Thorn-Clarke Wines was established by David and Cheryl Clarke in the early 1980’s.
They planted vines in the Barossa at their Kabininge site on the Barossa Valley floor near Tanunda in 1987, a site which now produces outstanding quality grapes which go into making up some of the company’s finest red wines.
For Cheryl it was the continuation of a life involved in grape growing since her family, the Thorn’s, have been growing grapes since the 1870’s on their family estate near Angaston.
David, Cheryl and their children Sam and Nicole planted three more vineyard sites in the Barossa and Eden Valley during the 1990’s.
Chief Executive Officer of Thorn-Clarke Wines, Sam Clarke (pictured), said that in July 2002, the Thorn-Clarke brand was launched in North America and Australia.
“Our wines are now sold in over 25 countries under the brands Mount Crawford, Terra Barossa, Sandpiper, Shotfire and William Randell,” Mr Clarke said.
In total Thorn-Clarke have around 240 hectares of vines, all in the Barossa Valley. Kabininge, on the Valley floor near Tanunda, St Kitts at the northern end of the Barossa, plus two in Eden Valley (the higher altitude sub region of the Barossa) - Milton Park near Angaston and Mount Crawford at the southern end of Eden Valley.
“The Mount Crawford site is especially cool and is where all of the company’s whites are grown. The other vineyard sites are almost entirely for red wine production,” Mr Clarke added.
“Our vines are all in very diverse locations which provide some excellent blending options for our winemaker Derek Fitzgerald.
“We took a methodical approach to ensuring the right varieties were grown in the right terroir (i.e. microclimate) and the ability to get this right is one of the key reasons why the vineyards produce such outstanding grapes.”
The company’s winery and cellar door are located near Angaston at the Milton Park vineyard. The cellar door has a superb view over the vineyard and the beautiful Eden Valley countryside.
The wines are also sold throughout the retail sector and at many restaurants.
Mr Clarke said that the awards and accolades the winery has received are one of the key reasons the company has grown so quickly.
“The world renowned American wine writer Robert Parker discovered the wines in 2003 and proclaimed them ‘the greatest red wine value in the marketplace’ which is the world,” he said.
“Our greatest individual award in Australia was when the 2004 Shotfire Quartage won the top wine at the 2005 Adelaide Wine Show.
“However, our wines have won numerous gold medals at Australian wine shows and several trophies.”
Other recognition has included that from Wine Spectator, the San Francisco based wine publication which is one of the most influential wine publications in the world, who rated the wines in its Top 100 wines in the world three times in the last ten years.
James Halliday has rated Thorn-Clarke a 5 star winery for 4 consecutive years and rated many of the wines well above 90 points.
Despite the ongoing success of many South Australian wines, Mr Clarke said the current environment for winemakers remains challenging.
“A tough vintage and tough market conditions are making life challenging that’s for sure,” he said.
“However, we continue to sell excellent volumes of wine around the world. Sales in the USA are down as South American wines grow their market share and the exchange rate is an inhibitor to remaining competitive.
“Most other markets are growing, especially Australia, China and Canada. The exchange rate against most currencies is squeezing margins though, however not as badly as in the USA.
“I think family owned wineries with established paths to market and who are prepared to take a long term view will come out of this stronger.”
Despite the growing competition from international wine companies, the demand for Australian produce still remains.
“Australia is still and will remain a massive category in the USA and the general sentiment remains positive, with many in the trade saying Aussie wines are as good as ever, if not better,” Mr Clarke said.
“We have found a trend away from the big jammy Barossa red style to more elegant refined wines.
“Our wines have always had a degree of elegance and we continue to make use of the cooler climate Eden Valley fruit to ensure that style remains.”