Boutique wine gem adds to Riverland’s diversity

By Melissa Keogh

In a region that thrives on mass production, the Riverland’s Eric and Jenny Semmler are striving to ensure the area’s small producers stand out from the bunch.

The duo is behind family-owned boutique winery 919 Wines in the small town of Glossop and want the Riverland to be recognised as both a commercial winemaking centre and a premium wine region.

The hot, inland region is renowned for its big-name wineries and its grapegrowers who produce half of South Australia’s annual crush and a third of the nation’s entire harvest.

But according to former Winestate Winemaker of the Year Eric, small producers and cellar doors are on the rise and hold the key to diversifying the Riverland’s profile.

If only making wine was as easy as reeling in a fish.

Eric and Jenny Semmler fishing among the 919 vines. If only winemaking was as easy as reeling in a fish!

Small winemakers running the Riverland’s small-medium winemaking scene include Mallee Estate, Bassham Wines and Whistling Kite.

“It’s starting to be recognised as a diverse wine region with high quality commercial wines, but there’s also a number of small producers who are putting out high end wines,” he says.

“It’s an exciting time because it’s gone from zero (small winemakers) to half-a-dozen and it adds diversity.”

As advocates for the Riverland’s smaller producers, the Semmlers have won awards and shared their drops at consumer events and industry tastings in a bid to lift the region’s profile.

Eric says large producers, such as Berri Estates, will always be the “engine room” and main economic driver.

According to the SA Winegrape Crush Survey, Riverland growers produced $162m of winegrapes in the 2017 vintage, up $48m on last year.

“But the small producers are all about tourism and visitor experiences and they give a snapshot of the exciting stuff happening in the region,” Eric says.

The Riverland is renowned for its large-scale grape growing efforts, but small producers like 919 Wines add another dimension to the industry, with intimate cellar door and tasting experiences.

An intimate cellar door experience at 919 Wines.

After both honing their craft at a number of big and small wineries in Victoria and SA, the Semmlers founded 919 Wines in 1999 as a “project that we did in our spare time”.

The first vineyard was established in Glossop by 2002, with the mediterranean-style vines proving ideal for the Riverland’s hot climate and low rainfall.

“When the wine started to sell we realised we could make very good wine using the right horticultural techniques,” Eric says.

The winery is now self-sufficient, growing 95% of its own fruit and, as an Australian certified organic winery, practices organic and biodynamic techniques.

Check out the array of Riverland wineries here.

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