Getting a Wine Hit in Adelaide’s West End Pubs

Drinking exciting local and international drops is not just limited to city’s wine bars, as pubs are moving on from the standard offering of the infamous pub house white and house red.

A preference for either beer or wine used to act as a form of social demarcation – you chose one as your totem, expressed solidarity with your fellow imbibers, and affected disdain, if not downright contempt, for the drinkers of the other beverage.

But in the pubs of Adelaide’s West End, the wine bug is biting in a big way, and the old dichotomy between selling wine and beer is losing its traction.

At the Prince Albert Hotel on Wright Street, newly arrived co-publican Jono Hersey has just opened a unique bottle shop in a converted dining room inside the pub. And recently, the King’s Head Hotel on King William Street opened its own repurposed corner dining room as Sturt Street Cellars.

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Sturt Street Cellars will wear its local loyalties on its sleeve – the stock is drawn exclusively from South Australian producers, with an emphasis on smaller wineries. Hersey’s enterprise, which opened its door in August, is very different: while there are a number of Australian wineries represented, including the excellent wines from Hersey family’s own vineyards at Kuitpo, the big drawcard is France.

As well as a range of Champagnes from small, grower family producers, one end of the shop comprises what Hersey calls “the wall of interest,” where the shelves sport a row of aged Watervale Reislings by Clos Clare, but are dominated by an impressive array of red and white wines from Burgundy (and the Rhone). The white prices are between $28 and $1400, while the Pinot Noirs kick in at around $50 and continue up to the $500 plus mark.

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Also dotted around the brick-lined room is a miscellany of seldom-seen wines from New
Zealand, Germany and Spain, and Hersey encourages his customers to rummage in the cartons stacked against the walls. Drink in and takeaway options are available.

“It’s an enthusiast’s wine shop; it’s like a cellar. We want to people to come in and peruse,” Hersey says.

Hersey also runs a wine distribution business, so buying into the Prince Albert has given him a retail outlet, an office and a home (he resides in one of the pub’s upstairs rooms) all in one fell swoop.

His enthusiasm for the project is palpable: “The more independent bottle shops the better, because we’re a co-operative against the big boys. The more people experience individual service, the more they value it; the more good wine they taste, the more it opens their eyes.”

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The presence of enlightened, wine-friendly pubs in the square mile is not a new phenomenon. The Exeter Hotel, for instance, has had a diverse and shrewdly-chosen wine list for three decades, while at the Gilbert Street Hotel, publican Luke Saturno compiles a smart list that makes good use of his cousinly links with Longview Vineyard at Macclesfield and also includes well-priced wines from makers such as Tscharke in the Barossa and Pooley Estate in Tasmania.

The Grace Emily Hotel in Waymouth Street is a more recent convert. Founding publican, Greg ‘Clanger’ Kleynjans, semaphored his pro-beer stance via a rudimentary wine list of one red, one white, both bog-standard and cheap. By contrast, his successors, George Swallow and Symon Jarowyj, are serious wine fans. They have expanded the list to a dozen wines, mostly varietals or interesting blends from small producers, such as Alpha Box and Dice and Ochota Barrels, with prices per glass around $7.

Jarowyj has also taken oenophilia to the next level by making his own wine, and has just completed his second vintage of Shiraz. Called Neko, the wine is made from Clare Valley fruit, and each vintage bears a distinctive secondary name in tribute to recent antics of the winemaker’s small daughter – last year’s was Poke Bessie in the Eye Shiraz; this year’s is Wearing Mum’s Undies on My Head Shiraz.

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The fruit comes courtesy of a plot of vines of Shiraz and Cabernet owned by an Italian-born uncle of Jarowyj’s partner, Nat. The vines are grown with minimal interference and are unirrigated; Jarowyj is intent on keeping his winemaking similarly simple. He likes to pick early so that baume and alcohol are kept in check, and the fruit retains its freshness. The ferment relies on wild yeast, and the winemaking, which focuses on getting the ferment started and then picking the right time to stop it, happens in his shed.

His winemaking, Jarowyj says, is “a bit of fun, and therapeutic”. And if anything comes really unstuck, he can draw on expert advice in the form of Basket Range winemaker Taras Ochota, who has been a friend since childhood.

The first Shiraz was made – appropriately – in a Cooper’s stainless steel keg, and ran to a mere 70 bottles; this year he came close to 300 in a hand-me-down barrel.  Jarowyj has his eye on doing a Pinot Noir next year, which may be where the fun stops.

But for wine-drinkers in the city, at least, the horizons look boundless.

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