Kangaroo Island is one of the newest wine regions of Australia, it being declared so in 2001.
Kangaroo Island , or KI for short, is located along the southern coast of South Australia at latitude 36 degrees south. It is elongated east-west, a low lying plateau 145 kms long and about 55 kms at its widest point. The southern coast receives the full force of weather and swells from the Southern Ocean and has many magnificent surf beaches with white calcareous sands.
The north east coast has several more sheltered bays where the main settlements have developed.
The best access from the mainland is by Sea-Link ferry from Cape Jervis to the town of Penneshaw (population ca 400) across Backstairs Passage, a distance of 18 kms. The ferries make many trips each day, taking 45 minutes and can carry about 50 vehicles.
The main township on the island is Kingscote (population ca 1500) which was the first official colonial settlement in South Australia, dating back to 1836. It is about 65 kms by road west from Penneshaw and it has an air strip. There is a regular air service several times daily by light plane from Adelaide, which is some 140 kms northwards. Kingscote is a pleasant seaside town with all amenities and so is a good choice for a base from which to explore the island.
The first vines were established at Kingscote in 1837 from cuttings obtained by William Giles in South Africa, but nothing much came of the venture. The colonial settlement was quickly moved to the more promising Adelaide region on the mainland which had agricultural potential and a reliable water supply. Kangaroo Island then became forgotten by colonists because of its flat bleak scrubby terrain, infertile soils and lack of potable water.
Kangaroo Island wines – how did they come about? Really they developed hand-in-hand with modern tourism.
The first handicap to overcome was to find suitable soils for vineyard development. The climate is attractive being temperate and maritime and close to a typical Mediterranean climate. Rainfall is in the range 400 to 750 mm which falls in the winter. Cool wet winters and warm dry summers are the norm. By application of modern agricultural practices over the last 20 years the happy result is 30 operating vineyards and a new Australian wine region.
The largest plantings are of the dark red Shiraz grape, as in many parts of Australia. In fact Australia is famous for its Shiraz reds and blends thereof and this variety has the greatest plantings in total. Shiraz (also Hermitage) is the name used in Australia for the Syrah grape variety which is found in France and Spain.
Scotsman James Busby in 1831 brought from France and Spain many hundreds of varieties of vine cuttings and established them at the Sydney Botanical Gardens, from whence vines were distributed elsewhere in Australia. By 1839 Syrah vines were established and flourished in South Australia in the McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley, which are the largest wine producing regions of the state.
South Australian wine growers produce Shiraz as the major grape. Some is earmarked to produce premium reds having 5 or more years maturation, but the bulk is blended with Cabernet, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache grapes which produces blends which are readily acceptable for drinking after a short period of maturation in oak.
On Kangaroo Island there are about 30 vineyards and five wineries that have “cellar doors” or cater for visitors to sample the wines and to buy in situ.
At Penneshaw, where the ferry docks, is a good place to start your wine tasting. In town opposite the Penneshaw Hotel is located the outlet for Dudley Wines which was established in 1994 and has 3 vineyards in the eastern end of the island on the Dudley Peninsula. This is the largest KI producer with 9 different wine styles.
Impressive is their Grassy Flat Sauvignon Blanc having a distinctive herbaceous aroma. Other offers in their Island Range included Chardonnay, Merlot, Rose, Shiraz and a Shiraz blend which were of good standard. The two premium reds were Porky Flat Shiraz (soft, smooth and peppery) and Hog Bay Cabernet Sauvignon, both being top notch. Mary’s Blush is promoted as a very popular sparkling Cabernet blend, having strawberry overtones.
Where to next?
The other cellar doors include the Andermel Marron and Two Wheeler Creek Wines where a small winery is combined with a unique farming establishment of fresh water crayfish called a “marron”. These grow to about 30 cm size and are harvested to provide a white flesh delicacy which can be sampled while wine tasting, and more so in their adjacent cafe. The Two Wheeler wines include, Shiraz and sparkling Shiraz, Cab. Sauv, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a special sparkling white. The Island 2007 blend of Shiraz 62%, Cab Sauv 23%, Merlot 15% aged in oak for a year, was to my liking, it being a dark brick color with a fine berry aroma.
Close to Pennashaw and on a superb hilltop site, is Sunset Winery where visitors can sip and nibble in a delightful patio area and view the stunning coastal scenery. The water fountain here attracts the Ligerian bees for a drink while heading home to the Island Honey Farm. A similar range of wines is offered including a fine Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot 2007 blend. But what could be better than a cool crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a plate of KI oysters on the shell, to sample while watching the sun set?
Tourists using Kingscote town as a base have only a short drive to experience the Bay of Shoals Winery which is proud of its Pelican brand of wines. This hilltop locality overlooks the Bay of Shoals and Reeves Point where the first settlers arrived to South Australia. The Sauvignon Blanc 07 and 08 are topnotch, and you can also browse through the adjacent art gallery showing creations by local artists and sculptors. Always there is a sparkling Shiraz to brighten one’s day and inspire you later to have an adventurous evening at the local Kingscote pubs, namely the Queenscliffe Hotel and the Ozone Hotel!
Finally there is the serious Cape d’Estaing Winery at Emu Bay on the North Coast, not far from Kingscote. A 10 hectare vineyard is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz grapes. Their objective is to produce premium reds and they have succeeded in winning many medals. No fiddling around with white wines for them! The grapes are hand picked at optimum times to produce their Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon wines which are aged in oak for 18 months or more. Famous is their Sparkling Cabernet Sauvignon 01, 03 which is aged in oak for 28 months, with a final bottle fermentation. Great stuff!
Kangaroo Island off the south coast of South Australia has many attractions for the tourist. In between wine tasting you can go and pat a koala or feed a kangaroo in a wildlife reserve, or look at seals and penguins, go fishing off the beach or a boat, or just kick up the white sand on the many beautiful ocean surf beaches that surround the island. It is a great place for a vacation.