Sevenhill Reflecting on the Future
At Sevenhill, one of the oldest wineries in Australia, winemaker Will Shields and the team are reflecting on their unique history as they shape the wines of their future.
Its journey began over 170 years ago when Sevenhill became the first winery built in the Clare Valley.
Intriguingly though, general manager Jonathan O’Neill talks of, “The history of Sevenhill being traced back to 500 years ago when a Spanish courtier and soldier, Inigo of Loyola turned away from a life of violence.”
“Inigo, or Ignatius, as he became more widely known, had his career in the army cut short by a ricocheting cannonball,” Jonathan continues, “and while his shattered leg was on the mend, he developed a lifelong love of learning and dedicated himself to helping others. He would go on to become a co-founder of the Order of Jesuits, who, like many religious orders of the time, were instrumental in the development of the wine industry throughout the world.”
A glorious view of Sevenhills church and vineyards
Three centuries later, it was two young Jesuit priests escaping persecution in Europe, along with more than 100 German and Silesian migrants, who made their way to Adelaide in 1848.
One of the young priests, Brother Kranewitter, accompanied the migrants as they headed north and chose to settle in the picturesque hills of the Clare Valley, where he purchased 100 acres of land called Open Range and renamed it Sevenhill after the seven hills of Rome.
A few years before rocks were quarried on site to construct the building you can see today, a crude hut was built for shelter as more brothers arrived and the first vines were planted in 1851.
While altar wine was a priority at the time, the first vintage of wines also went on to win first place at the Auburn Wine Show in 1856. Although it must be said, it was unlikely the competition would have been too strong.
These are just some of the fascinating stories to crop up at regular intervals along the timeline of one of Australia’s oldest wineries.
Not surprisingly for a winery with such a long and interesting history, the past is revered, but it is the future that excites them most.
One man charged with the responsibility of realising the aspirations of Sevenhill is winemaker Will Shields.
The winemakers processing reds; Lush lawns at Sevenhill
Following in the footsteps of the legendary Brother John May would daunt many, but Will sees it as a privilege. Aside from being instrumental in increasing the quality of table wines, expanding the winery, winning countless awards and having more than 40 vintages under his belt, Brother John was also granted the title of Jesuit Winemaker Emeritus, was inducted into the Clare Valley Hall of Fame in 2014 and received an (AM) Order of Australia.
“Our future is being driven by our respect for the past,” Will explains, “but being bold enough to embrace change as we move forward is how we can honour those who have gone before us. We take a leaf from their book by continuing to strive forward just as they did.”
Joining the winery in 2019, Will brings over 25 years of winemaking experience. After studying at Roseworthy College, he spent time in Western Australia where his wines collected more than 50 awards. Four years in New Zealand with The Wine Portfolio were followed in 2016 by a stint at Kirrihill Wines in the Clare Valley before he joined Sevenhill.
Will is excited about helping write the next chapter for Sevenhill, saying, “The future revolves around showcasing the tremendous fruit this vineyard produces. With the old vines and vineyard sites we have, we truly have something exceptional to put forward.”
The proof of this, he continues, “is what I see and taste on the vine, in the fermenters and in barrel. These are wines with personality, expression and concentration, and my task is to ensure these characteristics make it to the bottle.”
Since Will’s arrival, in order to take their wines to a higher level, the Sevenhill team has been busy changing some of the vineyard and winemaking practices, leading to the creation of new products and refreshing old favourites.
“The Inigo range is much loved and has been a big seller for many years, but there is always room for improvement,” Will says of the revamped wines, adding, “Timing is everything and in order to create fresher, more vibrant, food-friendly wines, we picked and bottled our estate grapes earlier.”
The Inigo range pays homage to the founder of the Jesuit Order and while the new packaging reflects the historic journey line of Sevenhill, it points to its more contemporary direction. Refining a well-established range of wines is one thing, but creating a completely new expression is quite another.
Sevenhill's line-up of revamped wines
“Wines of today that recognise some of the stories from our past, the Sevenhill range of premium wines are an authentic expression of the vineyard,” Jonathan explains. “The range includes a 2021 Sevenhill Riesling called 27 Miles, commemorating the journey the Jesuits made on foot from Sevenhill to the township of Burra so they could sell butter to the miners and use the proceeds at Sevenhill.”
The other white wine entering the range is the 2020 Sevenhill Viognier called Spire’s Lament. As Jonathan explains, “The St Aloysius Church located on the property was always intended to have a spire, but funds were needed for more pressing community needs. It has become such a highly recognised landmark, though, I can’t imagine the church with a spire now.”
In the reds, a 2020 Sevenhill Grenache called Open Range is sourced, Jonathan says, “from our very own heritage clone Grenache vines, which are over 100 years old. This showcases the beauty of Grenache at Sevenhill and celebrates the original name of the property.”
Reflecting on the original humble housing on the property is the 2020 Sevenhill Touriga called Thatch and Clay, while the 2019 Sevenhill Quarry Road Cabernet Malbec is named after the two quarries on the property, which were used to build the winery, Jesuit College and St Aloysius church.
“As the journey continues for Sevenhill,” Jonathan concludes, “we will continue to explore new ways of doing things and boldly try different ways of improving the site and the wines, just as the founders and those who followed have done throughout Sevenhill’s long and remarkable history.”