Winery Profile: Heartland Wines

Heartland’s Home in Langhorne Creek
by David Lawrason

Langhorne Creek (population 668) is hardly the world’s hippest wine address.  Downtown there is a stone towered church with a cemetery, a general store, a cricket oval, tennis courts, and a community BBQ pavilion. The terrain is flat, sparsely shaded by gum trees. Vineyards come up to the edge of town at every turn. To the east lies the expanse of the shallow Lake Alexandrina, where the Murray River flows into the sea, and where sometimes the brackish sea backwaters into the lake. There is a significant bird sanctuary along its shores.

The environs are geographically interesting and conducive to fine wine. But the city of Adelaide is about one hour away over two-lane country highways. Same with Barossa. Coonawarra is two hours or more. Not many people come here to taste wine and fine dine, although there is a wine centre and restaurant in town.

So it is an unlikely place to double down on the idea of making cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and blends thereof the entire focus of a fine wine project. Especially when you don’t own a winery here. But Heartland has done just that, choosing instead to truck Langhorne grapes to Barossa in AC-chilled trucks where winemaker Ben Glaetzer processes at a custom-crush facility called Barossa Vintners.

Heartland/Langhone Creek Map

“Putting Langhorne Creek on the wine map has been my mission since buying some ownership and becoming the managing director,” said Nick Keukenmeester, who came on board in 2012. “It is what makes our wines different”.

He is so determined about this that the winery no longer buys fruit from anywhere else. Keukenmeester even persuaded his partners to abandon white wine production altogether because “there are no white varieties that actually seem to make special wine here, except maybe for verdelho. And there is no market for verdelho”.

If Nick’s name resonates with Ontario readers, it is because the Australian-born wine enthusiast, educator and marketer, worked awhile with Lifford Agencies in Toronto. He brought his passion and wit to bear in trade tastings, seminars and on-line posts. He was drawn to Ontario by his future wife Louise Lawson (from Grand Bend/London, Ont). Having grown up with Ben Glaetzer, Nick and Louise returned to Australia where both work at Heartland, living with their two children near Adelaide.

So what is it about Langhorne Creek, and how did Heartland – one of Australia’s leading edge wine producers get involved?

Nick Keukenmeester and Ben Glaetzer

Nick Keukenmeester and Ben Glaetzer

The Glaetzer Connections

It is all rooted in the vineyard explorations during the 70s and 80s by now legendary winemaker John Glaetzer. He was to become the star palate behind the rise of Wolf Blass, based largely on consecutive Jimmy Watson Trophy wins with cabernet sauvignon grown in Langhorne Creek. It became the secret sauce for John – the ace up his sleeve – and he got to know all the growers and individual plots and even vines. He is now the Viticultural Consultant to Heartland, providing access to some of the best fruit and oldest cabernet sauvignon vines in the region.

By the 2000s another Glaetzer was starting to make a name for himself – nephew Ben. But let me back up a bit because there as an even wider connection.

The Glaetzer name runs deep in premium Australian winemaking. John Glaetzer and his brother Colin were from a family of German émigrés that came to Nurioopta in the Barossa Valley in 1888. Colin, Ben’s father, established himself as a winemaker for a large, successful co-op called Barossa Valley Estates, that would go on to create the hugely successful E & E Black Pepper Shiraz and the Ebeneezer Shiraz. And in 1995 Colin and his wife Judith also established Glaetzer wines.

Son Ben was destined to follow in the family footsteps, studying oenology at Roseworthy College in Adelaide and working at Barossa Valley Estate while studying. He began to assume a larger role in Glaetzer wines as well and by the mid-2000s he was winning international accolades like Wine Personality of the Year by Robert Parker, and Winemaker of the Year by The Wine Enthusiast. His marquis wines called Anaperenna and Amon-Ra racked up all kinds of individual honours.

It was back in 1999 that Ben, with his uncle John, also began to eye Langhorne Creek and founded Heartland, with friends and partners Grant Tilbrook (an accountant) and Scott Collett, who is also the winemaker at Woodstock in McLaren Vale. Nick Keukenmeester came along later of course but has assumed a central operational role.

“This project is really focused on the regional expertise of John Glaetzer,” Nick reaffirms. “It is his intimate knowledge and relationships with growers that gives us the quality we need. In 2012, for example, we were finally able to access fruit from the oldest cabernet vines in Australia, growing in Langhorne Creek”.

Today, Heartland, which made about 50,000 cases in 2016, is primarily a buyer of grapes, but they do own their own Angas Vineyard in Langhorne Creek. At one point they were also sourcing from the Limestone Coast to the south, but they have reeled that back so that even their less expensive wines have pure Langhorne expression.

In the Glass

And what is that expression – what is the fuss? I have found over the years a certain aromatic menthol/eucalypt lift combined with brilliant red and blackcurrant fruit, plus a certain elegance and natural balance on the palate. The wines are undeniably Aussie, but somehow stand out in high relief.

“Barossa wines are quite powerful, thick and heavy, but Langhorne creates wines with more spice and lift,” says Nick. He also suggests that Langhorne cabernets “are available to the palate early on”. Which would help explain why John Glaetzer’s Wolf Blass cabernets won the Jimmy Watson so often, a trophy for best young wine of a vintage.

According to Nick, it is the cool, coastal Langhorne Creek climate that gives the reds this lift. Hot northerly winds from the centre of the continent are blocked by the Mt Lofty Ranges to the north of Langhorne Creek. And every day at 5 pm in comes a cool “Lake Doctor” wind from the Southern Ocean, that slows ripening, preserves acidity and amplifies the fruit and savoury aromatics. As do the cooler fermentation techniques employed by Ben Glaetzer.

And to me, that is the real key, an aromatic not all that different from other Aussie regions in terms of profile, but just a bit more piquant and fragrant.

The Portfolio

Some of the Heartland portfolio is being aired at VINTAGES this season. Still others were recently tasted when Nick conducted a dinner for WineAlign subscribers at Luma last week.

So we leave you here with brief overviews and links to some of the wines, in increasing price order.

If you are interested in purchasing a case of any of the wines below, simply click on the wine and you’ll see this button.

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Heartland Stickleback Red 2013
This is the least expensive Heartland red, made in 10,000 case volume. It is a blend of almost equal parts cabernet and shiraz from 15 to 20-year-old vines, fleshed out with bits of merlot and grenache. It is aged 12 months in French and American oak barrels. Released at VINTAGES on January 7.

Heartland Stickleback Red 2013

Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
This relatively new 8,000 case brand blend of almost equal parts separately fermented shiraz and cabernet is also aged in French and American oak for 12 months. Coming to VINTAGES on April 15.

Heartland Spice Trader Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Heartland Shiraz 2013
At 10,000 cases this is a big brand for Heartland that strives to be “a pure expression of Austalia’s most iconic variety”. From 20-year-old vines, it is aged 14 months in French and American oak barrels, including some larger 4-year-old, 300-litre hogsheads. Coming to VINTAGES on March 18.

Heartland Shiraz 2013

Heartland Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
Something of a signature, with 8,000 cases produced from vines 20+ years, this is aged 12 months in selected French barriques and American oak hogsheads. Coming to VINTAGES on April 1.

Heartland Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Heartland Directors’ Cut Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
This is only the second vintage of Directors Cut Cabernet and only 500 cases were produced, from a selection of the finest 40+ year sites. It was aged 14+ months in French and American oak barrels. This was poured at VINTAGES Australia event on Feb 1.

Heartland Directors' Cut Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

And that’s it for the ‘current’ wines. Watch for the top Heartland bottling called One and the Directors’ Cut Shiraz that WineAlign guests got to sample at a recent Heartland dinner in Toronto. And maybe if we all “will it to be” we, in Ontario, might also get to try Heartland’s unique blend of lagrein and dolcetto, Italian varieties that also work in cool – make that very cool – Langhorne Creek.


Heartland is represented in Ontario by The Vine Agency.

This feature was commissioned by The Vine Agency. As a regular feature WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery. Our critics independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted to WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the winery profile. Wineries pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, if any, is entirely up to WineAlign. See below for more details provided by the winery and their agent in Canada.

About The Vine Agency

The Vine AgencySince we took the leap to start The Vine in 2000, our goal has never been to be the biggest, most all-encompassing wine agency in the province or the country. Instead, we set out to offer a focused selection of wines that reflect our personal taste and interests. We believe that smaller wineries – estate oriented and family-owned – provide the best source of characterful wines that deserve our attention. We also place a high value on trust: yours.

To that end, we strive to deliver outstanding customer service, trustworthy recommendations and informed conversation. But ultimately, the portfolio speaks for itself – this is a collection of great wines, selected and supported by people who know the people behind the wines. Most of the winery owners we represent in Ontario are people we are proud to consider friends.

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All the wines are sold in cases of 12 bottles, unless noted otherwise. Unfortunately, mixed cases are not possible due to LCBO regulations. We quote prices per bottle, excluding Refundable Bottle Deposit. HST is included in Retail prices. Delivery charges may apply.