The best way to understand our Fleurieu flavours is to define what you’ll be drinking and eating during your travels throughout the peninsula.
The stories of our produce and how we harvest them – our rich gifts from the soil and the sea – are treats in themselves, so read on…
Fruit & Veg
The rich soil produces ingredients of remarkable quality, flavor and diversity, sparking demand for Fleurieu farmers to plant even more exciting varieties of fruit and vegetables.
Local chefs are their greatest supporters, identifying worthy producers on their menus, but now there is also a legion of local market customers hungry for outstanding produce being sold straight from the soil.
Francecso Virgara, one of the charismatic farmer vendors of the weekly Willunga Farmers’ Market, plants crops specifically at the request of customers and the region’s chefs, from rare chillis and carvolo nero (black cabbage) to golden beetroot. “We don’t have to be the same as everyone else here; we can be special instead,” says Francesco with a beaming smile.
Seasonality and freshness is the key, which is why several varieties of fresh garlic grown by Richard Bennett in McLaren Vale are only available at the Willunga Farmers’ Market in season, from December to March.
Third generation Fleurieu market gardeners Wesley and Brentyn Hart prove that the market has been a crucial springboard for small growers. They attended the first market in 2002 with the two types of potatoes they grew – white spuds, and the unfashionable reds, for which wholesalers would only pay 10 cents per kilogram. Market customers snapped them up at five times this price and demanded more varieties. Harts now produce 21 types of potatoes, from purple congo to bintje – and about 10 different types are profiled each week, changing as they come into season. “All of them are popular,” says Wesley with a grin, “and we sell every last one of them.”
Fleurieu visitors even get to walk among the crops and pick their own produce. The Blueberry Patch at Mount Compass has been a popular destination for decades, where visitors can pick tubs of fresh blueberries from December to February, or buy punnets from the small farm shop. It even sells packaged frozen fruit throughout the year, while stocks last.
The more that foodie travellers explore the Fleurieu, the more surprises they find. McLaren Vale Orchards not only presents Mark and Lisa McCarthy’s 11 varieties of apples, six types of pears, cherries and multiple heritage varieties of peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and raspberries, but also the rich bounty from the couple’s other farm on the Murray River: pistachios, figs, walnuts, pecans, quinces, pomegranates, currants, sun muscats and sultanas. The McCarthys’ faith in the region through growing such specialised crops is a testament to the powerful appeal of Fleurieu foods at local restaurants, markets and direct from the farm gate.
Specialised harvesting of more than 2500 tonnes of olives a year from about 120,000 trees delivers the dual treasures of delicious fleshy olives and pristine extra virgin olive oil. Mark Lloyd, proprietor of Coriole Winery, was instrumental in commercialising boutique olive oil production from the 1980s, working with neighbouring olive grower Emmanuel Giakoumis. He was a previous owner of the Lloyd Brothers property (run by Mark’s nephews) that has some of the oldest verdale olive trees in South Australia, but also leads the technological charge with a sophisticated Rapanelli continuous cycle olive oil press that retains the richest fruit flavours.
A strong link between wine and olive producers is reinforced at Hugo Winery, consistent winner of Fleurieu Fiesta! Olive Awards for its oils, and Primo Estate, which serves gourmet tastings of its elite olive oils and wines at its stylish McMurtrie Road tasting room. If you’re baffled by choice, seek advice from Brian Swanson and taste his kalamata, verdale and jumbo olives at Brian’s Olive Shop in McLaren Vale, which also has about 30 different regional oils on display. Diversity extends to Emily and Paul Jenke’s Talinga Grove farm store at Strathalbyn presenting their beautiful high-end oils and olive products, including a luscious skin care range made from olive oil.
Almonds are Willunga emblems for good reason – they boast exceptional flavour and quality. Despite the Fleurieu being the traditional home of almonds in South Australia, many of the region’s farmers uprooted almond trees in the mid-1990s to make way for grape vines.
Only six growers remain, tending 40 hectares – but what haven’t changed are the superb historic almond varieties specific to Willunga. Johnston and Somerton almonds, developed by local orchardists from brown, hardskin European varieties, have grown in the district for more than 100 years and are sold by Jude McBain of Blue Cottage Almonds at the Willunga Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.
“We replanted our orchard to make it more efficient, while others were putting in grapes,” says Jude, who does everything from harvesting to processing in a small shed on her Willunga property, then packaging in her dining room.
“We put in a lot of manual work, but it’s very satisfying to know that we can still make a small almond enterprise work in this region.” Fresh and flavoured almonds are also available at The Almond Train, a prominent shop within a converted 1920s railway carriage open daily in McLaren Vale’s main street.
The Fleurieu’s lush pastures are a natural home for dairy cattle, and local farmers have shown great ingenuity and artisanal skill to prosper after South Australia’s milk industry was deregulated in the late 1990s.
Some, such as Dan and Krystyna McCaul, use their milk to make cheese. They established the Alexandrina Cheese Company in 2001, and visitors to their factory can observe cheese being made three days a week: cheddar (which won a silver medal at the 2008 World Jersey Cheese Awards) on Mondays, edam and gouda on Wednesdays, with Fridays devoted to romano and pepato. Dan especially likes taking some of the 36,000 annual visitors through vertical tastings of aged cheeses, from three months to 18 months, to show off seasonal differences.
Enthusiasm for local cheeses has even compelled such small-scale artisans as Alison Paxton to start making a variety of cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses under the Kangarilla Creamery brand. It’s a hit with local chefs and vendors, and is available at Paxton Winery’s cellar door, Three Monkeys at Willunga and Blessed Cheese cafe in McLaren Vale.
Blessed Cheese not only serves and sells a wide range of Fleurieu cheeses, but is also the starting point for the McLaren Vale Cheese and Wine Trails – two separate trails that each visits four different wineries to match selected wines with a pack of local cheeses, olives and dried fruits. Cheese isn’t the only offering from small diary farmers. The Hutchinson, Clarke and Royans families began the Fleurieu Milk Company in 2003, producing unhomogenised whole milk that immediately caused a sensation with its creamy, rich flavour. “We just wanted to get back to basics with old-fashioned milk,” says Barry Clarke, “and it struck a chord with so many people who were dissatisfied with the quality of milk they were buying.”
Ulli and Helmut Spranz launched an even bolder initiative by starting specialised production of biodynamic dairy goods 30 years ago. Their B.-d. Farm Paris Creek brand has been a resounding success, with the company now managing biodynamic herds of 1000 cows from seven Fleurieu farmers that produce 100,000 litres of milk a week to make 29 different dairy products.
Quality is the mantra that Denise Riches has also adhered to at Hindmarsh Valley Dairy. She expanded her goat farm near Victor Harbor beyond meat production by retaining goat milk to make specialty cheeses. Her delicate, handmade cheeses demand great effort, from crème fraiche and yoghurt to camembert-style geiskase, but win the highest praise from visitors who taste them at the Victor Harbor Winery – Denise’s neighbour, which offers her cheeses for sale within its cellar door facility.
Farming diversity provides a surprising array of fresh and prepared meats from Fleurieu producers. Supreme quality reflects the region’s pristine growing conditions – and the great care taken by farmers to ensure the best results from specialist breeds.
At the Victor Harbor Farmers’ Market, Charlotte Morley from Parawa sells and promotes the virtues of Texel lambs, a Dutch breed specifically designed as meat sheep, with more muscle, high protein and less fat. Equally impressive is Red Angus free-range beef from Najobe Park, grown in a low-stress environment just north of Strathalbyn to ensure maximum tenderness. Free-range Berkshire Silver pigs are reared by Parawa farmers Katrina McCullough and Angus Williams, who sell selected cuts at their Victor Harbor Farmers’ Market stall called Green Eggs & Ham (yes, they also sell free-range eggs). Monika Bertram from the Inman Springs Boar Goat Stud sells different cuts of goat at the same market each week, and cooks samples for passing shoppers to taste.
The luxury of Fleurieu meat choices at the Willunga Farmers’ Market extends from Yankaponga Lamb (prime pasture-fed lamb from Garry Gum’s Wattle Wood Springs Suffolk Stud at Myponga) and Inman Valley Poultry to Mount Compass Venison, which produces an extensive range of fresh venison and venison smallgoods. Local meats are also available from Ellis Butchers in McLaren Vale. Artisan smallgoods craftsmen, such as David Betschart at Hamlet’s Meats in Willunga, have endured in the region. David learned his craft from his Swiss-born father Dominic, then worked in Switzerland for 10 years before returning to take over the family’s Willunga shop. He cures and smokes all his own smallgoods (including Christmas hams) according to traditional European methods, and makes venison smallgoods and chorizo for many Fleurieu winery cellar doors.
The maritime influence of Gulf St Vincent and the Southern Ocean not only plays a crucial role in the calming weather that makes Fleurieu crops so bountiful. The seas also bear their own delicious bounty. Smart chefs procure supplies from local and neighbouring Kangaroo Island fishermen to ensure the freshest catch – King George whiting, garfish, mulloway, squid, cockles – with a few specialist divers supplying wild-harvested scallops, oysters and sea cucumbers. The public gets to share outstanding fish from Neil Hosking, a south coast fisherman with 35 years’ experience who sells at the Victor Harbor Farmers’ Market. He’s a weekly fixture, selling whole fish and cleaned fillets from a big freezer chest in his mobile kiosk. “Regular customers understand that the availability of different fish changes,” says Neil, “but that’s what they seem to be after – variety, and the guarantee of a fresh catch.”
The two Fleurieu farmers’ markets also have stalls selling fresh Kangaroo Island fish and oysters.The regional specialty is Coorong mullet, famous for its moist texture and rich flavour. Supplies can be obtained from the fishmonger/butcher shop within Goolwa Village Shopping Centre, or try Hoad Fisheries, selling straight off the boats at Hindmarsh Island (Thursday to Sunday). It’s become a staple of several south coast menus, including the Hotel Elliot in Port Elliot. There are even fish sourced from the land. Tooperang Trout Farm at Mount Compass enables visitors to catch their own rainbow trout from its spring-fed ponds, or to purchase fresh fish from the farm shop.
As home of the small winemaker, with more than 100 wineries and 65 cellar door tasting outlets, the Fleurieu Peninsula celebrates diversity.
These wineries across four separate neighbouring regions – McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, the Southern Fleurieu and Currency Creek – also champion a wide range of grape varieties in wines that enjoy absolute harmony with local food. Most cellar doors present quality food offerings, from reputable restaurants to regional grazing platters and tempting picnic provisions.
While shiraz accounts for almost 50 per cent of the region’s annual 42,000-tonne harvest picked from almost 7400 hectares under vine, the full output of Fleurieu wine is much more diverse: intense cabernet sauvignon and grenache that win international trophies, and a strong array of emerging crops, from Cascabel’s deliciously savoury tempranillo, through the rich Italian accent of luscious sangiovese from Coriole and Chapel Hill. There’s nebbiolo, fiano, chenin blanc and zinfandel.
Add Langhorne Creek wineries to the equation: dolcetto and lagrein from Heartland, crisp white vermentino at Lake Breeze, the unique shalistin (a white cabernet sauvignon) and malian (bronze cabernet sauvignon) grown by Cleggetts. It’s not all a rush to embrace the new, though. Family traditions linked to pioneer vine plantings from the 1860s are respected by a new generation. “Our families planted something of great value,” says winemaker Corrina Wright, sixth-generation descendant at Oliver’s Taranga, noting that 150 hectares of McLaren Vale vines are more than 50 years old. “It’s our job to be worthy custodians.”