“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whisky is barely enough.” ~Mark Twain
The McLaren Vale Distillery is opening it’s $2.5 million headquarters about 40km south of the South Australian capital city of Adelaide this month after securing a $500,000 regional development grant from the state government.
Building a whisky distillery in the middle of a wine region famous for its shiraz may seem a gamble to some, but John Rochfort thinks he is on to a winner. Rochfort, the founder and general manager, said McLaren Vale’s climate and access to high-quality water, barley and wine barrels makes it an ideal location to distill whisky. But he also acknowledged that the 400,000 visitors to the region looking for a food and beverage experience every year was a major draw card.
“We will be able to do tours of the cooperage, we’ll have our own traditional floor malting so people who come to the distillery can actually help us mash in and help grind the grain or smoke the grain with the peat and just really get involved with the business,” Rochfort said. “We’ll not only have the cooperage and the malting plant, but also glass blowers and artisan cheesemakers, and one of the local breweries are moving up onto the site as well. We want to create an artisan village with complementary businesses … so for a visitor, what an amazing day. Get some whisky, have the bottle blown for you in front of your eyes, see your barrel coopered and go across to the cheesemaker and get some cheese for your tasting.”
While McLaren Vale continues to attract international accolades and visitors for its wine tasting and wine tours, recent highway and rail upgrades have made the region easier to access, while the addition of micro-breweries and a gin distillery have broadened the region’s appeal.
Raised in South Australia, Rochfort spent many years working at distilleries in Tasmania, including Lark where he was the CEO, before returning to set up the McLaren Vale distillery, which also employs his brothers Nicholas and Lachlan and his father, Christopher.
“I found in Tasmania that one of the biggest parts of the business was engaging the customers and when they really started to understand the product and became educated on single malts the pockets opened and the appreciation of what we were doing grew, and all of a sudden the private ownership of barrels took off,” Rochfort said. “Particularly with McLaren Vale, when you’ve got 400,000 tourists a year who are primarily going there for a food and beverage experience, and when you’re the only dedicated single malt whisky distillery in the region, just about every visitor puts it on their list for their week tour.”
Rochfort said there were also plans for a hospitality, research and conference centre as part of the project. “We want to support the region – the growers of grain and the wine growers – let’s tie the whole region into the business.”
The first McLaren Vale whiskies are expected to be ready for release in 2018. The range of whiskies will start with the McLaren Vale single malt at $120-$150 through to the Bloodstone Collection featuring whiskies matured in the “best of the best” barrels from South Australia, ranging in price from $500- $1000.
“We found in Tasmania that 90 percent of all the spirits produced in Tasmania were sold at retail prices at the distilleries – demand is so high it never really gets to leave the distillery, it’s either bought online or at the distillery.
“We are very excited.”
To stay in close proximity to the new distillery, book a room at the 3 Divas Bed and Breakfast right in McLaren Vale. This charming B & B offers hospitality in a large scale. Not only is the breakfast can’t miss, the owners also offer up their own wine tours for guests to enjoy!