Bleasdale - From Tawnys To Trophy-Winners
Established 170 years ago by carpenter, sailor and boatmaker, Frank Potts, Bleasdale winery today has over 50 trophies to its name. Some might say, it’s maturing like a fine wine.
If not for its founder’s love of sailing, award-winning Bleasdale winery might not exist today. It was on his way to take up a ferry master position, in 1849, that British-born Frank Potts crossed South Australia’s Bremer River and happened across fertile flood plains, then known as Langhorne Crossing.
The following year, he bought those plains – the first section in Langhorne Creek – and, with his new wife, cleared the land of its huge red gums and began farming. Soon after, the couple planted their first Shiraz and Verdelho vines.
Brand ambassador and fifth generation family member Robbie Potts takes up the tale. “Frank had joined the British Navy at the age of nine and arrived in South Australia in 1836, alongside Captain Hindmarsh, who would go on to become the first Governor of the state.”
Truly a part of South Australia’s rich history, Frank built some of Adelaide’s first houses, a ketch which he named the Petrel, a home, a workshop and a winery and, as he added more land to his original holding, his vineyard and family grew.
Today, Bleasdale winery boasts 150 acres under vine with Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Malbec the dominant red varieties and Verdelho the only white. All are used to make revered – and many award-winning – wines.
“Today, red wine is approximately 85 per cent of our business, white wine 13 per cent and fortified wine only two per cent,” says Robbie.
While the range of fortifieds is small, they are still made using the original River Red Gum vats built by Robbie’s ancestors over 100 years ago.
From Flood Plains to an Award-Winning wine dynasty
When Frank returned to boat building in his later years, three of his sons – Frank II, Fred and Henry – took up the reins. On their father’s death in 1890, the brothers continued to produce mostly fortified wines.
It’s another son, affectionately known as Uncle Dick, however, who is immortalised on the Wise One Tawny Port label today.
Robbie laughs as he reminisces, “Uncle Dick was the 12th child and when his father passed away, he inherited a considerable amount of money – 800 pounds. He never married, had children or worked. Rather, he spent his time inventing ways to catch the wind while riding his bicycle. This involved holding an umbrella open at the right angle.”
One can quickly surmise the cheek and character of old Uncle Dick when you see him staring through the label of the treasured port!
“For 100 years, Bleasdale only made fortified wine,” says Robbie. “This is all Australians drank during this era. We even exported barrels of it to England.”
“However, in 1961, Bleasdale made its first dry red table wine and, in the 1970s, began making dry white table wine, as well as carbonated sparkling wine. By the 1990s, exports to the United States of America as well as the United Kingdom and Canada had exploded.”
One could suggest that Bleasdale helped to put Australian wines and winemaking on the world map. Indeed, besides changing tastes, the actual harvesting of the grapes underwent radical transformation, from hand-picking and crushing to more modern, clean and efficient harvesting and production methods.
“Nowadays, a 10-acre block can be picked in the cool of the night and crushed to a fermenter within six to eight hours,” explains Robbie.
From Tawnys to Trophy Winners
The Bleasdale family business has expanded with time to include members who aren’t Potts descendants.
In 2011, under the helm of senior winemaker Paul Hotker and winemaker Matt Laube, Bleasdale the winery received 5-star accreditation from James Halliday, a status they have held onto ever since.
And, in 2018, Paul himself was honoured with the title of Australian Winemaker of the Year by Halliday.
Other prestigious awards garnered include the Max Schubert Trophy in 2016 for the Most Outstanding Red Wine and the Jimmy Watson Trophy for Bleasdale’s 2018 Wild Fig Shiraz Grenache Mourvedre, a juicy Shiraz-dominant blend.
“Paul and Matt deserve every accolade for the hard work that they have thrown at the business,” says Robbie. “While winemaking traditions have changed over 170 years, the tradition of being the best you can has never changed. It is my hope the 10th generation of Potts can appreciate, one day, what we have maintained and grown for them.”
We’ll drink to that!