In Food + Drink

The Community Pub With The Country’s Best Wine List

From the outside, The Crafers Hotel looks like a normal pub. A particularly nice pub located in the scenic Adelaide Hills, where it’s been doing an excellent trade since 1839, but a regular pub nonetheless. And in some ways it is – you can sit down at the front bar for a schnitzel or fish and chips and a pint, but beyond the usual pub fare lies a wine list that’s astonishing in its scope.

When Gourmet Traveller awarded it the Best Pub Restaurant List last year, they described it as “gargantuan” and “mind-bogglingly good” and said that it “came within a whisker of winning the major award”. Since then, it’s only got better.

The first decision you’ll need to make is which wine list to look at. The Little Wine Book is a list for everyday diners with plenty of options by the glass and a focus on local wines and varietals. Despite the name, it runs to over 20 pages.

Crafers Hotel

Image: The Crafers Hotel / Facebook

If you want to look through the Big Wine Book, you might need a bottle just to get through all 84 pages. For an idea of how serious this list is, flick to the back page and you’ll find 100 vintages of Seppeltsfield’s Para Grand Tawny Port that stretch back into the 19th Century.

If that’s too daunting, diners can look through the wine room where thousands of bottles are stored (the entire list includes over 2,000 options). The collection is so large that they’ve run out of space and have started to explore other storage options while Sommelier Jonathan Brook has recently been joined by a Junior Sommelier to help “keep the wine room tidy and the lists current”.

Because the hotel’s chef is French and the menu reflects that, “we tend to focus on France as our benchmark region,” Brook explains. But with such an extensive list, Italian wines are also well-represented alongside a range of Australian regions.

And while the price of a Burgundy Grand Cru might go into the thousands, the vast majority of the list is far more affordable. In fact, most of the wines in the Little Book don’t crack three figures.

Crafers Hotel

Image: The Crafers Hotel / supplied

These are the wines that locals will drink by the glass when they order a steak. Many of those locals are winemakers themselves, and Brook wants them to come in and see their products on the list next to world-class benchmark wines. The fact that many of those Adelaide Hills producers make small batch organic and natural wines means that it’s a list with an eye on the future as well as tradition and this keeps it approachable. It’s why Brook insists that “we are a community pub. We cater for the Adelaide Hills community.”

The focus on wine is a relatively recent phenomenon for the Crafers Hotel, which was bought by two couples in 2014. One of those couples, Julie and Ed Peter, helped to bolster the wine list from their own cellar (this is where some of the rare Burgundy and Bordeaux wines come from) and it’s grown quickly since then. But the change is not just down to the owners – diners have also become far more discerning and expect more than just a few perfunctory choices. And in South Australia that means curating a wine list that represents local wines without being parochial.

“A lot of people are traveling more now so they are getting exposed to different wines from all over the world, young people are becoming more open to different wine trends and so their parents are starting to broaden their own wine tastes as well.”

Crafers Hotel

Image: The Crafers Hotel / supplied

That means there’s room for natural wines and experimental varieties alongside old-world classics. And when guests ask for something that’s not there, the list adapts. “There is a real run on aged Cabernet at the moment,” Brook says. “When I started this wasn’t even on our radar. But guests have asked for it over time so we are catering for that.”

For Brook, who has worked in fine dining venues like the Hill Of Grace Restaurant and Orana, the move to a community pub was a huge change. He jokes that he “had to relearn to how to pour pints,” but that’s just one of his many duties and he sees more agile sommeliers working at pubs as part of a broader trend.

“I think we will see more venues bringing in sommeliers as buyers and looking after wine lists for “pub groups”. I think you will see more wine lists at different pubs embracing more wines from smaller producers from different regions.” But for now, the Crafers Hotel has a wine list that is unmatched.

(Lead image: The Crafers Hotel / Facebook)

Published 03 May, 2019