Curtis Family in McLaren Vale

Grape vines were brought to Australia with the first fleet in 1788. Grape cuttings and seeds were collected in Rio de Janiero and from the Cape of Good Hope and planted at Port Jackson in Farm Cove, the site of the present Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens. In 1791 Governor Phillip established the first vineyard when he planted 1.2 ha of vines at Parramatta. Unfortunately there was very little knowledge of grapegrowing amongst the convicts and soldiers and in 1801 the Duke of Norfolk sent out two Frenchmen, Landrier and de Riveau, who had been prisoners-of-war held at Portsmouth. They had little success in controlling a major outbreak of ‘blight’ and were subsequently send home. In 1816, G. Blaxland planted a vineyard at Parramatta with vines introduced from the Cape of Good Hope.

The Curtis Family Vineyards is established just west of the township of McLaren Vale in . Its vineyards have flourished and now its sought-after dry white and dry red table wines are available on the Australian and export markets.The story of the Curtis Family Vineyards is really the story of how everything old came new again…of how European immigrants came to Australia, struggled against the odds and then applied old world values and experience to produce fine wines.

While the original collection and those established from it have been lost, more of the varieties have survived in Australia than is generally realised. From the localities in which they have been subsequently found, it seems very likely that there are vines of varieties such as Crouchen, Chenin Blanc and Ondenc, as well as better known varieties such as Semillon, Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon which can be traced back to Busby (even though the major plantings of some of these varieties may have come from other sources). Among the minor varieties, the discovery of surviving vines of Bourboulenc, Piquepoul Noir, Tocai Friulano and Troyen was of great interest. Other varieties since found and identified were Fer, Gamay, Gueche and Pougnet, and about 20 more varieties have been distinguished but not yet identified. There are also varieties from older collections with obviously local names which remain to be identified. Vineyards rapidly spread to the rest of the Australian colonies – vineyards were planted in the Yarra Valley in Victoria in 1830 and Adelaide in 1837. The first vineyard in the Barossa Valley in South Australia was planted by Johann Gramp at Jacob’s Creek in 1847.

This accounts for the towns long main street. Gloucester, which was south of the current Tintara winery, grew into a thriving community. Walter Leonard purchased Lot 1 in Gloucester and built a mill opposite Charles Lewsey Lot 2, where he made wine and Brandy and conducted his business as carpenter and undertaker. By the 1870’s the community included the mill, two hotels (the Devonshire Arms 1849 and the Salopian 1851), a saddlery, stores, a brewery, a blacksmith, a butcher, five schools, and later a creamery. Bellevue began on land purchased by Richard Bell who built a little colony of thatched pug houses. He also built a hotel in 1857 and named it the Clifton in honour of his wife, nee Clift. Ellen Street also bore her name until recent years, and is now part of Chalk Hill Road. In 1852 a group of local farmers held a meeting at the Devonshire Arms, and decided to build a Mill in Bellevue, and a month later, the foundation stone having been laid, the company returned to the Devonshire Arms to celebrate the occasion. It functioned until the 1870’s and was purchased by Thomas Hardy who converted it to a winery that became the Mill cellars; parts of it are included in the present Hardys Tintara Winery. Bellevue had a Tannery, a blacksmith and a Coach stop Way station that is now the Barn restaurant, and a lime burner who conducted his trade at the rear of the cottage that bears the name today. The Wesleyan Church opened for worship in 1858, and this Methodist – Uniting Church was demolished in 1987, and in December 1988 the new church was opened. The Bellevue school established by Reverend Prior was conducted in a house near The Barn in Ellen Street. Successful mushroom culture was carried out near by also. Bellevue flourished for a while until the closure of the flourmill and the primary school as well as the de-licensing of the hotel. In 1882, Thomas Hardy, who was prospering from his newly established wine empire decided to purchase these substantial buildings. He converted the flourmill into a winery, used the school as a residence for his employees, the Barn as stables for his workhorses, and re-established the Clifton Hotel as a wine and refreshment inn. He changed its name to the Hotel Bellevue and regained a license after some renovations.

The hotel was later named the Hotel McLaren amid some opposition from the local community. Approximately 4 kilometres to the southeast of McLaren Vale lay a pug cottage on the estate known as Wirra Wirra. This property eventually became the home of Bob Wrigley who by 1895 had planted 124 acres of vines and a few years later opened wine cellars. Nearby, a Wesleyan chapel was opened on 4 June 1854 and was given the name Bethany Chapel. Other pug cottages were established which gave rise to the recognition of Bethany. About 1.5 kilometres to the north of Bethany is the settlement of McLaren Flat. Evelyn Pitfield Shirley Sturt took up a section on 20 November 1839 and held it until 1849. Clinging to the foot of the hills 2 kilometres from McLaren Flat is the hamlet of Beltunga, whose houses were mostly built at the instigation of Richard Bell, founder of Bellevue. To the north of Beltunga lay Seaview, the property that loomed so largely in the lives of the surrounding settlers that gradually its name was adopted for the locality. Originally owned by Mr Luney it passed into the hands of a Mr Ryan, succeeded by Mr Chambers, thence OK Thomas, FR Thiele and finally to Southcorp Wines. Close to Seaview lays the Kay property originally known as Hope Vineyard, named by Mr George Manning when he planted his second vineyard south of Adelaide in 1855. The cuttings for this vineyard were obtained from Reverend Thomas Quinton Stow thus ensuring that the founder of the congregational church in South Australia also unwittingly became a key instigator in the propagation of McLaren Vale’s flourishing vineyards. Another old home in this locality was Amery, which was built by Richard Baker Aldersley. In 1890 the property passed to the ownership of the Kay family. Vines were planted and a cellar built on the same lines as the model exhibited by JG Kelly at the Chamber of Manufacturers Exhibition and utilising natural gravitation. The winery was first used in 1895 when 2000 gallons of wine were made. Thus Bethany, McLaren Flat, Hillside, Beltunga and Seaview completed an encirclement of Bellevue and Gloucester, which starting to lose their separate identities. Halfway between them Thomas Colton built Sylvan Park in 1858. He became resident magistrate and a prominent figure in public affairs forming a link between the two villages. As the names of outlying hamlets fell into similar disuse, the settlements along the main road gradually became known as McLaren Vale, it was forgotten that this had been John McLaren’s name for the whole valley. In the history of South Australia it has often happened that custom has verified the names given to places by early settlers, and so it emerged that ‘McLaren Vale’ became known to the Lands Office as a private town until 1923. In that year Mr CE Pridmore applied for a transfer of the portion of section 156 in the township McLaren Vale. All previous transactions for that locality were designated as in the township of Gloucester in McLaren Vale. From the 1920’s McLaren Vale continued its steady growth with increasing reliance on the wine and brandy industries and exports to the United Kingdom, particularly fortified wines. This trade continued to prosper up until the 1960’s except for the period 1940 – 1945 during World War II. During the 1970’s increased domestic consumption of wine and changing preferences in wine styles cause significant restructuring within the region and such changes have continued into the 1990’s.

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