June 15, 2016

Farrell Wines in Clare - a few vintages old, but 150 years in the making

The recent Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend provided the perfect opportunity to show off wonders of this region. Whilst we did not have a stand offering tastings, Nimfa and I ensured Farrell Wines was well represented, attending the events of other wineries in the area and promoting the valley to many of our friends who visited.

The Farrell family’s love of the Clare Valley goes back many years, back to the 1860s in fact, when five brothers and a sister (known then as O’Farrell) travelled from Kilfeacle in Ireland, presumably to escape the Irish famine.

After arriving in Adelaide they travelled to the Mid North region of South Australia. My great, great uncle Edmund settled in Clare, his brother Nicholas in Balaklava, and my great grandfather David (O’)Farrell settled in Jamestown, where he married Johanna Silverthorn in September 27, 1883. They had three children but only the youngest, Edward John, survived.

Johanna passed away soon after Edward was born, and my grandfather was brought up by his aunt. We know he finished his schooling at Christian Brothers in Wakefield Street Adelaide, worked as a accountant and volunteered for World War I, returning safely in 1919. His letters sent home to his fiancé (later to be my Grandmother, Emily) from France and Germany are being read at the On Flanders Fields Poppy Trail at Elder Hall this Friday (for more information see https://flandersfieldspoppytrail.com/)

My grandson Edward’s links to the region go back even further. A Malycha, he is descended from Laurence Malycha, a Polish immigrant who came to Polish Hill River in the 1850s with his two brothers, Lucas and Stanislaw. Lucas’s grave is in the Sevenhill cemetery.

I might joke that Farrell Flat was named after one of my ancestors, but there may also be some truth in the claim. I have spoken to historians in Clare who have told me even though it is said the township was named after James Farrell, a former Dean of Adelaide, this cannot be proven. One South Australian History website states “There is no agreement as to the origin of the town's name. Originally named Hanson, it was changed to Farrell's Flat in 1870 when surveyed.  Some say after James Farrell, a shepherd employed by Joseph Gilbert of Mount Bryan”.

Nimfa and I have been visiting the Clare Valley for about 20 years. We would stay at Rosella Cottages (now Sevenhill Cottages) and regale our daughters with stories of their family history and connections to the region.  Our stories and the natural beauty of the Clare Valley must have had some impact on them.  Mary celebrated her 21st birthday at Skillogalee Winery and Restaurant, which was also the venue for her wedding reception three years ago following the ceremony at St Aloysius church Sevenhill.

About six years ago Nimfa and I came up for a special weekend to celebrate her birthday, staying at Thorn Park in the Vines. During our visit we went for a walk and stumbled upon a vineyard that was up for sale. After some tough negotiating with the owner Larry Vasek (and who can blame him, we wouldn’t easily relinquish our slice of heaven either!) we became the proud owners of a Clare Valley vineyard.  

Friends said I was crackers to buy a vineyard, but having tried my hand at it I think the Australia wine industry, and Clare Valley in particular, has great potential for great future success. Our regular weekly visits to Clare now involve at minimum a small amount of hard labour, but our efforts have been rewarded with delicious wines and some terrific new friends. 

Until next time, Don.