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The story of the ‘Grandfather of Grüner’

Strolling through the grapevines around his Hahndorf home, a man they call the ‘Grandfather of Grüner’ brushes his hands gently over some leaves, stopping to inspect some of his ‘grandchildren’ – clusters of ripening grüner veltliner berries.
Born in a South African desert town called Oudtshoorn – the ostrich capital of the world – Larry Jacobs’ life took a few interesting turns to bring him to the rolling hills of the Adelaide Hills wine region.
It’s a journey that has seen him follow his heart and his senses, but first he had to be patient.
Or rather, he had to treat patients.
“I ran the intensive care unit in Johannesburg for several years,” the former doctor says.
“Doing that sort of work, I was always too busy to be distracted by nonsense.”
But at a fateful Christmas lunch with his hospital colleagues, the cheer in the room was so infectious that Larry found himself staring at the stemmed glass in his hand and thinking to himself, “so this is happiness in a bottle, hey?”.
“That sort of put the idea into my head of maybe travelling down to where the wine regions were,” he says.

Larry Jacobs’ life took a few interesting turns to bring him to the rolling hills of the Adelaide Hills wine region.


“I’d go there and see if I could, you know, perhaps ease myself into the industry.”
Larry turns from the grüner veltliner vines – now well established – and walks to the edge of the vineyard, briefly stopping to turn around and flash his welcoming smile.
“Really it was just an excuse to take a lot of holidays,” he says.
But the holidays became longer and longer until his future was set in stone: Larry wasn’t just going to make wine, he was going to make the best wine – and he was going to keep nothing secret.
After all, if you want to bottle happiness yourself, you probably want to share it.
After transitioning away from his medical career and setting up a winery in Cape Town, he worked on his craft as a young, up-and-coming winemaker.
But eventually he and his partner Marc Dobson began looking in the direction of Australia.
Larry sold his South African winery and, in 1997, he and Marc emigrated to Sydney.
“I was determined to stay in the wine industry – while Marc studied (psychology) I had my eyes firmly set on this magical place, the Adelaide Hills,” he says, gesturing to the rolling hills in the distance. About five years later Marc finished up at university, Larry booked the train tickets and they began a new life at Hahndorf.
They purchased the land on which their renowned Hahndorf Hill Winery now sits and set about looking for something special to define the sort of experiences they wanted to sell.
Which brings us to the grapes Larry ‘grandfathered’.
“We were really specifically looking for a new variety that could be perfectly matched to our region – matched in all conditions of terrain and climate and soil,” he says.
“So, it took a lot of research, which was basically drinking a lot of wine.
“But there was one variety that was very appealing and which was generating a lot of chatter on the internet at the time.
“Grüner veltliner.”
An Austrian grape, grüner veltliner thrives with a greater “diurnal variation” – the difference in degrees between maximum temperature and minimum temperature.
“I had an idea it might work in our region,” Larry says.
“During the growing season, it needs warm days and cold nights.
“Well, in the Hills we have that in spades.
“When I discovered these similarities between here and Austria, I became very excited.”
In 2008, following an extensive quarantine period in Melbourne, three clones of grüner veltliner grapes that Larry had imported were released from their customs-cage and planted at the Hahndorf Hill Winery.
At the time, Larry was the only commercial grower and producer of grüner veltliner wine in SA and one of the first to grow the variety in Australia.

‘The Adelaide Hills is undoubtedly the epicentre of grüner veltliner in the southern hemisphere,’ Larry says.


Today, there are more than 40 producers of Larry’s ‘grandchildren’, most in the Adelaide Hills.
“The Adelaide Hills is undoubtedly the epicentre of grüner veltliner in the southern hemisphere,” Larry says.
“The versatility of grüner, the aromas it can have or the texture it can have – I know some think grüner has to be one thing and not the other, but I don’t much care for restrictions.
“We have different grüners for different wine drinkers, for different foods and to welcome almost any kind of wine drinker – sweet, dry, tart and so on – because it is a very welcoming grape.”
Together with other key winemakers, Larry consults and advises winemakers all across Australia on grüner veltliner and other Austrian varietals like zweigelt and blaufrankisch, some of which he has more recently produced.
“We created this group called the Grüner Growers Group, or GGG,” he says.
“The sole purpose of that was to encourage as many growers as possible to plant the varietal and make wine as a consequence.
“It’s been such a joy being part of that as well, introducing this new Austrian stranger into our community, it’s been fantastic.”
Grüner veltliner is not the only Austrian variety Larry has brought to the Adelaide Hills.
His most recent venture involved bringing Saint Laurent – known as the daughter of pinot noir – to Australia.
The variety’s history is cloaked in mystery, but it is believed to have originated in France and – just before it was wiped out by the great phylloxera outbreak – found its way to an Austrian monastery.
Larry imported the plant material in 2014, propagating it into his vineyard after a two-year quarantine period, and reaping his first harvest in 2020.
The resulting wine, Hahndorf Hill Foundling, has already earned two gold medals – one at the Frankfurt International Trophy 2022 and another at the Berlin Wine Trophy.
And as far as Larry is concerned, it all started with a train ticket to the Adelaide Hills.
“It gave us a wonderful opportunity to work hard, be creative and to be on a continuous adventure,” he says. “And part of that adventure has been the introduction of these unusual varieties, including red varietals … getting to know them and then linking up with Austrian culture, having an opportunity or an excuse to go there, to where grüner veltliner comes from.
“So it’s certainly broadened my horizon.”

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