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The New Daily
The New Daily
Tony Love

Wandering with intent at Willunga brings rewards of the vine and a village feel

No matter which way you arrive in McLaren Vale, one physical feature of the natural landscape focuses attention above all others.

Come in from the north, on the Adelaide to Victor Harbor road, and that long-line horizon of hills in the distance is a seasonal bellwether – a patchwork of dried grain, oats and summered-out earth in summer to verdant winter greens.

Approach from the south and you pop over the top of the Willunga Hill, old road or new, and descend dramatically into the guts of the region. I mostly take the old road, the one the Tour Down Under cyclists climb in high summer temperatures, as it brings you right down into the main drag of the Willunga township.

In the past few years, High Street has come alive and has a healthy vibe with its general store, baker, Old Bush Inn, the highly fancied Muni bar/restaurant, and a handful of cafes and artisan craft and gift shopfronts. On Saturday mornings, of course, the Willunga Farmers Market is as joyful a meeting place as ever.

Tour Down Under cyclists are a familiar part of the landscape in high summer. Photo: Getty

There’s a proper village feel to Willunga, Malcolm Leask notes from the verandah of the Hither & Yon cellar door right there in the midst of it all. He and brother Richard Leask are the power and passion behind the H&Y wine brand, and current Bushing Monarchs in the McLaren Vale region after their 2021 Aglianico was voted to the top at last year’s regional wine show.

They grew up in Willunga, went to school there, played all their sport there. True locals. They can’t walk up and down the main street without stopping three or four times.

“When people say ‘how cool is Willunga’ I can’t still believe it’s become this kind of haven,” Malcolm says.

“It’s done that in its own natural little way without changing the character of the village as well.”

Heading Hither & Yon

Hither & Yon cellar door is the starting point for a welcoming self-guided tour of the district, the Willunga Wander, which reveals a lot about the locals’ spirit as well as the wines that stem from the nearby foothills.

Also part of the walking tour is Battle of Bosworth, nestled right into the hillside north of the township, and for a bit of a refreshing, frothy finish, the Shifty Lizard brewery, also in High St, where the famed Hamlets Butcher and Deli once traded.

“The Willunga Wander was born out of our love of the village atmosphere,” Malcolm says.

“We wanted something really simple to do and encourage people to come into the town and walk around, rather than drive.

“It was about that light footprint we believe in – no buses and the like.

“The tour truly aligns to our customers as well – we have similar environmental aims with the Bosworths being organic and biodynamic, and Hither & Yon certified sustainable, regenerative and carbon neutral.

“You have two second-gen family grape growers and wine labels caring for the land around us, keeping it all healthy.

“We want people to see the landscape as they walk around as well.”

At the Hither & Yon cellar door, after booking the walking tour, your first guided tasting is a flight of four wines. They shine a light on the eastern foothills sector of McLaren Vale to the north-east of Willunga, where the Leasks have their home Sand Road vineyard, but with an extra edge – one of the wines comes from another higher estate site just east of Kangarilla. There, half the vineyard is officially in the McLaren Vale region and the other half in the Adelaide Hills region, separated merely by a creek line.

It’s not much of a stretch to suggest that these wines, and others from close by, have a cooler climate sense about them. They also embrace the adopted – and well-adapted – Mediterranean varieties that are making their presence felt alongside the region’s more traditional varieties.

Hither & Yon’s flight that comes with the Willunga Wander ticket consists of an exciting, southern Italian white variety called Greco, a rosé crafted from the Bushing Monarch winning Aglianico red grape, a better-known regional hero, Grenache, and then a genuine surprise in these parts, an attractive aromatic and earthy Pinot Noir, which admittedly comes from their Hills block but really isn’t too far away to be out of place.

(The same flight if you’re not “wandering” is $15, or add $5 for two extra premium tastes, redeemable on purchase. )

Primed for Battle

Primed now, you head on to the Battle of Bosworth cellar door, down the main street, past the Alma Hotel and former site of the markets, then along the McLaren Vale road for a short hop before diverting onto the well-marked walking and cycling Shiraz Trail, a flat-line stroll for a kilometre or so between the Willunga Golf Course and the Willunga High School, with all its wine-education vines in full view.

I made a dash here a week ago between rain cloud fronts, though it’s usually a bit of a mad dogs and Englishmen workout in February. In Spring I would be wary of marauding magpies, which reportedly are fond of the odd swoop or two in this area.

The Wander turns right, off the Shiraz Trail, at Gaffney Road, and rises gently to the entrance of the Battle of Bosworth estate, where a glorious avenue lined by Asiatic Plane trees leads you for another stretch to the most welcoming cellar door of Joch Bosworth and Louise Hemsley-Smith, tucked into the hillside overlooking their 90-odd hectares of certified organic vines.

At the bench is a decent swathe of B-o-B bottles for tasting, as well as their parallel label Spring Seed Wine Co, also from the estate vineyards, and their latest venture, Springs Road wines from an estate-owned vineyard on Kangaroo Island. You could ask for a guided flight here, or perhaps sample those you fancy – you’re walking back, after all.

Joch Bosworth with his wines. Photo: Supplied

It’s here Joch Bosworth explains a little about the local terroir, where fertile alluvial soils, part of a younger geology than much of the rest of McLaren Vale, play their part, as well as the foothills gully winds.

“What happens is they (the winds) follow the foothills around and funnel out at Sellicks,” Bosworth says.

“There’s a temperature difference either side of the hills, warmer and cooler air, between maritime and continental climates, that generates the wind and it rips through here.

“When Adelaide has a weather warning for 100km/h winds – lock up your dogs and your grandmothers – that’s normal here. What might blow away, already has.

“That cools stuff down at night, but it also strips moisture out of the soil – that’s why in some situations it’s good and some it’s bad. It is what it is.”

This cooling effect may go some way to explaining why cabernet sauvignon grown there does so well, and also white varieties, Bosworth ponders. (Their 2021 B-o-B cabernet sauvignon won the varietal class trophy at last year’s regional McLaren Vale Wine Show.)

The estate’s chardonnay also suggests an affinity with the foothills, as does another pinot noir, under the Spring Seed label, that comes from one of their nearby lower blocks but still delivers genuine varietal flavour interest in a very approachable riper fruit style, and at $22 is a crazy bargain.

A highlight, called ‘Heretic’, takes a couple of Iberian red varieties, touriga and graciano, into a blend with shiraz, all hillside grown, suggesting that these have found a happy home here as well as the traditional Vales tribe.

Pure hedonism

While not part of the Willunga Wander, it’s worth also noting that further along the base of the hills is The Hedonist organic and biodynamic vineyard and winery, set up by local legend Walter Clappis and now increasingly managed by his daughter Kimberley and son-in-law James Cooter,

(They, by the way, scored four trophies at the 2022 regional show for their own brand, Cooter & Cooter, sourced from another part of the foothills to the south-east, a short hop closer to the coast.)

Kimberley notes also that the wind is a big factor, and may even impact the tannin profile of The Hedonist wines.

“This perhaps influences the winemaking,” she says. “We don’t work the wine too hard, and employ gentle extraction, using whole berries, being careful of too much skin contact, not macerating the fruit. All of that does soften the tannins.”

The result across many of the wines from the foothills district, as their winemakers react to their micro-environment’s influence on their fruit, are wines that are lush and opulent in flavour, yet fresh and bright with their natural grape acidity aided by the cooling foothills breezes. A local expression perhaps, which reinforces the identity of the Willunga village in a specific wine sense.

… and finish with a beer

And back to the wander. Once you’re done at Battle of Bosworth cellar door, you head back to the township – the way you came, but a ring route is being planned for the future – where you finish at the Shifty Lizard Brewery with a paddle of four beers included in the Wander ticket.

A lightly bitter ‘Easy Ale’, an easy-drinking ‘Sesh’n Ale’, a ‘Bruce Lee-zard’ fuller flavoured West Coast IPA style, and a ‘Stouty McStout Face’ classic dark-choc-like English stout all partner nicely with a menu of low and slow style wings, burgers and fries.

It’s not the usual way a wine column might conclude, but Shifty Lizard owner and brewer Lee Stone knows its place offers a broadening appeal.

“The McLaren Vale has grown from just being about wine to a much wider gastronomic experience, with breweries, distilleries, and restaurants now here across a wide range of styles,” Stone says.

Willunga has shown that in its own unique way. It’s definitely worth the wander.

Book your place: Willunga Wander – Hither and Yon Reservations (


Hither&Yon Greco 2022

McLaren Vale / 13% / $29

This wine comes specifically from Sand Road, the southern Italian variety clearly loving its new home. It’s gold to light orange toned, bright and shiny – not cloudy – and is all toast and butter, roasted nuts as well with a slice in there of mandarin peel. The standout here is the textural palate, minerally and tangy with fabulous mouth-watering pithy, peppery tannins. Virtually impossible to describe the finish as it’s impossible to resist a second glass. A wonderful surprise, and will change the white wine game for trad sauvignon or chardonnay drinkers.

Hither&Yon Sand Road Grenache 2022

McLaren Vale / 14% / $29

From the Leask brothers’ youngest grenache vines at 13 years old, crafted into a youthful, fragrant, bistro style with 20% whole bunch influence in the winemaking that offers a subtle sappiness in the palate. While you are being seduced by its floral aromas and freshy squeezed plum and apple juiciness, you should pause for a mo, as it has plenty to offer in its textural game, lip-smacking and with an appealing spicy/peppery tannin profile in the palate and finish. Bistro, yes, and very food conscious as well – its own crew suggests pairing it with the vegetable and cheese pasty from the Willunga Bakery.

Battle of Bosworth Cabernet Sauvignon 2021

McLaren Vale / 14% / $28

There’s such a wonderful varietal purity to this wine with all its classic black berry and blackcurrant fruit feels swirling with typical, herbal notes – note that it’s herbal and not herbaceous, a subtle difference that tells us the whole fruit has ripened without any senses of greenness. A wine where it’s all about the clarity of flavour expression by the cabernet grapes, the variety’s tannins and backbone sitting in behind, balanced and upright, the whole wine delightfully weighted with a satisfyingly long finish. If you need any further convincing – it won the cabernet trophy at the 2022 McLaren Vale show.

Battle of Bosworth Heretic 2021

McLaren Vale / 13.5% / $28

An exciting red combo of three varieties – winemaker Joch Bosworth calls it an exotic Iberian blend as it consists of the Portuguese origin trouriga nacional and the Spanish graciano in cahoots with Willunga-grown shiraz. They clearly all get on well together as the wine is a joy to imbibe, crimson crushed fruits with fennel and five-spice-like seasonings in the aromatics followed by an attractive, medium-bodied palate of juicy, jubey berries, all bright and beautiful, fresh and heaps of fun to drink with soft, lingering tannins in the exit. Exceptionally moreish.

The Hedonist Tempranillo 2022

McLaren Vale / 13.5% / $28

Sourced half and half from The Hedonist’s certified organic/biodynamic vineyard in the Willunga foothills and a similarly managed third-party site in the Kangarilla region, essentially cooler sectors of the wider region, which assists the lovely aromatic start to the wine, suggesting black cherry and chocolate vibes, though not at all in a coconut cherry ripe mode, if that’s what you’re thinking. Overflowing with varietal cherry flavours is one thing, but a notable savoury earthiness then shifts the palate focus and morphs into a sandy/grainy feel, tannins proud yet softly spoken in a medium to fuller bodied style. Quite a lot going on here, this wine cries out for a rich meat barbecue or white bean braise.

The Hedonist Cabernet Sauvignon 2020

McLaren Vale / 14% / $26

The fruit here is sourced entirely from the estate’s Willunga foothills vineyard, certified organic and biodynamic, and clearly the location and the variety have a natural simpatico. Cooling winds, and energised alluvial soils all bring their influence into play with trademark blue and black berry aromas, vibrant herbals in the sage-to-mint spectrum, all balanced neatly with a subtle fruit sweetness, almost like a fine dusting of caster sugar over the fruit. As all this swirls across the tasting senses, it’s easy to miss that the mouthfeel is soft and pliable, the variety’s tannins well managed and gently teased to encourage an immensely drinkable, modern cabernet.

This story first appeared in InDaily and is republished here with permission

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