A love letter to Adelaide and Wine

I love Australian wine. That ought to come as no surprise.

I have been kicking tyres around the fringe of the Australian wine industry for almost 20 years and I just bloody love it – the people, the countryside, the drinking and the friendships. But mainly it’s the drinking.

There was much drinking of Australian wine last week in Adelaide. There always is, I hear you cry, but last week there was a little more; it was “fierce” drinking, speed tasting if you like. There was a lot more swallowed than spat and for some of us it has taken pretty close to a week to recover. It was an event called Savour Australia 2013, that brought hundreds of people from around the world to Adelaide to learn more about Aussie wine. It was presented and organised by Wine Australia and Liquid Ideas helped run the show. It was brilliant.

But it got me thinking about Adelaide. What do I think of Adelaide you ask? Well it’s simple. I think Adelaide should be Portland.

Every decision-maker in Adelaide should hop on a plane and get themselves to Portland, Oregon. They should stay at the Ace Hotel in the middle of town, walk around for a week and see what Adelaide could become.  Adelaide could easily be the coolest city in Australia.

Adelaide already is a little bit cooler than we (and it) thinks. It’s always had the best Fringe Festival, it has always had a reputation for liberalism and intellect (Don Dunstan and Christopher Pearson come to mind). To be honest, and I say this with genuine fondness, it’s always been a bit fucking weird.

But it’s also been racked with self-doubt, questioning its place in the broader national context. And it shouldn’t. It should just suck it up, embrace its weirdness, its wacky winemakers and its dirty secrets and loosen up. Portland is THE best city in the US because it embraces the different, the weird – I mean the hipster was invented there for gods sake. But it’s not affected weirdness, it’s real. It has distilleries in the middle of town, it has more food carts in a block than exist in all of Australia, the weather is shit so the bars are great. Their sports teams are mainly crap but their fans are crazy fun. Sure it helps having Nike across the river, but Portland also has great wine regions on its doorstep, a brilliant arts and entertainment culture and the best, regional food in the US. Sound familiar?

Adelaide has all these things but it too often delivers its product in a “look at me I really want to be Melbourne” way. Well you know what? Adelaide should give Melbourne the finger and get on with its own thing. And get weird.

Walking around for a week I couldn’t help but notice little changes, new little bars, new slightly weird street furniture, more than a few ferals and plenty of weird tatts. I also saw more construction underway at one time than I’ve seen in 20 years of visiting. Yet EVERY local told me how shithouse things were. How the mining thing never took off after the Olympic Dam fell over, how the car industry is doomed . . . and I’m like? Give yourselves a slap.

No-one wants to come to Adelaide for mines or shit cars – they want to come for wine and food and weirdness and culture and funky stuff.  And don’t, seriously don’t, get me started on all these government hand-outs to the doomed car industry while a brilliant local industry that promotes all the great things about Australia gets taxed to the hilt as opposed to gifted billions. Yep that would be the wine industry.

I am strongly of the belief that Australia’s wine and its wine regions are close to the SINGLE best advertisement for Australia – and it seems Tourism Australia agrees with me… smart folk. With great wine comes great regions dedicated to local produce,  great people, often eccentric, widely read and always well travelled with a touch of the lunatic – some of the biodynamic chats we had last week bordered on proper craziness but it was truly intoxicating, enervating, inspiring even. Wine brings art and science together, it brings the bush to the city and vice versa, it is truly blind to the sex of those involved in its production or sale and when consumed responsibly (shit it’s my own blog, do I HAVE to say that?!) it is quite simply the best juice in the world.

I might talk further of my love for wine at a later time. For now, Adelaide, get real and get weird. And wine, stay just the way you are.

55 thoughts on “A love letter to Adelaide and Wine

  1. Pingback: A love letter to Adelaide and Wine Where the target=”_blank” ensures that the article opens up in a new tab.A love letter to Adelaide and Wine - The Wine Observer

  2. Adelaide is absolutely fine as it is. Why ‘try’ to be something? It beats Portland, Oregon hands down without changing a thing and is in fact one of the world’s best kept secrets. It is also worth remembering that in every ‘gift’ there is a curse and Don Dunstan’s ‘forward-thinking’ also led to the destruction of many, yes, a great many, of Adelaide’s most beautiful historic buildings and the construction of one of the world’s ugliest concert halls, ‘decorated’ with some of the worst sculptures ever to emerge from the era – but nothing which cannot be pulled down and replaced tastefully at some time. Cities are like people and good wine and cheese – they are unique in themselves and they age in their own good time and their own way and that is what makes them singular.

  3. Hey mate! I’d like to say thanks for the kind words, kind of.

    I’m only young, at 27, and Adelaide has been my home for many years (living in surrounding suburbs, the city has been my main contact point most of my life) and never once have I ever wanted to be imitating, living in or following, Melbourne.

    I’ve always, ALWAYS said that Adelaide produces some of the best talent that Adelaide has to offer in nearly EVERY field. We’re adventurous, kind and outgoing (by majority) and did I mention talented? For example, a lot of Melbourne’s major advertising agencies scoop up talent from Adelaide on a regular basis, why? Because Adelaideans see through the bullshit easier than most, so advertising to us is hard. Anyone who can excel in that arena is generally an “outside-the-box” thinker. The main problem that we face (which is also a blessing to our relaxation) is the lower than average population of the city, meaning that if you need to get past the glass ceiling you usually must move interstate and come back here to retire. This creates a new problem though (or a persistent problem as far as our state is concerned) of an ageing population. If all the young, fresh creatives are told constantly “There’s nothing here for you but wine.” then they’ll believe it. I however have been telling people for YEARS that everyone in this city has the potential to be great, that our state is a blank slate. People are often accused of hopping on a bandwagon as soon as a new trend pops up, but more often than not it’s never been done here so it’s more like there isn’t a bandwagon because there isn’t even a fucking road for it to travel.

    In the past, due to our ageing population, we’ve had an ageing city council, only seniors in the position worried about status quo and not willing to risk it on the weird and the wacky. Lately (past four-ish years) we’ve seen a huge influx of younger people deciding to work in council and take on HUGE multi-faceted projects with a fresh face, leading to things like the recent rejuvenation of the Adelaide Festival of the Arts (which I implore you to please come and visit, and also spend some time in Barrio) and our new Small Venue Liquor License.
    We’ve even had a new business/committee called Renew Adelaide which hooks up long abandoned building’s Owners with young, cash-strapped entrepreneurs who just need a PLACE to show their ideas, alleviating the stress of needing thousands of dollars of overheads just to risk maybe wasting the formative years of their lives.

    All these things and more have meant that our city has begun moving in the right direction with legislation, innovation and interaction. Getting people to take part in the city we live in.

    I’ve always said to people, mostly artists here, that they’re more than welcome to move to Melbourne if that’s what they feel they need to do (some actually have to as we don’t have proper facilities as of yet) but that they will be joining a culture. To stay here is to help perpetuate one.

    So again, thank you for your kind words and a very good read, I always appreciate an outsider’s perspective. However I’d like you to understand that for the most part a lot of us think Melbourne can go fuck itself*.

    Yours sincerely,


    Assistant Manager, Soundpond.net

    Erick “E” Watson Photography

  4. Hi Stuart,
    I live in Adelaide and visit my sister in law in Portland every now and then, the best of both worlds. I totally love all the infrastructure and city building that is happening here, lots of new things happening, it’s great! Thanks for the blog I hope more people read it and be thankful for what we have here and bring on some more weirdness!

  5. I left Adelaide 33 years ago to join the Army, met and married a Qld girl and settled here in Brisbane. We both are looking forward to our retirement in about 9 years when we will settle in Willunga, not quite Adelaide but close enough to it. Your article resonated with me and has steeled my resolve to get back to my home state and back living amongst the vines. Thanks!

  6. I am so sick of hearing how the people here supposedly under-rate Adelaide. The people that I know don’t, which is not to say we don’t also see things could still improve. But we don’t want to live in a rat race, we love not sitting in traffic jams daily, we love being surrounded by wine regions, we love being able to eat top notch food cheaply. We’re here because we love it ffs.

    People come from interstate and say we’re weird, but what they mean is they don’t understand us, that’s cool cos I am damned if I understand someone who chooses to live in a city of 3+ million people. Whereas I can be in the city centre, and drive to over 300 wineries in under an hour (well not all 300 in that hour). It’s fecking weird that you wouldn’t want to live in a place like that. But you can’t, feck off, my kids need to afford houses one day and prices are already too high and going up cos you bastards keep coming here, so stay where you are.

    By the way, I did like Portland, I bought a coffee mug to prove it.

    • George sounds like he’s caught a classic case of Adelaide! What a defensively tool of a comment! Last time I was there I was in major traffic jams on Port Rd, and then again on main north Rd. Btw gooses..you can only drink so much wine in one day and I can get them all at my.local Dan in Richmond. Get a life guys, Adelaide is not the cheapest place either, as well as trying to find a decent eat for a super band on a Monday night..good luck..little town has gone bye byes!

  7. Stuart, I think I’m just a little bit in love with you, and a little more in love with our Adelaide.
    She’s quite a place, so easy to live in and she does have fabulous wines. I just didn’t realise we were ‘cool’. And next time you’re headed our way, pop down to Tasmania, (if you haven’t already) – gorgeous island with amazing boutique wines to be drooled over.

  8. Great post Stuart – thanks for all the love. I’m one local who has been singing the praises of SA wine and food for a while now. We need to keep talking ourselves up so that we don’t get lost in the noise coming from the eastern states, but that’s simple ‘cos there’s so very much to be excited about here in Adelaide.

  9. Great article Stuart. I’ve been thinking for years that we’ve got to stop being down on ourselves in Adelaide, love Sydney and Melbourne and the other cities in Australia for what they are, and start loving ourselves for what we are (and can be). I haven’t been to Portland but Austin is a terrific town. They bill themselves as “The Music Capital Of The World’, probably with some justification. Their mantra?- “Keep Austin Weird”!

  10. Great post Stu,

    Driving around one of the many wine regions for a day is my stock tourism activity for visitors to SA, and regardless of where we go it rarely if ever disappoints. I long for the day (having lived my whole life here) when we can collectively feel comfortable in our own grape-skins, drop the insecurity that still bubbles away in relation to trying to be another Melbourne (including never, ever hearing the phrase ‘they stole the Grand Prix’ again – ever) and just accept what we are – a quirky, sometimes frustrating, often charming ‘niche city’, blessed with fantastic wine regions, an abundance of churches and the occasional bizarre serial killing.

    Mark Drechsler
    Mayor, Lion Hotel

  11. I lived in Adelaide for three years and moved to Portland two years ago so I can say that I agree! There are a lot of similarities between the two. Portland is among the coolest cities in USA. I often tell people curious about Australia about the similarities. The thing Portland needs now is a Central Market. And perhaps Adelaide can benefit from an annual naked bike ride! http://pdxpipeline.com/2011/06/13/2011-portland-naked-bike-ride/

  12. Mate, I think that me, you and a few mates should get together. I love what will always be my home town too… But I completely agree: think you are the best plane in Aus and you will be. One day I want to be a part of the driving force behind making this place the place that people talk about and the place that people wished they too called home.

  13. Thank you! I couldnt agree more with this post. As part of the wine industry in South Australia my husband and I often discuss this very thing. Love Portland. Unfortunately Its difficult to do anything ‘different’ in this conservative town and industry and we often get out of here for inspiration and remind ourselves its ok to take risks and make mistakes! Hopefully this blog gets people thinking…

    • Great piece. I moved to Adelaide from Brisbane and I am honestly amazed that so many people here still underrate this city. There are a lot of interesting people doing some really interesting things here – there truly is a unique and independent streak to the place lurking just beneath the surface. Don’t worry too much about trying to be Portland though (which can be just a little bit too far up its own arse for my liking… a la Melbourne)… Adelaide can be its own unique, wacky and awesome place. Just have to stop listening to the moaners and the haters.

  14. Don’t worry, we know how awesome we are. Have you not seen this?: http://sapodcast.marryatvilleps.wikispaces.net/file/view/heaps_good_logo.jpg/214270486/405×283/heaps_good_logo.jpg

    I have to disagree with trying to be Melbourne though, don’t worry, we’ve been giving Melbourne the finger since they stole the grand prix. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=feqS9VhAQco

    I have to say the one thing I love about Adelaide is the city vibe, everything I go to Sydney or Melbourne I find myself asking where are the buskers?!? Oh and don’t forget Johnny Haysman

  15. It’s not about trying to be another city. It’s misguided to model ourselves on Melbourne due to the incomparable scale. Portland is a good city to take inspiration from but Austin TX would be my choice. It’s like the Grace Emily or Wheatsheaf of cities.

      • I’m from Adelaide & was reminded o home when I was in Austin, but to be honest Austin seemed even more low-key than Adelaide.

        As for Portland – our last Premier, Mike Rann was a big fan. The extension of our tramway was Portland inspired.

        I think The rejuvenation of Bordeaux is kind of interesting and think Adelaide could learn a little from there as well.

  16. Great read, Stu, and I totally agree: Portland one of the MOST FUN cities on the planet. The other areas that it excels at apart from food/wine/beers is sustainability and media….Admittedly, Adelaide may have some way to go on the latter thanks to Mr Murdoch, but it could totally own the former.

  17. I’m an ex-Adelaidean and whilst I relate to elements contained within this declaration of love, alas, I honestly cannot concur with all of it, though I do wish I could. The Dunstan era was brilliant but more of an anomaly than the norm. I wonder whether the ‘weird’ in Adelaide is borne of a reaction to the equally stifling small town conservatism that, despite all the progressive rhetoric, remains the bedrock of it’s sociopolitical influence. The wine and food are bloody brilliant I’ll never deny that..

    • Hey Caterina
      Thanks for the note – yeah maybe Adelaide can be a little conservative in mindset but I contend it has a lovely rebellious alter ego – remember Alexander Downer’s fishnets?! Everyone in Adelaide has a dirty little secret . . . .

  18. Top Love Letter, correct eat(embrace) the grass we live in as it’s not always greener on the other side…Stuart Gregor for SA Premier? We have an election soon!

  19. Great work Stu. Portland is exactly the right analogy. Amazing that Mike Rann understood it. We really need celebrate weird, small, independent, obsessive, community and place driven crackpots, do-ers and dreamers. The no spend, no risk mentality needs to be shed like the double breasted polyester strait jacket that it is. Rave on.

  20. Pingback: | A love letter to Adelaide and WineThe Wine Observer

  21. Excellent point Stu – as the Heroin capital of the USA, the Portland insight is bang on – get ALL Adelaidians on smack – lighten them up, quit the free settler attitude, spend some money ( even it’s from a pawned stolen pearl necklace) and like the rest of us do, laugh at themselves.

  22. Thanks Stuart, you are talking about my home state… However I agree, we just need people to believe so we can get them out of their bloody house and enjoy what Adelaide has to offer. Keep on telling the world so we can change the place…

    Cheers FP

  23. Great post and totally agree. Having lived in Oregon and worked in their wine industry there (and now here) I have often said Adelaide could be just like Portland – minus the 6 months of rain of course. Stuff getting the tram to go to Semaphore and Port Adelaide – get it going west to the Airport like MAX in Portland does. stop the urban sprawl to places like the Barossa and McLaren Vale and create vibrant city infill – we have a lot more to offer here than we realise!

  24. as an ex adelaidian, I absolutely love to visit, but the place is still too weird and with a “no can do” & “no spend” mentality makes it tough to live in, but great wines and wine people make up for much of this.

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