The Thorn-Clarke family has a long history in the Barossa - six generations of involvement in the region's world famous wine industry. The winery owners - David and Cheryl Clarke (born Thorn), daughter Nicole, and son Sam - strive to ensure their children and the next generations will inherit a successful, respected, and environmentally sustainable business that continues to produce premium wines.
The name Thorn-Clarke represents the union between two families with deep roots in the Barossa Valley and six generations of grape growing. Cheryl Clarke’s (nee Thorn) family were one of the earliest settlers in the region and have been growing grapes since the 1870s. The Thorn family property ‘Clifton’ is home to one of the oldest Shiraz vineyards in Australia, and perhaps the world, with earliest records for plantings dating back to 1854. It is still owned and operated by Cheryl’s brother.
David Clarke’s family was also a pioneer in the Barossa Valley but more famously for mining gold. An ancestor, James Goddard, was responsible for opening the Lady Alice gold mine in the Barossa goldfields, the largest gold mine in South Australia at the time. A geologist by training and wine lover at heart, David set about testing soils to identify prime plots of land to acquire and plant vines. David and Cheryl’s first vineyard in 1987 was Kabininge, outside Tanunda (the name means “watering hole” in aborigine). They later acquired more land in Barossa and in The Eden Valley. This took a lot of Australian pluck at that time. During the late 1980s the South Australian government was sponsoring growers to remove vines, not plant them, to manage oversupply.
Following success as grape growers supplying other Barossa wineries with fruit, David and Cheryl founded the Thorn-Clarke winery in 2002 with daughter, Nicole, and son, Sam. The Thorn-Clarke family has a strong belief in the age-old saying "you can't make good wine from bad grapes." Theirs is a long term approach to serve as a custodian for the Barossa’s reputation and their families’ commitment to making great wines. The vineyard team focuses first on nurturing quality grapes from prime land without cutting corners. Once grapes are harvested and into the winery it’s about balance: using specific strains of yeast and appropriate types of oak to create complexity without overpowering the fruit.
The approach has worked, and the family has struck gold with its wines, collecting a succession of trophies and medals at international wine shows. The Eden Valley vineyard has become synonymous with high quality white wines and the Barossa with high quality reds.
Thorn-Clarke has a strong belief in the age old saying "you can't make good wine from bad grapes" and to this they owe a lot of their success. In the late 1980's, governments were sponsoring growers to pull vines in an attempt to overcome an oversupply in the industry. Against trend, David Clarke, a geologist by training, set about testing soils and buying land (at one time under car headlights to avoid local farmer suspicion) with the intention of establishing his own vineyards in the Barossa. Developing a great understanding for the diversity of the Barossa, David purchased land in two sections of the Eden Valley and two in the Barossa Valley. The Eden Valley has since become synonymous with high quality white wines and the Barossa with high quality reds.
The Barossa Valley was settled in the early 1840s by small farmers and artisans seeking religious freedom from their native Silesia (now Poland). The warm, fertile valley is ideal for ripening grapes, especially red varietals.
Located on the Barossa Valley floor at just 270 metres (886 feet) above sea level, the 33 hectare (81.5 acres) Kabininge vineyard is true Barossa Valley terroir. The dark grey to dark brown carbonaceous clay soil is referred to as “Bay of Biscay,” named after the rough seas off the coast of France. While this reactive soil can cause mayhem for the foundations of buildings, it’s conducive to growing grapes. The vineyard is predominantly Shiraz – the variety for which the Barossa Valley is best known – supported by smaller plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Elevation: 270m (886 feet)
Rainfall: 500mm (19.7 inches)
St Kitts and Truro Vineyards
Cooler and with lower rainfall than Kabininge, these northern Barossa vineyards totaling 103 hectares (255 acres), have an elevation of between 380 and 410 metres (1,247-1,345 feet). Thin, moderately well-developed residual soils comprised of marble, schist, Truro Volcanics and Heatherdale Shale necessitate a careful vineyard layout matching variety to soil type, restricting yields. The tough conditions make vines work hard to produce voluptuous whites and enduring reds. Shiraz again is the predominant red varietel supported by plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec.
Elevation: 390 metres (1,280 feet)
Rainfall: 480 mm (19 inches)
First planted with vines by Englishman Joseph Gilbert in 1847, this verdant cool climate region has become synonymous with white wines of exceptional quality and reds with a wisp more elegance than from Barossa. Thorn-Clarke has two vineyards in Eden Valley.
Mount Crawford Vineyard
With higher rainfall and elevations up to 475 meters (1,558 feet) above sea level, the 37 hectare (91 acres) Mount Crawford Vineyard provides a cool climate setting for white varietals Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Its north facing location provides much needed warmth in spring and autumn, and the tough mountain soil makes the vines work hard to achieve excellent flavor and acid levels.
Elevation: 470 m (1,542 feet)
Rainfall: 775 mm (305 inches)
Milton Park Vineyard
Located between Angaston and Keyneton at 330-400 metres (1,082-1,313 feet) above sea level, the Milton Park Vineyard is located in classic cool climate sub-region recognized for its many outstanding Shiraz producers. Blocks of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are planted to maximize fruit exposure to lower autumn sun while Petit Verdot is planted to at lower levels for more direct sunlight.
Elevation: 350 m (1,149 feet)
Rainfall: 545mm (21.5 inches)
Thorn-Clarke's winemaking team has the philosophy that great wines are made in the vineyard not the winery and that the members of the teams are custodians rather than creators of quality. Helen McCarthy, who leads their winemaking team, strongly believes that to make wines with complexity and elegance, the first step is getting the vineyards right.
Once harvested, the winemaking team uses the differences in vineyard expression to their advantage. The winemakers spend enormous amounts of time tasting the wines and perfecting blends. Their yeast and oak philosophy is simple, they should add to the complexity and balance of the wine, they shouldn't dominate it. In both cases the selection of strain or oak type depends on the characters and structure naturally found in the fruit.
This successful, reasonably large operation with vineyards dating back to the 1850s offers an assortment of wines under various labels (Milton Park, Terra Barossa, Shotfire Ridge, and William Randall). Their offerings are undeniably seductive, modern-styled, classic South Australian wines exhibiting copious quantities of upfront fruit, full body, and abundant oak. The proprietors claim they "over deliver."
-Robert Parker, Wine Advocate #161, October 2005
I had loved [Thorn Clarke] values when I was covering Australia. They come from David Thorn and Cheryl Clarke, the latest family members following six generations of vignerons and wine producers in the Barossa Valley, tracing their history back through 1870. Like a number of producers in South Australia, the quality here is extremely high and the prices very consumer-friendly
-Robert Parker, Wine Advocate #201, June 2012