If the town of Basket Range feels bigger than it is, it’s because it incorporates lush hilltops and deep ravines. It’s never easy to get from one property to another, and in that way this part of the Adelaide Hills is a lot like the far Sonoma Coast: remote and notably rustic, even if it’s less than a half-hour from downtown Adelaide.
There are other, more conventional properties in the Adelaide Hills, like Ngeringa, whose pinot noirs have a well-earned reputation throughout Australia. But the fringe is, for the moment, collecting all the attention.
In addition to these up-and-coming names, I could easily have focused on wines from Lucy Margaux and Domaine Lucci, Commune of Buttons, BK Wines, Vinteloper and Murdoch Hill.
Taras and Amber Ochota have become symbols of the New Australia. Much of their wines are sourced from neighboring regions, including the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, but they’re increasingly turning to their home turf in the Adelaide Hills. It’s a strong lineup, from the A Sense of Compression, 186 and Fugazi grenaches to several pinot noirs and even the Weird Berries in the Woods gewürztraminer. The through line is subtlety; these are wines for lovers of nuanced flavors.
Perhaps my favorite find in Australia. Scientists who go native in their winemaking certainly exist—thinking of Kalin’s Terry Leighton and Ravenswood’s Joel Peterson—but there must be some remarkable dichotomy taking place in Alex Schulkin’s head. He works for the AWRI by day, making the world safe for wine science, then turns around and makes natural, unsulfured wine in a rudimentary shed in his free time. His Bright Young Pink and White Young Thing are two of the best pét-nats I’ve had this year, while his skin-fermented Moonshine offers a whole new perspective on viognier. His wines are proof that daring, minimal winemaking can succeed brilliantly when done by the right person, with the right experience.
Charlotte Hardy took her experience at places like Bordeaux’s Château Giscours and New Zealand’s Craggy Range and put it toward a quieter, less gonzo interpretation of the Basket Range, where she’s worked the past five years. It shows up in wines like her Beyond the Horizon shiraz, which has an innate freshness to the smoky plum fruit, and her Love You Love Me, a far richer style of semillon than Australia’s mean-and-green expressions, but also one of the most nuanced I’ve had in several years.
Gareth Belton (pictured above) might be the most viticulturally minded of the Basket Range lot, which is to say he spends a lot of his time farming vines for vineyards he makes wine from. And he’s a pragmatist: for each wine like Rainbows, his mix of 19 varieties that has become a bit of a cult hit, there’s one like his Ashton Vineyard pinot noir, which has a cool-herbal side and classic fruit (and receives a bit of sulfur dioxide). Good proof that there’s a balance to be struck between esoteric and enduring.
Tim Weber and Monique Millton met at Rootstock, the avant-garde Sydney wine fair, and while their offbeat ideas (like the Wild Nature series from foraged grapes) catch the most attention, I was stunned by how good their full range is, seeing as they’re only two vintages in. There’s the excellent She Blushes Gris (from pinot gris), but also savory chardonnay and pinot noir and a fantastic take on savagnin that’s far more polished and aromatically intense than many Jura versions.
James Erskine is the other marquee name in the Basket Range, thanks to his high-profile work as a sommelier. The Jauma wines, now produced almost entirely in screwcap, can have some rough edges, but the best are wonderful. The Like Raindrops grenache, in particular, shows an attractive saline side to that variety, while his Thousand Fires blend of semillon and chenin blanc pays tribute to Australia’s habit of blending those grapes into “Chablis.”