Boat builder Frank Potts already had a wealth of maritime experience under his belt when he emigrated from England to Port Adelaide, South Australia. The 21-year-old Potts joined the Royal Navy at the age of nine, taking his first commission on Nelson’s famous HMS Victory and travelled to the Southern Hemisphere in the first landing party in 1836 in search of his fortune with just a chest of carpentry tools to his name.
Upon arrival in his new homeland his strong work ehtic paid off and he was eventually promoted from boat builder to harbour master and pilot. Nothing if not resourceful, as a young man he constructed his own ketch and became a trader of onions, wheat, sea birds, seal oil and skins from Kangaroo Island to the mainland. Ironically, it was Frank Potts’ abilities as a sailor that led him to Langhorne Creek, and eventually to the life of a winemaker.
After selling his boat and first home in Port Adelaide, Potts purchased the first sections of land on the Bremer River at Langhorne Creek, recognising the potential of the region in the tall red gums which promised fertile soils and a reliable water supply. In 1858 he formed the winery that exists today naming it after a local Reverend, John Ignatius Bleasdale, who advocated a ‘sober, wine-drinking community that excludes ardent spirits.’ An anti-temperance priest suited Frank’s ironic sense of humour, so he immortalised him in his winery. By the 1860s he had expanded his holdings to 30 acres. One of his contemporaries, Alexander Tolmer, the SA Commissioner of Police, called Frank one of the most extraordinary characters he had ever met;
“[Potts is] a thin spare figure with long unkempt hair… altogether a most uncouth looking person, and yet this man is a perfect genius – there is not a single thing mechanical or otherwise…which he does not succeed in accomplishing.”
Never one to sit still, Potts designed and built his own irrigation pump and aqueduct out of split red gum trees to irrigate his vines and constructed wine vats, barrels and casks also from red gum. His greatest achievement however, was a basket press, constructed in 1862 using a ten metre, 3.5 tonne red gum tree as a lever rather than the traditional screw mechanism. Frank claimed the technology, which he had first observed in Portugal, provided a slower, more gradual pressing of the grapes without any mechanical intervention.
In the 1870s Frank handed the winery over to his son Frank Potts II and resumed his profession of boat building, constructing paddle steamers and barges, which plied the River Murray until after the turn of the century. A little while before this plucky patriarch died in 1890, Frank made one parting gesture. He constructed his own coffin – yes out of red gum – and kept it under his bed as a storage container for apples until his due date!
Six generations later, his descendants form the second-oldest wine family in Australia, after Yalumba, and the National Trust listed winery is home to the latest winemaking technology but on special occasions the winemakers will still produce a reserve wine with a 140-year-old red gum wine press.
Langhorne Creek receives an average annual rainfall of just 380mm per year and flood events provide enough moisture in the rich deep soil profile of the flood plain to carry vines through the dry summer months. Potts understood the region so well and hypothesised that with the addition of floodgates across the river he could control the water for a short period and give his vines a deep soaking drink just before the parching Australian summer. The majority of the vast vineyard plantings of the area now use modern and efficient drip and sub-surface irrigation practices to maintain the water needs of the vines.
Access to water, coupled with cooling breezes from Lake Alexandrina that reduce evening temperatures and provide mild even growing seasons, help make Langhorne Creek an ideal wine growing region and similarly to famous international maritime regions such as Bordeaux and Napa Valley, Langhorne Creek benefits from cool evening sea breezes which aid slow, steady grape ripening and intense flavour development. Despite these perfect conditions, much of the region’s fruit historically went into multi-regional blends and wasn’t acknowledged until the 1990s when a small group of long-term family growers – including Bleasdale – started promoting 100% Langhorne Creek wines.
Traditionally a red wine grape region best known for its full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon (and Cabernet blends) as well its elegant Shiraz, the region also produces exceptional white and fortified wines and is now the centre of a vibrant grape growing and winemaking community which regularly wins national and international awards.
Bleasdale reds are lauded for their fine tannins and acid structure, which contributes to great complexity and longevity. Paul Hotker is the current Senior Winemaker, and won winemaker of the year in 2018 and his team are achieving excellent results both nationally and internationally and. Esteemed wine critic Robert Parker is a huge fan, saying that it “produces some of the most reliable as well as fairly-priced wines around”. Aussie wine doyen James Halliday, meanwhile has just awarded 95 points to the 2021 release of Mulberry Tree Cabernet Sauvignon which has also racked up a gold medal and five silvers for excellence. Halliday describes the venerable estate as,
“One of the most historic in Australia … The wines offer excellent value for money.”