Riesling in Colonial South Australia: Its History and Legacy

This paper examines, very thoroughly corrects, and extensively adds to, existing accounts of the history of Riesling in South Australia (and in Australia in general, in many instances). It is by far the most comprehensive and thorough piece of research yet published on this topic. The myth that James Busby imported Riesling to Australia in his vine collection is utterly disposed of, and many mistaken and / or inadequate accounts of the real first introduction of Riesling to Australia — by William Macarthur in 1837 — are corrected. It is also shown here that the Macarthur Riesling was almost certainly sourced from the Erbach Marcobrunn vineyard in the Rheingau. In terms of Riesling’s introduction to South Australia, it is shown that George Anstey, at his Highercombe Estate in tea Tree Gully in the Adelaide Hills, was the first to plant Riesling (from Macarthur’s Camden nursery) — in 1843 — with Thomas O’Halloran following him in 1844 with his (very little documented) planting at his Lizard Lodge vineyard south of Adelaide. Close examination is also given to the planting of Riesling at Joseph Gilbert’s Pewsey Vale vineyard. It is argued that Gilbert almost certainly in fact planted not just Camden Riesling but also Riesling imported from the Chiswick vine collection of the London Horticultural Society (in 1847). In turn, it is shown that the Chiswick Riesling vines very likely consisted in three different accessions — from the great German Riesling vineyards of Schloss Johannisberg, Rüdesheimberg, and Kiedrich Graefenberg, all in the Rheingau. Detailed evidence is adduced to show that the Camden Riesling line was characterised and distinguished by possessing tough-skinned berries and small bunches, whereas the Chiswick lines were all generous-cropping Rieslings. Contemporary and current-period accounts of Riesling in South Australia are examined to show that in the latter part of the nineteenth century these two lines — Camden, and the mixed Chiswick line — became mixed in South Australian plantings. Notably however, Henry Evans’ Evandale vineyard planting (from ca. 1852-8) seems highly likely to have been overwhelmingly, if not entirely, established with Chiswick Riesling (sourced most likely from Pewsey Vale, but also possibly from Highercombe). As the twentieth century progressed however, not only were almost all of South Australia’s finest 1840s – 1860s Riesling plantings pulled out, but also the Camden Riesling line became far more prevalent, by planted numbers and regions planted, than the Chiswick. Indeed, outside of South Australia, the Camden line may have been the only Riesling planted until the introduction of new ex-German clones to Australia in the 1970s / 1980s.

This paper also disposes, in considerable detail, of claims that Silesian or German migrants introduced or otherwise imported Riesling (or Syrah / Shiraz) to South Australia. Such claims are shown to lack evidence and overwhelmingly to assume viticulturally impossible circumstances for these migrants to have brought cuttings, let alone live vines, to colonial South Australia. A challenge is thus implicitly laid down for the proponents of these much-publicised Silesian and / or German importation claims to produce good solid evidence to support their contentions — and for them to answer the substantial body of contrary evidence adduced in this paper. (The production of such a body of fact to verify the Silesian / German import claims would be welcomed by the author, although he is highly sceptical that it will, or can , be produced.)

Overall, this very detailed and thorough study provides strong evidence that in at least some old-vine Riesling stands that still exist in South Australia, there may be as many as four separate genetic lines: the Macarthur line from Camden (sourced from the Erbach Marcobrunn vineyard); and the three from Chiswick (from the Schloss Johannisberg, Rüdesheimberg, and Kiedrich Graefenberg vineyards). All are pre-phylloxera Riesling gene pools of the greatest significance.

This paper was revised and finalised in November 2021. Copyright (©) Gerald Atkinson, 2021.
The author may be contacted by e-mail at: grapevines@hotmail.co.nz

This research paper is available as a PDF download here:

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Author: Dr. Gerald Atkinson

Company director, viticulturist, grapevine researcher and historian, and sometime wine-writer.