&noscript=1"/>

Smart, McLaren Vale Bernard Smart & Wayne Smart

Top Vineyards

Bernard Smart and his son Wayne are the current custodians of a bush vine grenache vineyard first planted by Bernard’s father in 1922. The site is one of the highest and coolest in McLaren Vale, returning fruit that produces wines of distinctive fragrance and detail. Bernard still works the land, tending the vines in the low-impact way he has evolved over his more than 70 years there. Today, that fruit goes to the likes of S.C. Pannell, Thistledown and Willunga 100, making expressions that are helping to redefine the possibilities for Australian grenache.

At 220–230 metres elevation, above the Onkaparinga River, the Smart Vineyard was first planted by Frederick Smart in 1922, and exclusively to bush vine grenache. His son Bernard joined him at the vineyard in 1947, with his first vintage coming the following year. Today, Bernard still tends the vines as he has done for 73 years, though he does so alongside his son, Wayne.

It’s not Bernard Smart’s only connection to some of McLaren Vale’s most important bush vine grenache, either. In 1946, he helped his father plant the High Sands Vineyard (Yangarra) in Blewitt Springs, which has become one of the Vale’s most celebrated sites for the grape, and he has planted numerous other sites, too.

“Being at a cooler, higher altitude in the McLaren Vale district, the fruit differentiates itself from the warmer, earlier picking and different soil types further down the Valley. It has been said the wine that is produced for our vineyard over the past is perfumed, herbal, aromatic. This is less about viticultural practices but more a signature of the site.”

The Smart Vineyard, in the subregion of Clarendon, is planted to a moderately steep slope of red clay loams peppered with quartz shale and ironstone. The vineyard was expanded in 1956, then again in ’71 and ’99. The latter two years saw a slight increase in spacing, but the constants of variety and trellising remained, with only bush vine grenache in the ground. All vines are on own roots, and the vineyard now occupies about 4.5 hectares.

Today, the fruit from the vineyard is much sought after by some of the Vale’s best makers, and its quality and distinctive signature is being broadly recognised, but that hasn’t always been the case. For much of the 20th century, grenache was a workhorse variety for making fortified wines, which were fashionable at the time, but as this interest receded, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon took the lead, leaving grenache in a very distant third place.

With little market appeal, grenache was firmly on the chopping block when a wine glut developed in the ’70s and ’80s, and the infamous vine pull scheme saw historic vines grubbed out by the thousands. Bernard Smart endured this dark period by selling the grapes in small parcels, and – as the story goes – often from the boot of his car to home winemakers. Thankfully, that survival instinct was enough to preserve – and enhance – a grenache site of singular distinction.

The management of the vineyard has changed little over the years, but for the seasonal fine-tuning that occurs from a custodian so familiar with each and every vine, with the subtle vagaries of geology from one section to the next, and with what the climate may or may not give. “My father, who first started in 1947, still manages the land the way he always has, cultivating, keeping weeds to a minimum, and the vines still produce quality fruit,” says Wayne Smart.

This familiarity makes the process sound a simple one – and the Smarts aren’t ones to overshare detail – but it’s an approach that is intimately linked to site, one built on very specific experience. Smart notes that the precise management of the old vines is critical, with spur pruning to two buds vital for both productivity and quality. Additionally, management of weeds is an important element of the program, with the dry-grown vines benefitting from a lack of competition for natural water resources. A spray program of copper and sulphur is also conducted from budburst to the lead-up to Christmas, but once the vines are set up for the season, they cope with what the year brings, even in an ever-warmer world.

“They’re old bush vines with deep root systems,” says Smart. “As long as they have had an average winter with good replenishment of soil moisture, quite frankly they have done rather well in the warming climate. We work the vineyard to the extent that lets the vines year in, year out do their own thing, allowing the vines to regulate themselves to produce the best possible fruit, as well as promote the longevity of the vineyard to continue to produce high-quality fruit.”

“We are fortunate to be able to sell fruit to winemakers who are happy to produce a single vineyard wine, and let the vineyard express itself in the wine. From a grower point of view, this is the story, this is what makes wine interesting.”

Currently, fruit from the vineyard is finding its way into wines that are redefining the perception of grenache not just in McLaren Vale but in this country in general – as well as internationally – with S.C. Pannell, Willunga 100 and Thistledown all making market-leading examples. And that’s something Smart couldn’t be happier with. “We as grape-growers just like to potter around in the vineyard. If someone can turn our produce into something pleasing that gives them a bit of kudos, good luck to them.”

Smart is typically humble about their role of farming. “An old vineyard just needs to be cared for properly to enable the vineyard to deliver a quality product,” he says, putting much of the success down to variety and location. “Grenache is a variety which can truly reflect its sense of place, its terroir. This is not necessarily reflected region by region, sometimes not even vineyard by vineyard, but microclimates within a vineyard.

“Being at a cooler, higher altitude in the McLaren Vale district, the fruit differentiates itself from the warmer, earlier picking and different soil types further down the Valley. It has been said the wine that is produced for our vineyard over the past is perfumed, herbal, aromatic. This is less about viticultural practices but more a signature of the site.”

With the fruit previously absorbed into blends, or the origin not declared, that signature has now become a valued one where the grower is rightly celebrated – a welcome trend. “We are fortunate to be able to sell fruit to winemakers who are happy to produce a single vineyard wine, and let the vineyard express itself in the wine. From a grower point of view, this is the story, this is what makes wine interesting.”