Nestled away in the Adelaide Hills, amongst deciduous trees and rolling, green lawn lies Howard Vineyard. Perfectly manicured hedges and a sandy gravel path lead you up to the sandstone cellar door, fronted by a large porch area and a rocky garden tumbling with daisies. It’s peaceful, despite being relatively close to the main road and there’s an inviting sense of familiarity and cosiness about the place; care and thought have been given to each stylistic detail both inside and out. This year marks the 21st vintage for Howard, and to celebrate we were treated to a long lunch at the recently revamped main vineyard in Nairne on Friday.
Howard have a reputation for producing high-quality grapes – having been the major supplier for internationally renowned heavyweights such as Shaw & Smith and Bird in Hand for years. However, after a rebrand and a renewed focus on growing their portfolio of wine, Howard have emerged as part of the new guard of winemakers. Executive winemaker, Tom Northcott, is a force of warmth and energy; his passion for his produce reflected in the quality of the wine itself. We learn that the main vineyard in Nairne (where we are dining) is the major producer for the red varieties, whereas the Schoenthal site is where the sparkling and whites are grown. This is because both of these varieties thrive on the cold, and even though the Nairne site is decidedly cooler than the city that we have ventured from, Schoenthal (in Lobethal) is 7-8 degrees cooler. This enables the whites and the sparkling to bloom into easy drinking, pretty varietals that aren’t too sweet but hold their acidity. I would argue that Howard Pinot Noir Chardonnay trumps the taste of its sister sparkling pinot at Bird in Hand – slightly more exciting, savoury and bubbly.
It’s not just the wine that has a new look at Howard however – the Summer menu at the cellar restaurant, Clover & Stone, has launched under the direction of a new chef. It’s Asian fusion inspired and designed to share: perfect for slow afternoons spent relaxing with friends. On Friday, we enjoyed a selection off the menu. Seared salmon tataki with wasabi mayo and tea-smoked duck with chickpeas and black bean (and the most delicious duck fat wedges of potato) were my particular highlights, but each plate was a little moment of joy both in the presentation and in taste. Our tasting inside the cellar was cosy (an escape from the unexpected chill of a November day) and informal. It’s clear that attention to detail is a pride point for the vineyard: barrels of wine were loaded above the bar, and around the corner, in the main function area rice paper lanterns were suspended like bubbles and intertwined with fairy lights. It was very easy to imagine how beautiful a wedding could be under the hospitality offered at Howard.
If you’re looking for a Sunday outing, Howard is ideal. It’s a lovely, winding drive and hard to feel anything other than relaxed once seated inside or out at the cellar door. The staff are attentive and welcoming, and know their stuff: you’ll leave feeling a little bit more confident in detecting notes in the wines and knowing what you like. And as a bonus to accompany your food and wine, on Sundays there is live music. We are very lucky to have spaces that enable us to retreat from the business of city life – for a function, an afternoon or a day.