History in a bottle – Whale of a time


Tony Love | SA Life

South Australia’s wine story includes many well-worn tales of adventures into the unknown, maddening enterprise and celebrated family sagas. But then there are the more secret histories, which live on today in wines that reflect their colourful stories. Here, we explore the lesser-known side to South Australia’s iconic wine industry.

Let’s get this secret history business off to a seriously big picture start, with a hefty timeline set at about 34 million years ago. That’s right; no 180-year-old-vines, here … at least, not to begin this story, anyway. It’s an ancient secret that we begin with.

This 34 million-year figure is actually the age of the limestone – determined by scientific dating – wrapped around a fragment of primitive whale bone that was discovered in 2004 inside a cave network under a vineyard in the Wrattonbully region of the state’s Limestone Coast.

This cave network was discovered during ripping of Crayere’s Vineyard (within the Terre a Terre estate of Xavier and Lucy Bizot), adjoining what’s now known as the Whalebone Vineyard (under the banner of Brian Croser’s Tapanappa wines). Both vineyards are set in the East Naracoorte Ranges on the Kanawinka Fault line.

It is thought the area’s caves were formed about one million years ago, just inland of where the shoreline was at the time, before the sea level dropped and caves were completely drained approximately 800,000 years ago, and gradual uplift during the Pleistocene period pushed the ocean 100 kilometres away from the Naracoorte Ranges.

These caves also contain fossils from large marsupials such as giant koalas or kangaroos, with new research suggesting some of them in the Whalebone cave are almost 300,000 years old; the animals stranded in the cave when the entrance collapsed, sealing them off from being degraded by sun, weather or disturbed by intruders.

This extraordinary tale of times gone by has a modern ending, ultimately connecting the Tapanappa and Terre a Terre wines to the limestone-based geology of the region. Both wines here are finely tuned expressions of what is known as the Great Australian blend of Cabernet and Shiraz.

Terra a Terre Crayeres Vineyard Reserve 2020 ($95, order now to be released in August 2024) is a 78:22 blend of cabernet sauvignon and shiraz from the single Wrattonbully source, savoury and earthy now, though some pretty awesome fruit is brooding underneath. It’ll be a beauty down the track.

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