The hills rise steeply from the plains around Tea Tree Gully to the top of the range, at around 400 metres. A sunny climate, moist, with cool nights, good soils and slopes which ensure good air drainage, create good conditions for autumn ripening and produce abundant fruit flavours. Almost 12 hectares of the property, mostly in a steep gully descending to the plain, is naturally vegetated bushland, with good quality understorey vegetation. This land has been placed under a State Heritage Agreement, which ensures that it will remain as a sanctuary for endangered species. The vegetation continues, in a thin belt, around the property on three sides, providing wind shelter for the vines and habitat for the many birds which contribute to the beneficial ecology of the property.
The endangered Bush Curlew, a large ground frequenting bird, used to live in the scrub in such numbers that Glenara was often refered to by locals as "Curlew Farm". Unfortunately the destructive "Black Sunday" fires of 1955 and feral animals, have destroyed the entire population. The Curlew remains on the label as a symbol of the commitment of Leigh and Jan Verrall to their natural setting and the organic management of Glenara.
The old orchard of apples and stonefruit was destroyed in the 1955 fire, and for a while the family grew vegetables and strawberries. One day in 1970 Leigh was admitted to an intensive care ward with suspected meningitis. In fact he had been poisoned by dermal exposure to organophosphates.
He must now avoid organophosphates, and has a distrust of other chemicals too. He recalls that all chemicals are claimed to be safe when they are released but some turn out to not O.K.
Since that experience, Leigh has needed little encouragement to experiment with alternative growing systems. At about that time Leigh began growing young vine cuttings to sell as stock plants in the following year. Leigh planted some of these vines on Glenara in 1971, knowing that the area had always grown fruit of good colour and flavour. He thinks some locals undoubtedly found it amusing that someone would plant wine grapes at a high altitude, because this was a poineering effort in the Adelaide Hills Wine Region, an area now known for its quality wine production.
The location is well suited to wine grapes and they grow well without OP insecticides. Copper and sulphur are used as protectants for fungal control and Foli-R-Phos was required in the severely wet season of 1992. Leigh says that downy mildew is not a major problem in the hills but some powdery is inevitable at elevations above 400 metres. He recommends not to let these diseases in, by maintaining a careful eye and using protectants.
Most mature vines are machine pruned. Hand picked varieties include the pinot noir, and the riesling vines which are planted on steep slopes. Leigh says that hand picked varieties are also hand pruned, as machine pruning makes the vines denser and the grapes are harder to find.
The vines have been fertilised with fowl manure which Leigh carted from poultry farms, but he is now experimenting with use of Dynamic Lifter. Fertilisers are applied with a spreader in spring as the vines begin to grow and are incorporated into the soil with weeds during cultivation. Leigh feels that the lack of artificial fertilisers contributes to the very good fruit flavours. He suggests that while the vine roots are exploring the soil for nutrients they also pick up extra components of flavour.
The soil has very good phosphorus levels and generally good trace element status. Molybdenum is the main trace element deficiency in the hills, but there is a history of Mo fertiliser from the years of fruit orcharding, and vines are not demanding for Moly.
Leigh beleives the surrounding bush is an essential part of the success of the farm. The vines need wind protection and the birds are important insect eaters. Even the fruit eaters often consume insects as well, so even the silvereyes, sparrows and honeyeaters are tolerated on Glenara. Some management is possible to protect the later picked Riesling fruit, including mirrors, silver foil, and Leigh says that picking the outer rows clean fools the birds into not flying into the centre.
The vineyard is certified organic by the Organic Vignerons Association, since 1992.
The winemaker is Trevor Jones. Wines include a Riesling, Chardonnay, Carbernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Franc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz, Reisling Auslese and a 100% Merlot.
Glenara wines are available in Adelaide bottle shops and restaurants and selected outlets in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Canberra. Some dry Reisling has been exported to the UK and Leigh is hopeful that a small shipment of 30 cases to the USA this year will develop.
In 1994 Glenara has won 18 medals from 20 entries in shows around Australia including 5 Gold medals.
Glenara Wines Pty Ltd, 126 Range Road North, Upper Hermitage, SA 5131, phone/fax (08) 380 5056.