Oliver’s Taranga Vineyard in McLaren Vale has long been one of the most important sources of high-quality grapes for some of South Australia’s most revered makers, with their own name added to that roster when they started making wine under sixth-generation steward Corinna Wright in 1994. Her uncle Don Oliver takes charge of the 85-hectare vineyard, with a keen focus on sustainability and an unwavering dedication to producing A-grade fruit, which ensures their grapes end up in some of this country’s most vaunted bottlings. Along with regional stalwarts shiraz, grenache and cabernet, the family have invested significantly in Italian and Spanish grapes that suit their warm maritime site.
The Oliver family has been farming their land in the Seaview subregion of McLaren Vale over six generations. William and Elizabeth Oliver landed in Australia from England in 1839, setting up a mixed farm business that included wine grapes. That business grew over the years, with grape-growing eventually taking over from the general farming operations. Today, Don Oliver takes charge in the vineyard, while his niece, Corinna Wright, established the family’s winemaking business, being to the first in the family to bottle wine commercially.
“We are very proud to now have the sixth generation farming the same land, over 180 years of our family on Taranga, and as such sustainability is core to everything we do.”
Up until the establishment of the successful Oliver’s Taranga brand, the vineyard was a contract grape operation, which is still a fundamental platform for the enterprise. Indeed, the site continues to supply grapes to some of this country’s most famous bottlings. They were inaugural members of the Grange Growers Club, which was begun in 1996, and they consistently provide fruit for that wine with the highest price per tonne available to growers in the country.
“We have also provided grapes for many other iconic, Langton’s listed wines,” says Oliver. “Eileen Hardy Shiraz, d’Arenberg ‘Dead Arm’, Wirra Wirra ‘Angelus’, Penfolds ‘St. Henri’, Penfolds ‘407’ and Penfolds ‘389’. We are also proud growers for other premium producers, like Varney Wines, Dodgy Brothers, Fox Creek, Seppeltsfield, Chalk Hill, Hugh Hamilton, Jericho Wines and many more over the years.”
With 85.16 hectares under vine, and most on own roots, the vineyard is planted to traditional regional varieties shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, grenache and mataro, as well as a raft of alternative ones, with fiano, vermentino, tempranillo, mencía, touriga, sagrantino, durif and muscat blanc à petits grains filling out the roster. The oldest vines now on the property were planted in 1947, with the last additions made in 2018.
Although a ubiquitous variety now, the Oliver family were the first to plant chardonnay in the Vale, back in the 1970s. That those vines were subsequently grafted over to fiano neatly illustrates the progressive nature of the operation. A variety suited to a warm and ever-warming climate, fiano was first planted on their site in 2004. They weren’t the first to do so, but there were no local commercial wines made until a year later. In the same year, they also planted the Umbrian grape sagrantino. Vermentino followed in ’09, while they became the first to plant the Spanish grape mencía in 2011, releasing the first wine in ’14, a rosé, with the first red two years later.
Oliver notes that the varietal mix will be continually tweaked, as appropriate options become available, with the southern Italian grape falanghina soon to be planted. “Environmentally, we have sought out varieties that are heat, drought and disease tolerant,” he says. “Those that maintain high natural acidity and mitigate climate change impacts. They have improved the economic sustainability of our vineyard via improving the varietal mix of our estate-grown wine brand as well as providing interest to many more potential grape buyers. These varieties have also allowed us to fit in better to the social fabric of our area. Being coastal and a food bowl, we wanted to be able to offer wines that suit the food that we eat, more textural, food friendly and savoury in nature.”
Oliver sprays with sulphur to control mildew and uses a recycling sprayer for treatment, which reduces spray use by 45 per cent. “We have never sprayed on a calendar, and have always been very minimal in our inputs, without being officially organic,” he says. “I am very proud of that.” Compost and mulch are spread under vine and cover crops are planted with a mix of species, including nitrogen-fixing legumes. Low compaction vehicles are used where possible, and their dorper sheep are enlisted for weed control.
“Winemaker and viticulturist work together. Whatever is needed to get the best quality in each block, we do it. It is not a one-size-fits-all mentality; each variety and block have decisions made on it individually. I work closely with Corrina as well as the other winemakers that buy our grapes. The Penfolds team are always in the vineyard in the lead up to harvest. We work with our wineries to understand what they are looking for in their wines, and tailor to that. Penfolds want something different to Oliver’s Taranga who are different to Varney Wines.”
Oliver’s Taranga is also a certified member of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia. “We are very proud to now have the sixth generation farming the same land, over 180 years of our family on Taranga, and as such sustainability is core to everything we do,” says Oliver. “We have to make sure that the land gets handed on in a better condition to each future generation both financially and environmentally. Over the generations, our family have also been strong contributors to our industries, region and communities, and will continue to do so.”
This broad view of sustainability is an important one to Oliver, with the winemaking side of the business significantly bolstering the grape-growing enterprise from an economic standpoint and that development is ongoing. “We also have started a Taranga Terroir tour in our new six-seater golf cart, ‘Ollie’, showing guests around our vineyard while tasting the wines that come from each block,” he says. “Our cellar door has been expanded recently, and we have just purchased a new vineyard with a great view of the gulf up the road in which we will add accommodation pods in the future.”
They are also part of the McLaren Vale Cellar Door Tree Trail, which recognises the significant trees on their property, ensures their ongoing care and educates visitors about their meaning. “Corrina is also working on an important project connecting the wine industry with the local Kaurna custodians,” says Oliver. That engagement group with local elders is to better understand how their family business can respect country and that their operation is sensitive to First Nations culture and history.
McLaren Vale as a region has been proactive in managing water availability issues with a significant reclaimed water program. Oliver sources from a local aquifer along with using recycled water, but he has been proactive in selective irrigation employing soil monitoring and drone imagery as guides. “Our investment in technology in terms of irrigation management has been one of our core achievements,” he says. “Having the tools to see where water is in the soil, how the vines are using it, and the relation to fruit quality has been gathered now over many, many growing seasons. This has both improved quality of the fruit and ensured our precious recycled water resource isn’t wasted in any way.”
Oliver also stresses that it is not just about the health of the fruit at harvest that matters, but rather about what ends up in bottle. To that end, they taste wines from across the site to connect their practices to the wines that are made. “Winemaker and viticulturist work together,” he says. “Whatever is needed to get the best quality in each block, we do it. It is not a one-size-fits-all mentality; each variety and block have decisions made on it individually. I work closely with Corrina as well as the other winemakers that buy our grapes. The Penfolds team are always in the vineyard in the lead up to harvest. We work with our wineries to understand what they are looking for in their wines, and tailor to that. Penfolds want something different to Oliver’s Taranga who are different to Varney Wines.”
The Oliver’s Taranga wines are made only from their own vineyard using natural yeasts with very minimal additions. “The idea is to ensure that the wines represent the vineyard 100 per cent,” says Oliver. “That’s why we work with drought- and heat-tolerant varieties with high natural acidity. We have been grape-growers for 180 years, and winemakers only since 1994, so it is always all about the grapes and the season. Each wine is a snapshot of a certain vintage in our place, documenting another year on our property, and I love that.”