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Vale whisky distillery targets top-shelf tourists

Travel

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.

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The McLaren Vale Distillery is opening its $2.5 million headquarters about 40km south of Adelaide this month after securing a $500,000 regional development grant from the state government.

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 distil 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.

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The distillery’s location in the southern Mount Lofty Ranges overlooking McLaren Vale.

The distillery will include a malting plant and a cooper on site.

“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 on to 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 for its wine, 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.

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McLaren Vale Distillery founder John Rochfort, third from left, with his team.

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.

“We want to support the region – the growers of grain and the wine growers – let’s tie the whole region into the business.”

Rochfort said there were also plans for a hospitality, research and conference centre as part of the project

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 he “best of the best” barrels from South Australia, ranging in price from $500- $1000.

“We found in Tasmania that 90 per cent 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.”

Rochfort said he was working with separate groups in three other South Australian wine regions – Barossa Valley, Limestone Coast and Clare Valley – that wanted to start their own whisky distilleries.

McLaren Vale Grape Wine & Tourism Association General Manager Jennifer Lynch said the new distillery would help the region achieve long-term sustainable growth.

“Passionate new businesses like the McLaren Vale Distillery are helping to develop infrastructure and grow capability in McLaren Vale – in turn, elevating our region’s position on a national and international stage,” she said.

This story was first published on The Lead.

 

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