Jun 11, 2024

All Hail – McLaren Vale – Wassail

The 49th Bushing Lunch was the coronation of the new McLaren Vale Monarchs Malcolm and Richard Leask of Hither & Yon.

Adapted from the original blog written by Tijana Laganin, Wine Communicators of Australia, Wine Media Cadet 2023

For those, like myself, who have never experienced ‘a Bushing’ – the inspiration comes from medieval times when tavern owners would celebrate the arrival of new vintage wines by hanging ivy bushes above their venue doors. The region substituted ivy for olive branches, in a tradition that spans back to the 1970s. Half a decade on and these branches are in the form of a marquee ceiling installation at Chalk Hill.

Not only a celebration of the ‘Best Wines in Show’, the Bushing is a celebration of the region as a whole. How many industries can cumulate, by definition, competitors and have them genuinely support one another’s achievements? I don’t see PWC, KPMG and Ernst & Young gathering to praise the other’s quarterly update. The olive a felicitous choice, as the symbol for peace and friendship.

As we sit to literally break McLaren Vale baker Andy Clappis’ bread, each winemaker is individually applauded. There are the usual suspects, Chester Osborn in his trademark paisley shirt, the Maglieris accompanied by some enviable European handbags and Elena Brooks, whose raspberry shirt dress is an apt allusion to her 2021 Bushing Title. As well as the up and comers – Silent Noise’s Charlie O’Brien and Kimberly & James Cooter from Cooter & Cooter. A surname that after four award announcements, is etched into my brain.

From the outside, McLaren Vale is a motley crew. A community that celebrates diversity and, to quote the Bushing Wassail, ‘the joys good wine doth bring’. ‘The Vale’, as it is affectionally known, encompasses all elements of a great wine – character, conviviality, and vitality. And this is true of its people, having interviewed King Malcolm of Hither & Yon. Greeted by the warming fireplace, a backing of soft jazz music and a bloke in a beanie talking about Aglianico. The scene sums up the region wholeheartedly – a kind of comforting contradiction.

This abstract carrying-on through the wines – as Malcolm puts it, the goal is a to “create a bridge between soft & approachable and authentic & rustic”. The ampersand becoming synonymous with the brand and its overarching theme of “connectivity”. When asked why, Mal explained “there’s always been an ‘and’” – drawing back to that connection of wine to the land, McLaren Vale’s “hills & sea” and its kinship with “food & friends”. For me, ‘and’ implies endless possibility, something captured by the brand’s vision to create a “sense of discovery” through their wines.

This discovery not only for the consumers, but themselves. Since planting Aglianico in 2008, the brothers have ascertained the importance of vine age and respectful viticultural practice – as Mal explains through “open canopy management” and “fruit ripening” they have created a “cropper that wants to yield” into “the best wine of show”. Their foray into alternative varietals has expanded to include: Carignan, Nero D’Avola, Tannat, Greco and you heard it here first, Falanghina. Unintended varietal vogue, I am told with absoluteness they are “not worrying about trends” – for the Leask brothers, all decisions are made with the future in mind. The first South Australian winery to go carbon neutral, what makes Hither & Yon unique is that their respect for the land goes beyond sustainable practice and regenerative farming. There is empathy. No surprise that Richard was awarded the title of “Best Single Vineyard Viticulturist (any style)” at the 2022 McLaren Vale Wine Show.

This varietal understanding and empathy became clear to me when interviewing Malcolm. Describing his wines, Mal unintentionally anthropomorphises them. It is a beautiful thing. Each wine is seen to have its own personality.

Next time you see a bottle of Hither & Yon, look closely at the label – each ampersand, I am told, “illustrates the flavour, vivaciousness and origin” of that variety. Take for example the hero Aglianico, there appears to be a whimsical reference to candy liquorice bullets, pebbles and some refreshing influence from the sea (a reference to McLaren Vale’s coastal climate perhaps?).

For those playing at home, here is the wine’s tasting note:
COLOUR: Black ruby, purple hue.
AROMA: Satsuma plum, tobacco leaf, lanolin, ferrous notes.
PALATE: Black cherry and anise, wild mint and sage leaves, dark chocolate, a stony edge to the tannins, savoury with refreshing length.

Wine much like art is open to interpretation. And thanks to an abundance of diversity and character, the region produces a gallery of works. Each telling a unique story, from Chester’s Athazagoraphobic Cat, with a fear of being forgotten, to the day Oliver’s Taranga fittingly hand-picked their Rosé on Valentine’s Day. Hugh Hamilton sums it up perfectly – “this is a place where we take the wine seriously but not ourselves. It’s about living a quality lifestyle and having fun”. “All Hail, Wassail” to McLaren Vale.

McLaren Vale is one of Adelaide, South Australia’s 18 wine regions.

Read more about the history of Bushing on the McLaren Wine website. The Bushing Monarch tradition celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2023.

The Wine Media Cadet program is run by Wine Communicators of Australia, with the support of Great Wine Capitals.

Photographs courtesy of Tijana Laganin and Wine Communicators Australia