When visiting McLaren Vale wineries, don’t be surprised when the friendly folk at the cellar doors recommend other cellar doors for you to check out. This is a tight-knit wine community with a strong collaborative spirit. The first cellar door you go to will offer you a special 12-bottle carton to fill up at participating cellar doors. When you fill the box, the last cellar door will arrange for your precious cargo to be posted back to your home address.
About two-thirds of cellar doors take part in the program. “Visitors love it,” says Herb Van De Wiel of Foggo Road Wines. “Along with the carton, we also give people a map of the region and point out the easiest way to get around to other wineries. By the time people have finished a tasting here (there are about 30 wines on tasting) we know pretty well what they like. We then point them in the direction of other wineries we think they might enjoy.”
McLaren Vale winemakers are community minded. Two years ago Jock Harvey of Chalk Hill Wines posted on Facebook that he had spare grapes for anyone interested in a charity project. There was one condition: the funds had to go to the Hutt Street Centre for the homeless in Adelaide. Andre Eikmeier, co-founder of online wine retailer Vinomofo, put his hand up and one Sunday morning he and dozens of locals picked the grapes. Yangarra Estate made the wine, which sold out quickly, raising $40,000. The Homeless Grapes Wine Project is now an annual event.
“One of the most powerful attributes McLaren Vale has is its sense of community spirit,” says Wirra Wirra CEO Andrew Kay. “We see it on display regularly, with businesses, wineries and growers banding together to support one another. When times are tough we find a way to stay strong. We share in each other’s success and take great pride in the wines we all make. There’s a commitment here to work together which should hold us in good stead for a long time to come.”
When Chapel Hill winemaker Michael Fragos’ son, Archie, was diagnosed with a rare disease last year and needed treatment in America, his colleagues and the wine community rallied, launching The Archibald Wine Project. Chapel Hill winemaker Bryn Richards made seven phone calls to seven local winemakers. The result was seven barrels of their best wine from the 2014 vintage. The project raised a lot of money for Archie and his family.
It’s not just the wineries supporting each other: their Association, McLaren Vale Grape Wine & Tourism Association is also leading from the front. The Association hosts an annual golf day to raise funds for the local hospital and CFS. In September each year 200 women gather for the McLaren Vale Ladies Long Lunch, which supports the Wayne Thomas Scholarship for aspiring wine judges.
The community spirit is also embraced at a public garden at Willunga called the Marienberg Veggie Patch. Members of the community volunteer to look after the fruit and vegetables – and of course help to pick and eat them!
Herb Van De Wiel loves the community spirit. “Being a small place, winemakers and cellar door people bump into one another all the time including at the footy or a restaurant,” he says. “McLaren Vale is very friendly and family-orientated. I know that the way cellar doors help one another sounds strange to some people, but a lot of us don’t see each other as opposition, but as part of the broader picture of making McLaren Vale more successful.”
Have you experienced the friendly McLaren Vale cellar door community? Share it on social media using the hashtag #mclarenvaleguide