The Adelina vineyard, in the Clare Valley, is an old one. The first shiraz vines were planted in the early 1900s and were supplemented with grenache sometime in the ’40s. When Col McBryde and Jennie Gardner took over the management of the site in 2002, their work was cut out for them. With rampant wild olive trees and weeds aplenty, they set about regenerating the landscape, working with organic methods for many years before finally seeking and achieving certification in 2020. Today, those old vines are in fine health, while further plantings have increased the vineyard size a little to now occupy six hectares. Working in the vines and winery alongside Michael Maloney, McBryde turns the fruit into Adelina’s iconic estate wines, a shiraz and a grenache, while also contributing to a shiraz and mataro blend – coupled with fruit from a neighbouring site – and a field blend of both white and red grapes.
After both knocking off doctorates specialising in yeast metabolism and spending years working in vineyards and wineries for others, Col McBryde and Jennie Gardner started their own endeavour with a fairly substantial head start, Gardner’s parents being the owners of a decidedly rustic old vineyard in the Clare Valley, conveniently nestled up against the iconic Wendouree site.
In the Springfarm subregion, just south of the Clare township, the Adelina vineyard is a place of history. “We were told in 2002 to pull the vineyard out and start again,” says McBryde. “We resisted. Wrapped by the Wendouree and Aberfeldy vineyards, the site is steeped in the heritage of Clare and Australian wine folklore. Our time here has seen us transition from making wines from an old site, to growing vines that produce wine expressive of its history.”
The oldest vines are shiraz and were planted in the early 1900s, while a block of grenache was established in the ’40s, and they also have two rows of old pedro ximénez vines. More shiraz was added in 2013 and ’20, with mataro planted in ’12 and ’13, and malbec in ’17. In 2015, McBryde also grafted a 1976 block of cabernet sauvignon over to an eclectic field blend of shiraz, grenache, mataro, ugni blanc, roussane and carignan, taking the site to 6 hectares under vine.
“I found myself in Clare, seven years after my first vintage, overly confident and lacking information,” says McBryde. “I quickly learnt that humility, honesty and dedication were required, to make wine… or more importantly, the growing of the vines and the resultant wine with ‘somewhereness’ – a lesson learnt from the Bradys [of Wendouree].”
Since 2012, McBryde has worked using organic practices, with certification coming in 2020 (NASAA). Prior to that, the viticulture was conventional, and though McBryde notes that it was always “sympathetic”, the journey to reinvigorate the vineyard has been a long one, and is still very much a work in progress.
“Trailer loads of olive trees were removed, and countless hours of hand hoeing weeds began our regenerative plan,” says McBryde. “We swapped a car for an old David Brown tractor to slash and jig under-vine. Tutelage over the years from many and self-education saw us focusing on sustainability and vine health. Our tending is one of a benevolent nature, all we want to achieve is life and health out of our soils and vines. With the old blocks it’s a custodianship; we’re merely there to aid and sustain… we’ve still lots of work to do, much to learn.”
“Our tenure at Adelina has been brief… well, in comparison to our neighbours. But in this time, I believe that there’s a common thread, which is an expression of the fruit we grow displayed in the wines, year in, year out… I think the inherent link are the soils that we farm and the age of the vines which these wines come from; these are the important facets, at least to us.”
Like any old vineyard, Adelina is backbreaking work, and the returns are modest, but McBryde believes it is a special place. “The red sandy clay, lime, slate and belts of sandstone…” he begins, trying to capture what makes the place tick, “crop levels our accountant has noted are ‘unprofitable’… each vine would be visited anywhere from eight to 12 times a growing season – pruning, tying down, shoot thinned, hoed, fruit thinned and then handpicked all play a role in why we think the fruit we grow is quality.”
For McBryde, establishing the grafted block for the field blend was a chance to experiment outside of the gnarled old-vine focus. It was also a bit of a good-natured middle finger to those that misuse the term. Frustrated by some makers who use “field blend” as a marketing device – when in fact many came from entirely different fields and are really just everyday blends – as well as to throw some chaos into his ordered, scientific mind, McBryde jumbled the cuttings up, grafting them randomly. And he picks and vinifies the grapes together – a true field blend, in other words.
“We pride ourselves on honesty and transparency,” says McBryde. “There’s only two of us at Adelina. I am indebted to the work and support of our winemaker Michael Maloney who works alongside me in the vineyard and in the winery. It’s his diligence and effort that has made this work realised in recent years. The constant contact approach to the vineyard has taught us much. Our approach is holistic across the property, organic farming takes a central tenet to our procedure, outside of the sustainability and regenerative focus in the vineyard, we maintain half the property with native scrub.”
The site is essentially dry grown, with rainwater used to minimally support the establishment of young vines. And though the Murray River pipeline runs past their vineyard, McBryde notes that they don’t have access to it, but nor do they want access. “We are of the notion that further depleting that aqua resource is not part of our environmental mandate.”
McBryde is quite conscious of the fact that they have occupied their site for a sliver of its history, but it has left an indelible imprint. “Our tenure at Adelina has been brief… well, in comparison to our neighbours. But in this time, I believe that there’s a common thread, which is an expression of the fruit we grow displayed in the wines, year in, year out… I think the inherent link are the soils that we farm and the age of the vines which these wines come from; these are the important facets, at least to us.”