Forty minutes' drive south of Adelaide is a cracking little cluster of cellar doors dotted throughout the magnificent McLaren Vale.
Vines were first planted here back in the mid-1800s by John Reynell, Thomas Hardy and Dr AC Kelly. After going through the ups and downs of almost 130 years of development, including spending time as an engine room of Australia's bulk wine production, these days the Vale is now carving a niche as one of the nation's top boutique wine-producing regions.
Twenty-one vineyards - so tiny you'd be forgiven for not having heard of them - are determined to spread the word that "smaller is better" so they've banded together under the "Vale Cru" brand to do it. This cosy crew of vintners make wines worth talking about.
In addition to the usual suspects - shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, grenache and chardonnay - the climatic diversity of the region means the Vale has been able to embrace Spanish and Italian varieties such as tempranillo, barbera, mouvedre, fiano and moscato as well as having a bit of viognier, verdelho, sangiovese and zinfandel in the ground.
"I'm interested in seeing the winemakers' fingerprints in a wine to really get the sense of place," says James Hook, of Lazy Ballerina, in a short film by the group, called It Must Be Love.
It's an attitude seconded by Drew Noon of Noon Wines.
"The differences in wine start with the land. If you start scaling up production you inevitably have to blend those blocks and you begin losing the unique characters from those individual sites."
I remember tasting his Eclipse wine about nine years ago. It was enormous, a blend of grenache and shiraz that clocked in at around 16 per cent alcohol. I never forgot it.
"Being small-scale means you can tell the wines are from the same place, but they're always different," says Doug Govan, winemaker for Rudderless Wines. "You can taste and appreciate the ups and downs of every vintage."
It's definitely the passion and drive to create great wine that gets Dudley Brown, of Inkwell Wines, out of bed each day. "Yep, it's gotta be passion, because there's no money in it," he laughs.
But money's not essential to make an impression. One of my absolute favourite cellar door experiences was at a blink-and-you'll-miss-it McLaren Vale bolt-hole known as Alpha Box & Dice. The aesthetic of the place is a little bit rock'n'roll, a little bit steam-punk, a little bit antique shop.
They also have a Warhol-esque picture of a badminton shuttlecock on their website and the tagline: "Where all your dreams come true", which I love. But, on the tasting bench, in among the cut-glass vases, faded photographs from bygone eras and various curios, a group of stunning wines.
His sangiovese is from McLaren Vale, but winemaker Justin Lane isn't too worried about sticking to his own patch of dirt to get the best into the bottle. He sources dolcetto from Kutipo, nebbiolo from Blewitt Springs and tempranillo from Margaret River, touriga nationale and tinta negra molel from the Barossa Valley.
His production is on the petite side.
"When you're doing 60 to 80 barrels you get to know them all intimately," he says. "A lot of winemakers these days just sit behind a desk and punch out notes for their cellarhands. There's a serious disconnect between the winemaker and the vineyard because our industry is so dominated by large companies. For them, it's physically impossible to have winemakers in the field so they make a couple of token visits and that's it.
"Eighty-five per cent of the work I do is out in the vineyard. That's where I make most of my decisions."
The winery is a shed housing a pump, barrels, a few shovels, a basket press and a pitchfork or three. There's no need for fuss.
So, with simplicity in mind, Lane uses the alphabet to reveal the stories behind his wines. A is for Apostle, someone, a leader perhaps, who carries a message; B is for Blood of Jupiter, a blend of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese; C is for Changing Lanes, a tempranillo/cabernet sauvignon blend; D celebrates the Dead Winemakers Society, a group of mates who gather to toast the efforts of deceased winemakers, and E is for the Enigma.
I have no idea which wine that is but, based on past experience, I'd happily risk $30 to find out. F is for Fog, a blend of nebbiolo, cabernet sauvignon and tannat.
Nebbiolo takes its name from the Latin word "nebbia", which means fog or mist. Fog, apparently is a necessary climatic element for growing nebbiolo.
"Making this wine is similar to driving in foggy conditions," say the technical notes. "Not being able to see too far in front of you, and the need to proceed with caution." G is for the Golden Mullet Fury, a muscadelle/chardonnay concoction, and then it's all the way to T which stands for Tarot, a grenache boasting a label plastered in cartoon skulls - nuff said.