Whisky Next for SA Wine Regions

February 11, 2016
By Alana House
The wine region of McLaren Vale now has its first dedicated whisky distillery, with several others in the pipeline for other SA wine regions, amid a groundswell of whisky production activity in the state.

The McLaren Vale Distillery has been founded by John Rochfort, former CEO of Tasmania’s Lark Distillery, and his family, together with business partner Jock Harvey, who also owns Chalk Hill Wines.

They are consulting with undisclosed parties on distilleries that are proposed for Barossa Valley, Limestone Coast and Clare Valley, adding to existing SA whisky producers such as Steam Exchange Brewery in Goolwa and G R Andrews & Sons Fleurieu Distillery.

According to Andrews, itself and others see the opportunity to take advantage of the global whisky “boom”, using South Australian grown barley and the state’s temperate climate.

“Globally, the whole whisky boom is on and people are looking for quality over quantity and they are starting to realise that good quality single malt whiskies can be made in places other than Scotland,” Andrews says.

“We’ve got the barley, we’ve got the climate, so everything’s good.”

The McLaren Vale Distillery founder and General Manager John Rochfort says the hope is that each key wine region will eventually have its own distillery, following in the same footsteps as MVD.

“Each region has its own special wines and grain growing abilities,” he says.

“To be able to produce a single malt that is truly made up of that region’s input is the goal.”

The McLaren Vale Distillery has been funded by a $500,000 grant from the South Australian Government Regional Development Fund and its approach will be to age its single malt whiskies in local ex-wine barrels, with each release to also be accompanied by a bottle of the liquid that was originally housed in the barrel.

The distillery says it has had a number of wineries offering up its barrels, including a 90-year-old muscat cask.

“These are barrels that have previously won amazing awards – it could be a 1967 Grange Hermitage barrel – so when we get hold of these barrels we want their complete history from everything that ever went into that barrel, the dates of the fill, and it must have only ever had the same grape variety from the same block in that barrel or we won’t accept it,” Rochfort says.

“When we bottle them, an original bottle of the muscat, sherry, port, bourbon or whatever was in that barrel before we took use of it will be part of that box set when the whisky is matured. You’ll also be able to have a little bottle of the Mount Lofty spring water that we use, a little sample of the grain that we use for that particular bottling and some shavings of the actual wood from the barrel as well as the bottle of single malt.”

The distillery also has its own malting plant on-site and plans to source barley from a number of different farmers across South Australian regions to give its whisky multiple characters.

Rochfort says that the distillery is still negotiating supply arrangements with some farmers, but that it has secured relationships for the volumes needed during the first few years until production demand increases. Production is currently at an output of around 20,000 litres, but should increase to 50,000 by year five.

The range of whiskies will start with the McLaren Vale single malt at $120-$150 through to the Bloodstone Collection featuring the best of the best barrels from SA, ranging in price from $500-$1,000.

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