The Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard covers a steep cut of country from the ridgetops above the village of Clarendon to the Onkaparinga River in the gorge below. Since its establishment in 1971, the Hickinbotham vineyard has become a part of Australia’s wine heritage, supplying fruit to produce many of Australia’s greatest wines.
The Era of Peakethe 1800’s
The colony of South Australia was only ten years old when the hills of Clarendon were surveyed as a private township in 1846.
By 1858 under the stewardship of Edward John Peake the vineyard grew over 5 times over to include 30,000 vines and covered 10ha (24½ acres). Peake was an untiring, highly creative colonist. A magistrate and Member of Parliament, he was also a keen sketcher and painter, an auctioneer, real estate developer, mining magnate, president of the local militia, and manager of the new state’s railways and transport.
As an amateur expert in English Gothic Revival architecture, Peake had a significant influence on the design and construction of St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral in Adelaide. His contribution to architecture is still present in the stately old buildings on Clarendon’s main street. In 1862, Ebenezer Ward, a journalist who was later to become a parliamentarian and the first Minister for Agriculture in Australia, visited Peake at Clarendon and wrote an account of the estate: He described “patches of cultivation [which] contrast with the rugged and undisturbed wilderness of nature.” Of Peake’s vineyard, he wrote that it “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.”
By that year, Peake was exporting to Calcutta, Java, New Zealand, Queensland, and Victoria and had sent some parcels to England. Several of these wines had won significant awards, including a champion medal at the Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne in 1866, and a medal at the Paris show of 1867.
Peake passed away in 1876, after which the vineyard was bought by Joseph Gillard, a pioneering vintner who had planted a substantial vineyard at Norwood, adjacent to Penfolds’ Grange vineyard and winery at Magill, near Adelaide. The mighty winemaker, Mary Penfold, purchased this Norwood vineyard and appointed Joseph Gillard Jr. to the position of Manager and Winemaker of Penfolds Magill. So began a long relationship between Penfolds and Clarendon: until his death in 1897, Joseph Gillard sold premium grapes to his son for inclusion in the famous Penfolds wines.
The Clarendon Vineyard continued producing fine fruit until the Australian wine industry went into major contraction during the Great Depression. In 1933 much of Peake’s vineyard was uprooted. Fortunately a parcel survived and in 1976, painter David Dridan and architect Ian Hannaford rejuvenated and extended the vineyard, and restored Peake’s winery and homestead. This partnership was spurred on by an important development across the river. By then, Alan Hickinbotham had begun the establishment of his Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard on another very steep slope on the opposite side of the Onkaparinga gorge.
The Story of Hickinbotham Vineyardthe 1970’s to today
Alan Hickinbotham Jr. was hardly a stranger to viticulture and wine.
He was the son of Alan Robb Hickinbotham, who was usually known simply as ‘Hick.’ Appointed deputy principal of the famous Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1929, Hick went on to become one of Australia's most influential wine figures when he established the wine science department there. His two-year Diploma in Oenology course commenced in 1936, and went on to feed Australia with well-educated winemakers for generations.
After noticing an auction for a parcel of country property and fully aware of the 125 year history of the vineyard across the river, Alan Hickinbotham Jr. decided to bid on the land. “I was sure we couldn't go wrong if we planted vines. The auction was being held on that very day, so I had to bid for the property on the spot. Fortunately my bid of $54,000 was successful.”
Alan and his family began establishing water reservoirs and planning a serious vineyard, planting Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz on dry-grown, terraced blocks. He soon bought 37 hectares called Schmidts on the opposite side of the road (facing south), and his son David added another 16ha neighbouring the original north-facing purchase, then more land on the western side.
“We all pitched in, living in a caravan on the property while we trimmed vine stocks for planting,” Alan would say. “It is very satisfying to note that those original 28ha of dry-grown Cabernet sauvignon and Shiraz produce the best grapes of the vineyard. We were delighted when our first red, the 1976, won three gold medals.”
“The Clarendon Vineyard has continued the legacy of my father,” Alan often said with great pride. The Hickinbothams were very highly regarded for the sublime quality of the fruit they grew at Clarendon, selling select parcels to Penfolds for Grange and to Hardy's for their equivalent white flagship, the Eileen Hardy Chardonnay. By 2000, Alan’s son David Hickinbotham had established a partnership with winemaker Roman Bratasiuk, who with great success launched his Clarendon Hills Hickinbotham Vineyard. After Alan’s passing in 2010, David took over the stewardship of the property, in January 2012 sold Hickinbotham Clarendon Vineyard to the Jackson Family in January 2012.
McLaren Vale, South Australia
Located about 35 kilometres south of Adelaide, sits the seaside winemaking region of McLaren Vale.
Just three years after the proclamation of the colony of South Australia, John McLaren surveyed the unknown region in 1839. English settlers, in very small numbers at first, immediately began to move in. Once cleared, the undulating land was quickly recognised as very fine for the growing of grain, vegetable gardens and orchards, but it seems the English were thirsty, and breweries and vineyards were not long to follow.
Today’s McLaren Vale is favored with several small villages, all boasting inns and restaurants which. The older settlements are still rich with cottages and commercial buildings made from the local stone and slate.
Surrounding these, the vineyards sit like a vast rolling quilt over the hills and vales of the embayment. There are good stretches of native scrub surviving, many thousands of beautiful towering Red Gums in the pasture fields, and various streams and creeks, the most prominent of which is the Onkaparinga River in its steep, stony gorge flowing over the old rocks at Clarendon.