Sam Virgara grows our Chapel Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir at Piccadilly Valley, Adelaide Hills.
From an amateur point of view, my family’s winemaking history goes back a long way because, being typical Italians, they always made their own wine. But in terms of a more professional approach, it started when I did winemaking with Roseworthy College back in the late 70s, early 80s and that led to a career in winemaking with some large Barossa winemaking companies.
Then I left corporate life and came back to what was then a small vineyard here in Piccadilly owned by my parents. They immigrated here from Italy in 1964. My dad was a farm labourer and he subsequently bought his own piece of dirt and grew vegetables. Then we came along and tried to escape farming – three of my brothers managed to successfully evade it but I was stupid enough to come back and pick up the family farm and expand it. We’ve been growing grapes for companies large and small on a purely grape growing basis since about the mid-80s.
This particular plot of land was bought from the Brooks family, who owned it since white settlement. We bought it from them in 2000 and so we’ve supposedly only the second white family to own the piece of dirt. We hope to hold it for as long as the Brooks did – they had it for about 170 years or thereabouts.
These vines were planted in 2000 so they’re about 15 years old and they’re just hitting their straps in terms of maturity. We chose Pinot for this particular bit of dirt because it’s quite a sandy soil up here and we thought we’d be able to control their vigour a bit more. It’s not as rich or as heavy a clay so we can regulate their water conditions a lot better, which has worked out all right. The other thing is that it’s sandy and deep, so the vines do tend to put their roots down fairly deep because they have to, to find the clay layer underneath, to maintain themselves. So the vines seem to have done pretty well up here.
The block has a southern-facing slope. We used it initially for sparkling wines because it’s a bit on the cooler side, but in the last seven or eight years when there’s been a noticeable warming, the vintages are coming earlier and we’re getting a lot hotter summers, it’s actually turned out to be a bit of a blessing because the fruit doesn’t get cooked as much as it would on a northern-facing slope.
While we’re a large grower, we do try and encourage smaller producers such as Frewin and Candice. What they are doing for us is highlighting our vineyard and it’s individuality. The bulk of our fruit goes to a large corporation where it gets blended away, so we don’t get to see the character of the vineyard. But with parcels like Candice does with CRFT Wines, we can see the individual character of the vineyard, which is really encouraging because we’re starting to see the influence that the vineyard itself has on the wine.
There is a constant character running through the wine through the vintages, which is obviously attributable to the grapes growing on this place. It’s almost an orange peel type character, along with the usual characters of Pinot Noir – a lot of cherries, fresh strawberry, fresh fruit characters. This particular clay also turns out a little bit of pluminess, as well, which is delicious. And we would have never have known that without being able to try these single-vineyard wines. So I think Frewin and Candice do us a great favour by taking our grapes.