Tenafeate Creek’s singular focus on a successful future
“Production of around 3,000 cases puts Tenafeate Creek in the category of a boutique winery, but the slightly prissy overtones of that term don’t seem relevant to the can-do attitude of the Costa family, who have owned and run the winery for close to 20 years.”
FOR a name that evokes singularity, it’s hard to beat One Tree Hill.
Founded in the 1850s, One Tree Hill is a small town with a population of just over 1000 set in a landscape of paddocks, rolling hills and gums just beyond the edge of Adelaide’s north-eastern suburban sprawl. The locale is also home to a singular winery, Tenafeate Creek Wines (TCW).
A five-minute drive north of One Tree Hill and 35 kilometres from the Adelaide GPO, Tenafeate Creek is not situated in any recognised wine region, although it sits at the junction of no less than three: away to the west is the Angas Plains district of the Adelaide Plains GI; a few kilometres to the east is the northern end of the Adelaide Hills region; to the north-east is the town of Lyndoch, gateway to the southern end of the Barossa Valley.
Production of around 3,000 cases puts Tenafeate Creek in the category of a boutique winery, but the slightly prissy overtones of that term don’t seem relevant to the can-do attitude of the Costa family, who have owned and run the winery for close to 20 years. While winegrowing had its origins as a hobby for Larry Costa, a one-time owner-operator of a string of northern suburbs hairdressing salons, the winery became a more serious enterprise when macular degeneration began to affect his eyesight in the late 1990s. An interest in grape-growing did have some precedent in the family: a generation earlier, Larry’s father had owned a vineyard in the Barossa. The one-hectare home vineyard was put in by Larry and his son Michael in 2000, and planted out to shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, mataro and grenache. Tenafeate became a commercial entity in 2002, and the cellar door and winery were built in 2005.
Michael, whose initial involvement in the vineyard morphed into a TAFE diploma in food and wine, went on to study oenology at the Waite campus of Adelaide University. He graduated in 2012 before heading to Europe to work vintages in Italy and France, returning home to take over the winemaking in 2014.
The Tenafeate estate-grown red grapes are supplemented with fruit from local independent growers, while for their whites, which include a pinot gris, fiano, vermentino and a sauvignon blanc, the Costas follow the example of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale by drawing on vineyards in higher, cooler areas in the Adelaide Hills, Eden Valley and Pewsey Vale.
While the character of One Tree Hill fruit has similarities to the Barossa, Michael Costa says the altitude of around 300 metres above sea level helps to give the One Tree Hill fruit its own distinctive character. The elevation gives rise to breezes and cool night-time temperatures, which help to create good levels of natural acidity in the grapes.
Shiraz and cabernet are the backbone varieties, but Tenafeate also makes popular Italian varietals in the form of sangiovese and montepulciano.
Alternative varietals nebbiolo and petit verdot have featured on the list in the past, but are no longer made because of problems with supply. Being harder to sell, growers tend to regraft to more popular varieties, Costa says. Durif, however, is going strong.
“I don’t shy away from the variety – I pick it on tannin ripeness, so it’s really big and rich and leathery, and goes down well with people who like those big, ballsy styles. It’s like a shiraz on steroids,” Costa says.
As one might expect, the major focus is on shiraz, and Tenafeate has won a number of awards for the variety, notably in Winestate’s Shiraz Challenge. The winery’s entry level wine is the TCW Basket Pressed Shiraz, which is a blend of fruit from four different One Tree Hill vineyards. Costa says the Yattalunga Shiraz is “a more structured shiraz” made from estate fruit, while the Vincenzo, named after Michael’s grandfather, is a blend of shiraz with cabernet sauvignon. A preservative-free shiraz, Purple Haze, is just about to be released for the first time. In suitable, exceptional years, Costa also makes a super-premium, single-vineyard shiraz, The Judgement. The most recent vintage is the 2016; only four have been made.
Costa says the location of One Tree Hill between the Hills and the Barossa offers the best of both worlds for the winemaker.
“The wines have a great depth of flavour to them, a lot of power and flavour and energy to them, a lot of that black fruit, but they’ve also got that spice, which is a real hallmark of One Tree Hill due to those cool gully breezes. The wines have a generosity to them but they have a spicy element and a lovely structure as well, thanks to the natural acidity.”
With an almost exclusive emphasis on cellar door and restaurant sales, Tenafeate has been unaffected by the recent fallout with China. And while always open to new ideas, the Costas’ plans for the future are largely “steady as she goes” explains Michael.
“Dad’s 67 now, but he still helps out in the cellar, shovelling ferments, and we’re both there on the weekends behind the bar.”
It was Larry who hatched the idea of making pizzas and offering lunches to cellar door visitors back in 2005. It was at a time well before the concept of cellar door food was widespread, and Michael, for one, was a little sceptical, but was rapidly won over.
“It’s a great auxiliary to the business, and we’re very busy on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays,” he says.
“Everyone wants that experience; they want to meet the winemaker and the owner. And that’s what we do on the weekends, pouring the wines and chatting. A lot of people support us, which is fantastic.
“We do our own thing and we make wines we like drinking ourselves.”
That sounds like a good business model to me.
Sunday lunch at Tenafeate Creek Wines on July 18 had an unexpected and unwanted visitor in the form of Covid-19. The winery was one of the sites at the vortex of South Australia’s latest outbreak, as several cases of the virus emerged among the 125 lunch guests. Michael Costa, who fortunately wasn’t at work on the 18th, said the following days “were a blur”, as he assisted police and health authorities in the track-and-trace exercise and dealt with the media enquiries. Although the publicity was hardly ideal and most of his staff had to quarantine, Costa was characteristically stoic: “It is what it is,” he said. “We had nothing to hide and we were happy to help out where we could.” On the up-side, he said, TCW has received strong public support in the form of social media messages and a well-deserved surge in on-line sales.