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‘Sublime conditions’: how La Nina paid off for a top Aussie wine label

Two decades after embarking on a passion project atop a foggy hill, Brian Croser is pouring wines that show the benefits of cooler vintages. From the upcoming Young Rich issue, out on October 27.

Max AllenDrinks columnist

I first visited Brian Croser’s Foggy Hill vineyard on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia in 2008. The then-five-year-old vineyard was the veteran winemaker’s new pinot noir passion project: a pioneering experiment in close-planted, low-trellised vines in a virtually unexplored, cool, high region.

“The vines look like a huddle of fairy penguins,” I wrote after that first visit to Foggy Hill, “crowding together to protect themselves from the elements. The small vineyard is perched on one of the last north-facing slopes on the peninsula; on the other side of the hill, there’s nothing but sea until you hit Antarctica, and the wind constantly blows across the top of the cowering vines.”

Brian Croser’s Foggy Hill vineyard. 

In 2008, Croser had made only two vintages from this young vineyard: it all felt very new. Fast-forward to 2023: to celebrate two decades of Foggy Hill, the winemaker has been touring the country hosting dinners and tastings, pouring vintages going back to the late 2000s, alongside new releases. Where does the time go?

As well as pinot noir from the Fleurieu Peninsula, Croser has also been showing off chardonnay from Tiers, the vineyard he and his wife, Ann, planted in 1979 in the Piccadilly Valley subregion of the Adelaide Hills – another example, at the time, of pioneering viticulture in a cool-climate part of South Australia. Over the four decades he’s been producing chardonnay from Tiers, first under the Petaluma brand, now as part of his Tapanappa label, Croser has learnt the best way to coax the purest fruit expression from the site.

“When we started in the 1980s, we were competing with wines like Rosemount’s Roxburgh chardonnay,” he says. “Oxidative juice handling and lots of lees stirring [to build texture in the wine], 100 per cent malolactic fermentation [which can produce soft, buttery flavours] and 100 per cent new oak [sweet vanilla flavours]. But after a while I thought, why am I doing this? I want to see the fruit, not the winemaking!”

Brian Croser with his chardonnay grapes. “Eventually you learn to trust the vineyard. And gradually you begin to feel vindicated.” 

So, he stopped putting his chardonnay through malolactic, started handling the juice more protectively – more like a riesling – and cut back new oak barrels to just 30 per cent. The result is – as you can see from my review – extremely impressive.

With Foggy Hill, the challenge has been to tame the tannins that come from the site’s terroir – the exposed slope, the sandy loam soils with ironstone deposits – and from the low-trained, low-yielding vines. In the case of Definitus, a “reserve” bottling from a specific part of the vineyard, Croser opted to embrace the more structured, age-worthy style of pinot that the site gives him.

“Definitus came about in 2017,” he says. “There’s a ridge of particularly rocky soil in the middle of the Foggy Hill slope where the vines are smaller, the grapes are smaller, they ripen earlier, and the flavours are more intense. So, from that year on, we decided to harvest it, make it, and bottle it separately.”


The winemaker is particularly happy to present the latest releases of Foggy Hill and Tiers because they’re from cooler, later, La Nina-influenced vintages – unlike the string of warmer, mostly El Nino vintages that South Australia’s winegrowers experienced from 2006 to 2019. “It’s such a joy to have had this string of cooler vintages from 2021 to 2023,” he says. “They’ve been sublime conditions for chardonnay and pinot noir.”

It feels like a long time ago – and also yesterday – that Croser established his fairy penguin vines on that foggy hill – and a lifetime since vines first went into the ground in the Piccadilly Valley in the late 1970s.

“You can imagine,” he says, “when you go to a new place for the first time, how much doubt there can be in your mind about what you’re doing. And of course you make mistakes. But eventually you learn to trust the vineyard. And gradually you begin to feel vindicated.”

From left: Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2022; Tapanappa Foggy Hill Pinot Noir 2022; Tapanappa Definitus Pinot Noir 2021. 

Max Allen reviews ...

Tapanappa Tiers Chardonnay 2022 | Adelaide Hills $110 | Scintillating chardonnay, so pure, fresh and intense, with crystalline focus and thrilling presence. Ravishing now, in its youth, but will mature beautifully over many years.

Tapanappa Foggy Hill Pinot Noir 2022 | Fleurieu Peninsula $60 | Like the chardonnay, this deceptively fresh, juicy and youthful pinot is a joy to drink now – all snappy cherry fruit – but will drink well and develop for a decade at least.

Tapanappa Definitus Pinot Noir 2021 | Fleurieu Peninsula $90 | A quite different beast to the ’22 pinot noir: more subtle, refined fragrance, less fruity, more structural, with layers of fine tannin and a great sense of restrained power.

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Max Allen
Max AllenDrinks columnistMax Allen is The Australian Financial Review's drinks columnist. He is an award-winning journalist and author who has written about wine and drinks for close to 25 years. Connect with Max on Twitter. Email Max at

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