A true gem of

McLaren Vale

A visit to the sustainably built cellar door of South Australia’s biodynamic and organic Gemtree Wines is a memorable experience.

By Rob McFarland.

Keeping it in the family

When Melissa Brown asked her dad if she could work in the family vineyard in South Australia, he replied: “I’ll give you three weeks.”

That was in 1994. Fast-forward 27 years and Brown is now the head viticulturalist at Gemtree Wines, a brand she co-founded with her husband, Mike Brown, who is chief winemaker. Based in McLaren Vale, an idyllic coastal wine region 40km kilometres south of Adelaide, Gemtree has become one of Australia’s largest organic and biodynamic grape growers.

According to Tamasyn Houston, Gemtree’s Customer Experience Manager, organic farming is “all about what you don’t do”, so that means no artificial pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers. Instead of spraying weeds with chemicals, they use flocks of sheep to keep the grass down and alpacas to deter the foxes. The result? The vines have to work harder, which produces better quality fruit.

Biodynamics, on the other hand, is “all about what you put back in”. It’s a farming philosophy based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner that uses natural preparations and is guided by the phases of the moon. Rather than buying synthetic fertiliser, a natural version is made by burying cow horns full of fresh manure over the winter solstice. Instead of treating vines with harsh chemicals to ward off fungal infections, they’re sprayed with crushed quartz during an ascending moon to help strengthen them.

“When I first started, I thought it was ridiculous,” admits Houston. “But now I’m a convert – you can really taste the difference in the wines.”

Guests on the Scenic handcrafted land journey, the 8-Day Gems of South Australia itinerary, can learn more about Gemtree’s biodynamic approach during an exclusive Scenic Enrich experience. You’ll get a tour of the estate with the winemakers and enjoy a tasting with locally-sourced snacks in the winery’s rustic cellar door.

Fashioned from recycled timber, the sustainably-built tasting room enjoys sweeping views over the winery’s organic vineyards, orchards and veggie garden. Built on stilts to avoid the need for a concrete slab, it uses recycled rainwater and is powered entirely by solar panels. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy Gemtree’s intriguing range of organic wines, which includes classic McLaren varietals, such as bold shiraz and fruity grenache, as well as more experimental drops like a crisp, zesty savagnin and creamy, barrel-fermented marsanne.

Venture into the vineyard and you can learn more about Steiner’s esoteric approach in the educational Biodynamic Hut. You can also stroll along a delightful one-kilometre-long eco-trail that was once an overgrown creek. With the help of Greening Australia, the Browns cleared the rubbish-strewn site and planted more than 50,000 trees. As a result, it’s now a thriving wetland and an important haven for native birds, plants and animals.

For the Browns, it’s all about leaving the land in a better condition than when they received it. It’s an admirable philosophy that has not only won them a mantelpiece full of awards (including the 2019 worldwide winner for Sustainable Wine Tourism Practices), but has also won over a multitude of sceptics. Most notably, Melissa’s dad.

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Book by 17 November 2021

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9-Day Gems of South Australia


Adelaide > Adelaide Departs: Mar, Apr & Jul - Oct 2022


Was from £4,830 per person

Now from £3,630 per person

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