Born under ‘the moon and the stars’ in 1892
In today’s climate of global corporate wine ownership and multi beverage models, Pirramimma Winery has stood the test of time from 1892 to today.
Still family-owned and run, and largely from the same property founded by AC Johnston over a century ago comprising over 100 hectares of prime McLaren Vale fruit, Pirramimma and the Johnston family are synonymous with McLaren Vale. Four generations of Johnston’s have called McLaren Vale home, making Pirramimma one of Australia’s oldest wineries to still be in family control.
Their soils, once worked to exhaustion under a traditional European philosophy of farming have been for decades nurtured slowly back to organic health. Their wines, respected and revered worldwide are the end product of knowing intimately the certain characteristics of our home vineyards.
Geoff Johnston, current custodian himself celebrated fifty vintages alone at Pirramimma, giving the wines the best possible chance of being picked and nurtured into some of Australia’s best wines. We have pioneered varieties suited to the region, such as Petit Verdot and Tannat, which with the climate changing around us are best suited to McLaren Vale and our taste profile. The acclaim speaks for itself, with Pirramimma being awarded in 2020 it’s fourth AWC Vienna Best Australian Producer title.
“Few families have had a longer or more honourable association with South Australia”
A long and deep connection with the famed McLaren Vale region began all the way back at the end of the nineteenth century, when South Australia was a fledging colony set up by free settlers from Britain. We are proudly one of South Australia’s founding wineries, and are still proudly family owned by the Johnston family.
The founder – Alexander Campbell Johnston (ACJ)
1868 – 1932
The Johnston family arrived in South Australia in 1839 and in 1892 Alexander, the tenth of thirteen children, purchased 97 hectares of rich farmland adjacent to the fledgling village of McLaren Vale. He named his land Pirramimma, an aboriginal phrase meaning “the moon and the stars”.
Alexander selected McLaren Vale due to the regions cooling sea breezes from the Gulf of St Vincent, the Mediterranean climate, rich diverse soil structures and quality drainage. ACJ’s original land handing was a mixed farm, with small plantings of Grenache and Zante currants, a dairy, piggery, cattle, sheep, shearing shed and cropping land for hay and grain to feed the Pirramimma Clydesdales that tirelessly worked with us.
In 1914 ACJ expanded Pirramimma by acquiring the neighbouring Katunga winery and vineyards. The new acquisition helped fulfil the supply contract with W&A Gilbey in London, and for the next 50 years Gilbey’s took Pirramimma wine global under the Gilbey label – enhancing the reputation that McLaren Vale wines live long and travel far.
ACJ is remembered as “a man of outstanding personality who devoted a large portion of his own energies to promoting the prosperity of the McLaren Vale district, which he loved so much.”
The family legacy continues
1909 – 1988
Digby was a man of the land. From doing chores around the farm as a child, to hunting game at Pirramimma and growing his own produce for the dinner table. He was a keen fisherman and exceptional golfer, whom won the Gilbey Cup many times and played at Kooyonga every Wednesday.
Digby studied winemaking under the revered Dr Fred Stoward, whom was Thomas Hardy’s nephew. He took over the winemaking and fortified production at Pirramimma in the 1930’s.
Digby’s passion was his beloved fortified collection. The Pirramimma Solera fortified wines date back to the early 1900’s, originally using Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro and quality pot still brandy. But thanks to Digby’s experimental blocks, the Solera cellar now includes old Pedro Ximinez, Orange Flora Muscat, Dark Ports, Vintage Grenache Tawny, Aged Liqueur, Frontignan, a White Fortified and the rare old Digby.
The local children knew him as Papa Wine, as he worked most weekends at cellar door chatting with the regulars. Quiet and unassuming with a very dry sense of humour and wise intellect, Digby dedicated his life to Pirramimma.
1953 – PRESENT
Now in the capable hands of Geoff Johnston, a winemaking graduate of Charles Sturt University and grandson of the winery’s founder, Pirramimma has seen many significant changes, including the construction of a 3100m² naturally cooled rammed earth barrel storage facility and the expansion of vineyards to 240 acres and 13 varieties. Known as a “Professor of Soil”, he has also spent over 25 years converting Pirramimma’s sterile land into a living organism, as well as reducing the winery’s ecological footprint through various projects including solar systems, dams and even a wine turbine.
As a winemaker, Geoff has a worldly perspective. After a study trip to France his interest for the Bordeaux grape variety, Petit Verdot was developed. Geoff planted a small trial area of the grape in 1983, which has since expanded to 35 acres of mature vines. Pirramimma Petit Verdot vintages have been awarded internationally multiple times with European wine magazine WeinWisser asking… ‘is there any better Petit Verdot in the world?’
Geoff not only pioneered Petit Verdot in Australia, he was the first to introduce the Southern French variety Tannat to McLaren Vale.
In 2021, Geoff celebrates his 50th vintage – a fitting half century for the accomplished cricketer and dogged batsman.
1989 – PRESENT
Son of Geoff and Louise Johnston, Andrew is the current Vineyard Manager of Pirramimma’s 100+ hectares of estate grown and managed vineyards and has further lead its soil recovery program.
Growing up on the family’s “Katunga” property opened Andrew’s eyes to life on the land. As a kid he was often found exploring the vineyards, following his father around the winery, or if he was lucky, riding on the harvester.
Sharing his family’s passion for the wine industry, Andrew started working as a cellar hand after completing school. He soon discovered the importance of viticulture in winemaking and enrolled in Vineyard Management – working vintages in St Emillion, France and the Napa Valley as part of his studies.
Andrew is passionate and skilled in engineering and building machinery to solve problems in the vineyard, as well as continuing to fine-tune the winery’s composting processes in order to increase sustainable practices.
In his spare time Andrew can be found outside fishing, dirt bike riding and volunteering with the local fire brigade as a firefighter.
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