South Australia’s oldest vineyard to be bulldozed for housing

This article first appeared in Spectator, 2009
Tyson Stelzer

South Australia’s oldest commercial vineyard site has been sold to developers to be subdivided for housing. The Stony Hill vineyard at Old Reynella in McLaren Vale was first planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1838 by the district’s first settler, John Reynell. The announcement of the decision to develop the historical site has angered locals and wine lovers across the country.

“We’d like to see it preserved as vineyards as a tribute to our early history,” said local Member for Parliament and Chair of the Reynell Business and Tourism Association, Kris Hanna. McLaren Vale is under increasing pressure from the sprawling southern suburbs of Adelaide, despite assurances from politicians that vineyard sites will not be rezoned to residential land.

Nonetheless, the vineyard was sold by Constellation Wines to Pioneer Homes, which has lodged a council application for 41 high-density homes to be built on the site.

Constellation Wines Australia public relations manager Sheralee Davies said that the vineyard, totalling just 0.8 acres in size, was identified a number of years ago as unviable. “Water access is a challenge and the small vineyard has become increasingly expensive to maintain,” she said. The site is currently planted to nineteen- and twenty-five-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines, which would be removed under Pioneer Home’s development plan.

Davies explained that the company is focusing its resources on its Hardys Old Reynella headquarters and its public areas, located directly opposite the Stony Hill vineyard. “We have had to make some tough calls across the board and this is one of them,” she said.

While acknowledging that the site has historical significance as the original location of John Reynell’s vineyard, she stated that “we’re trying to run a business here and we need to be responsible in the way that we maintain it.”

It has been suggested that this vineyard was the original source of the Reynella clone of Cabernet Sauvignon, which has since been planted across Australia. However, it is more likely that this clone instead originated from the nearby Reynella vineyard, planted by John Reynell shortly after he planted Stony Hill. Constellation Wines has declared that it plans to continue to maintain the Reynella vineyard.