Arila Gardens

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Over a 20-year journey through the winemaking industry Adam Clay had always dreamt of owning his own vineyard and making world class wines from the Barossa Valley. In 2018 a small vineyard on Moppa road planted to old vine Shiraz and Grenache with an ironstone cottage dating back to the 1870s was purchased, thus beginning the Arila Gardens story. Read our Q&A with Adam Clay
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Tell us about Arila Gardens, where did the name come from what was the inspiration?

When it came to choosing a name honouring the history of the site was important. An Aboriginal word Arila, which translated to ‘sand, land and earth’ resonated with the family, honouring the original owners of the land, as well as the mix of sand, ironstone and quartz that the roots of these ancient vines reach deep into. Then, just like the older vignerons who so carefully tended these blocks by hand, we too refer to our vineyards as ‘gardens’. Small spaces that are nurtured and tended with care and pride. 

What makes the Moppa district so special?

One of Australia’s hidden secrets, Moppa is arguably the most historic and premium district within the Barossa. It is home to some of the oldest vines in the world with plantings of Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro and Cabernet Sauvignon dating back to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Neighbouring vineyards to Arila Gardens have produced highly sought after fruit that have featured in the Barossa’s most exclusive wines, including Penfolds (Grange, Special Bins), Peter Lehmann’s (Masterton) and Torbreck (Runrig).

Traditionally dry grown, Moppa vines are naturally low-yielding and consistently provide parcels of fruit unparalleled in quality. The Moppa flavour profile can be described as dark, complex and brooding, and the structure of wines produced from this fruit ensures they cellar remarkably well.

What wine does Arila Gardens make?

We make two tiers of wine. Both are made in a modern style, crafting fragrant wines with personality, finesse, and a sense of place.

Our top tier is the Garden Selection, wines which are made from the strictest selection of vines from our single vineyard that represent the absolute best quality of that variety in that vintage. With this tier we make a Shiraz and a Grenache based on the beautiful old vines we have on our property.

The second tier Our Gardens of Moppa wines are an expression of the region from which we call home. A blend of vineyards, or as we like to call them gardens, from the heart of Moppa. Here we make two wines a Shiraz and a blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro.

You have worked in the industry as a winemaker for over 20 years, what experiences or highlights can you share with us?

Working at Penfolds for over 10 years in the red winemaking team was an amazing experience being able to visit the vineyards, taste the ferments and being involved in the allocation decisions for some of Australia’s most famous wines.

One of the benefits of winemaking is the opportunity to travel and work. I’ve been able to do vintages in Italy (Chianti), USA (Russian River) and China (Ningxia) as well as travel extensively on work related trips through Australasia and Asia.

Attending the 2016 Len Evans Tutorial was a real pleasure. Four days of tasting the worlds best wines and discussing them with great tutors and colleagues was inspiring. A couple of real highlights was the 2002 Krug Clos du Mesnil and the 1965 Lindemans Hunter River Burgundy.

Grenache has been getting a lot more attention lately, can you tell us about how this is different to other varieties?

Previously winemakers tended to make Grenache using similar techniques and philosophies to making Shiraz. We now see a lot more experimentation in picking earlier to retain more brightness of fruit flavours and fresher acidity and using whole bunches in the ferment to add fragrance and perfume to the wine. With Grenache its not a case of more is better with a new wave of elegance and refinement making some classic wines. In time I think Grenache will become just as famous as Shiraz in the Barossa Valley. What I personally love about Grenache is its deliciously moreish, one glass never seems to be enough.

The garden selection wines are named after the soil features. What difference does the soil make to the wine flavour?

We have certainly found that the soil features do have an impact on the flavours of the wines made.

The wines made from the Quartz Garden have intense blue, black fruits and heightened notes of dark chocolate, they are rich and opulent with layered plush tannins with depth and generosity. The vines in the Ironstone Garden are naturally low yielding with tiny berries and super intense flavours. Wines produced are black and brooding, slowly uncoiling to show licorice, tar, espresso and mineral notes.

Wines from the Sand Garden are more fragrant and open in their youth, heading in the red fruit spectrum like satsuma plums, red skin and dark cherry with a fine long silky mouthfeel.

Sustainability and minimal intervention have been buzz words around the industry recently, where does Arila Gardens sit with this?

One of the attributes that attracted us to the Arila Gardens vineyard was that it had been managed as a dry grown vineyard with no irrigation. This forces the roots of the vine to travel deep into the clay subsoils looking for water meaning they are more resilient to dry and warm conditions. We are currently going through the process of joining the sustainable winegrowing Australia which gives us the ability to benchmark our viticultural inputs and practices. From a winemaking perspective we use a minimal intervention approach with the aim to highlight the characteristics of the variety, the vineyard and the Moppa district.

Who has been your mentor had the most influence during your winemaking career?

The majority of winemaking career was at Penfolds so naturally Steve Lienert and Peter Gago had a big influence on teaching me about how to make world class wines but also how to perform under pressure situations like vintage and how to create an environment where people come first. Throughout my career though there has been one constant, my wife Marie. From working together, travelling around the world and experiencing many remarkable bottles of wine it’s been an amazing experience being able to share these with her.