 residents.

The timing seems particularly cruel when McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association has just published a map of the region which identifies every vineyard and geological form in the region. Brown told me “Only once we published the map in July did we realise the significance of this site for viticulture….We are looking forward 100 years and questioning the appropriateness and suitability of this type of development in this strategic location with this extraordinary geology when we know that with 20-30 years of vine age, this site may become one of the world’s great terroirs.”  Or in Walsh speak, sacred sites in the making. 

And cutting to the bottom line, extraordinary geography or sacred sites offer a point of differentiation which commands great currency in this competitive world of ours.  In a climate where Australia struggles with a surplus of increasingly hard to sell volume wine against which its fine wine offering remains a relatively unseen drop in the ocean, should not such sites’ fine wine potential be explored?  As James Halliday concluded in his closing remarks at the Landmark Tutorial, the Australian industry has not seriously relied on fine wine until now, but now is the time to do so.  And I think I speak for my fellow Landmark delegates when I concur with his view. 

You can read about both James Halliday’s and Max Allen’s concerns on the development here (here and here).  The decision is now in the hands of Planning Minister Paul Holloway, who is expected to make a decision as early as mid-October.  Why not let me know what you think and add your voice to the firmament?

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  1. bob parsons alberta

    Great place RSJ, used to be a fave spot for mother when she went to Festival Hall. The RSJ winelist is terrific, and prices are great for purchasing to take home!


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