Ringing in the new vintage in South Australia

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South Australia’s McLaren Vale wine region, just 35 minutes south of Adelaide City, has a strong tradition to celebrate the commencement of harvest.

Held at Wirra Wirra – one of McLaren Vales oldest and most significant wineries, the annual McLaren Vale Bell Ringing Ceremony and Districts Tasting heralds the beginning of a new vintage.

It’s a special event  allowing winemakers and cellar staff from around the region to get together for one last time before vintage kicks off in earnest, and they spend many long days, weeks and months in their wineries.

Now five decades long in its tradition, the ceremony rings the three-quarter Angelus Bell at Wirra Wirra, inspired by the European tradition where church bells ring out and all would know that was the time to start picking.

With changes in each harvest season, some bell ringing ceremonies are held after picking has already commenced, with others being the omen of the completion of veraison.

The event often coincides with a special wine tasting open to the public, and followed by the bell ringing and lunch.

The honour of ringing the bell goes to the region’s reigning Bushing King and Queen. The winemaker of the ‘Best Wine of Show’ is crowned as the Bushing King or Queen at the McLaren Vale Wine Show Bushing Lunch. The ‘disrobing’ of the previous years’ King or Queen and ‘coronation’ of the new winning winemaker is cause for much celebration and is the pinnacle of the Bushing Lunch.

The Bushing monarchs tradition dates back to medieval times when tavern owners would place ivy bushes above their tavern doors to celebrate the arrival of the new vintage wine, or fresh mead. The hanging ivy represented the opportunity to savour wines at their best.

In the early 1970’s, McLaren Vale winemakers incorporated this tradition to welcome the release of new vintage wines, by hanging olive branches over their cellar doors. Nowadays, olive branches (and their olives) are much more valuable, but the tradition still continues with olive trees placed (or planted) outside cellar doors.

The Bushing tradition coincided with local winemakers discussing how to improve the quality of the wines produced in the region, and ultimately – improving the region’s reputation as a producer of high quality wines. This resulted in the formation of McLaren Vale’s first Wine Show Committee, with the first McLaren Vale Wine Show being held in 1973.

Whilst McLaren Vale is one of Australia’ oldest wine regions, it is devoid of pomp and ceremony – except for the crowning of the Bushing King or Queen, and the annual ringing of the bell.