Terroir (our “secret”) - Basket Range 

Long before Governor Jervois chose Marble Hill as the site for his summer residence in 1878, the early colonists of South Australia recognised the value of the deep rich soils in the spring-fed gullies of Basket Range and settled there to grow fruit.

Prevailing over fires & floods & changing fortunes, the descendants of those early settlers still own and care for the land. 

Enjoying the same cool wet winters and warm dry summers, Marble Hill has shared a similar destiny to Basket Range. 

Around 150 years ago the first settlers established themselves into Basket Range. Needing quick cash crops, they cultivated the deep fertile loams of the valleys and creek lines with vegetables to supply the growing Adelaide markets.   This bottom land was flatter than the surrounding hills and irrigation was possible with the ingenious use of water diversion channels from the spring fed creeks.

Many of these free settlers had come from rural English counties and were also well versed in the techniques fruit tree growing. They knew that the heavier soil of the valleys and flats while growing vegetables in abundance was less suitable for fruit trees, which needed free draining soil.

In the forested hills, which rise precipitously off the valley floors there, however, lay a secret. The secret is a deep brick red clay soil underlaying the thin layer of loam cloaking the slopes: Seeing this as potentially good soil for fruit growing the settlers then set to the back-breaking task of clearing the land. Not all the land was cleared of course, but the areas containing the red clay were targeted, because proving assumptions correct, this clay was very fertile and could sustain fruit trees without irrigation through the long hot South Australian summer.

As more and more orchards went in, Basket Range became a preeminent area for fruit production and within a few decades had become the largest cherry growing district in Australia and was exporting fruit well beyond Adelaide. The unique red clay formed the basis of this expansion.

The tragic bushfires of 1955, which also sadly marked the demise of Marble Hill, saw the local industry devastated. After the fire, Basket Range declined as a growing region of note made worse by market place changes requiring broad scale production techniques that shunned steep hillsides.

but the red clay remains...

“The Secret” Chardonnay is grown on a north facing and gently sloping (by Basket Range standards anyway) five acre block we call the Hay Paddock. Back in the day of the horse and the house cow, hay was a very valuable commodity. The Hay Paddock is deeply underlaid with the same red clay and sustained many generations of fodder crops. However, once the old horse was replaced by the tractor the Hay Paddock was planted to Jonathan apples, along with Glengyle’s (local red selection of Rome Beauty) as pollinators. This was an inspired choice of planting as the block was locally renowned for sustained high production of tasty fruit for forty five years.

During the slump in apple prices of the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s the Hay Paddock found itself in the care of new owners who after some deliberation in 1998 decided to plant over to chardonnay grapes: Again an inspired choice. The vines are grown without irrigation reaching their roots deep into that same deep red clay which had 150 years ago sustained the first fruit trees of Basket Range. 

Greg Cramond

 

 
  The deep red clay that underlays our Basket Range chardonnay vineyard.

The deep red clay that underlays our Basket Range chardonnay vineyard.