Australia is one heck of a wine country, there is no doubt about it. Just the sheer size of it guarantees versatility. There is more than 50 different wine regions and the number of grape varieties being cultivated is probably in the triple-digits. But amongst all these famous regions and sub-regions there is a place that deserves more recognition.
UNLIKE ANY OTHER WINE REGION
The wine region of Riverland is located in South Australia, a short three–hour drive from Adelaide. Arriving to Riverland safely means you have successfully avoided hitting the vast number of kangaroos that roam the area. The lower part of Australia’s longest river, Murray, runs through Riverland and it’s the heart and soul of the region.
The rugged beauty of Riverland with its arid landscape, houseboats, poisonous snakes and drive-thru liquor stores is quite unique. If Quentin Tarantino had directed the wine movie Sideways he would have filmed it here. Walking around the small town of Renmark you might not have the slightest idea that you are in the middle of one of the biggest powerhouse wine regions in the world.
THE ENGINE ROOM OF AUSTRALIAN WINE
Riverland is one of the major wine regions in the country yet it seems nobody has ever heard of it. That is mostly because Riverland paints with a big brush and apparently being king of the hill in the bulk wine trade doesn’t have the sex appeal you would think. Riverland is responsible for approximately 30% of Australia’s annual wine crush, which is a lot.
Some of the most well-known Australian wine brands source their wine from here. If you've ever drunk an Australian wine there is a good chance it came from Riverland. The consistent weather conditions guarantee a reliable and steady production of good quality fruit. Internationally known grape varieties like Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay thrive here but the local farmers do not shy away from experimenting with lesser known varieties, such as Vermentino. With more than 1000 grape growers in the area you can find pretty much anything you fancy.
HOME OF THE BAG-IN-BOX
To get an idea of the size and quantity of Riverland one must get a bird’s-eye view. Some of the local winemakers have a Private Pilot Licence and a plane that helps them get around. One of these winemakers is John Carlyon Angove. Flying above the gigantic vineyards as his co-pilot, scared speechless, I started to grasp the scale of Riverland.
Endless blocks of vineyards, the river of course, and here and there I could see these immense Area 51-looking vinification compounds. By coincidence, but not at all surprisingly, I learned that the pilot, who was in charge of me being airborne and not plummeting into the Murray River, is the son of Thomas Angove who invented the wine cask a.k.a. bag-in-box and patented it in 1965. So, in many ways Riverland has almost single-handedly helped to introduce wine to countless wine lovers around the world, especially in the Nordics where a big portion of the wines are sold in bag-in-boxes. Interestingly, you probably won't see the name “Riverland” on any of the bottles or boxes, but instead a broader geographical indication like the pretty much meaningless super zone South Eastern Australia.
However there seems to be a a movement by a group of local winemakers and farmers who are trying the less-is-more approach by producing smaller batches of high quality wines and proudly labeling them wines of Riverland in the hope of changing the prevailing perception. It’s a bit of a David and Goliath set-up but whatever the future holds for this wine region one should never underestimate the people of Riverland and their ability to surprise even the most stubborn wine drinkers, like myself.