Emmanuelle and Toby Bekkers have bought the once-famous Peake/Gillard Clarendon Vineyard Estate site.
It was first planted between 1842 and 1848. The steep hillside dominates the township of Clarendon, situated in the coolest, elevated, north-east corner of the McLaren Vale wine region.
The estate was first selected for William Leigh whose instructions (1839) to his agent John Morphett were explicit: “As the culture of the vine might be profitable to my South Australian tenantry… it will be desirable that there should be some hill of a suitable soil for its profitable growth on the estate.”
Toby says Morphett chose well. “I’ve not seen clay loam soils of this type elsewhere in McLaren Vale, particularly overlying ancient siltstone and lime,” he says.
“It’s quite unique and we believe it will produce the particularly high-toned, aromatic, spice-driven red wines we’ve come to love from Clarendon.
“These lofty cooler slopes, 720mm rainfall and a healthy water resource offer an opportunity for us to counter future climate challenges.”
The estate grew to over 60 acres under the stewardship of Edward John Peake between 1853 and 1882.
His efforts in transforming the steep hillside were widely acclaimed throughout the young colony of South Australia.
Ebenezer Ward said in 1862: “(Mr Peake’s vineyard) towers high above the surrounding objects, and appears, as it truly is, a gigantic pyramid of verdure. Its slopes and summits are clothed with luxuriant vines, and their dense and verdant foliage is unbroken by one barren spot, and unvaried by one foreign plant.”
Following Peake’s death in 1876 and after a period of mismanagement, Joseph Gillard Snr. purchased the estate (1882) and set about restoring the neglected vineyard. The property remained in the Gillard family until the 1930s when much of the vineyard was removed and replaced with orchards.
The hillside was again replanted with vines in the 1990s and although they have been abandoned and unpruned for the past seven years these vines are still in existence on the property.
“The property is a sleeping beauty,” Toby says, “but it’s testing to see beyond 25 acres planted on the steepest of slopes, seven years unpruned, terraced, infested with blackberries and inaccessible to normal machinery (as a result of high-density planting).
“It takes an experienced eye and a healthy dose of tenacity.
“I anticipate some sleepless nights!”
After retraining, grafting and some new plantings, the property will be bearing fruit for the 2022 vintage.
Grenache, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc will be grown.
Emmanuelle plans to “proceed cautiously” and ferment small parcels of each variety before a decision is made with respect to which wines will be bottled under the Bekkers label.
“Although not widely planted, Clarendon is emerging as the standout terroir for McLaren Vale fine wine,” she says.
“We’ve long worked with Clarendon fruit and it fits our polished style of wine so well.
“I’m eager to see what this celebrated old hill can provide, given some love and attention.”
Toby will also offer small parcels of fruit for sale to like-minded winemakers.
“I’m confident that in able hands the resulting wines will further strengthen Clarendon’s reputation,” he says.
Photos of Toby Bekkers by Don Brice.