Meet David and Margaret Blesing whose boutique winery in Bangor is well worth deviating off the main road.
The roses are the first thing to catch my attention as we arrive at Blesing’s Garden Wines Row upon row of rose bushes awash with plump healthy blooms swaying in the gentle breeze. Deprived as I am of such beauties in humid Brisbane, since my November arrival in regional South Australia, I’ve been going gaga over the abundance of roses: draped over arbours, in urban gardens, or as cut arrangements in vases.
The well-tended garden is also home to quirky pieces of artwork.
While I was distracted, oohing and ahhing over the roses, my friend walked onto the veranda of the cellar door, a small stand-alone building clad in burgundy corrugated iron sheets. A sign on the veranda says, “If cellar door is unattended, please press the button.”
She pressed. A cacophony erupted. The sound of squawking galahs and cockatoos mixed with a shrill alarm that reverberated out and beyond the grapevine covered hills . A call to the owners, David and Margaret (Margo) Blesing that customers have arrived for wine tasting.
The husband-and-wife winegrowers may be outside tending the vineyard, row upon row of grapevines hugging the landscape as far as the eye can see. Or David (78) may be in the tractor ploughing a field. Margo (77) could be cooking a meal in the kitchen of the century old family home (built in 1920.) Their choice of doorbell is different and very tongue in cheek.
I couldn’t wait to meet them.
The family history
David’s great, great grandfather, Johann Gotlieb Blesing and his family left Prussia in 1841. They migrated by boat to South Australia, settling in the Barossa Valley. Ernst Gothilf Blesing, Johann’s sixth child, moved to Bangor in the Southern Flinders Ranges in 1893. They built a home, established an orchard in the limestone rich soil and planted grapevines – used for table grapes – not wine. The settlement was called Blesing’s Garden.
The current generation of winemakers
In 1970 David and Margo inherited the 1,500 acre Bangor property from David’s parents. The orchard and vines were long gone. A climate suited to growing grapes for wine and the ‘terra rossa’ soil – a reddish clay that drains well – lead to plenty of hearty discussions around the Blesing’s dinner table about planting wine making grapes.
“In the late 1990s a group of locals asked about the feasibility of growing grapes to produce wine,” explains Margo. “After seeking advice from a viticulturist, around 23 growers went into planting grapes.”
David and Margo joined the party and planted 30 acres of vines in 1998. Two years later they began making their own wine. “David would take a small quantity of white grapes to The University of Adelaide’s Waite Campus,” explains Margo. “They would create the wine, bottle it, then send it back to us and we’d sell it in hotels and bottle shops.”
Their reds were made by Stephen John in the Clare Valley. When Stephen retired they turned to Stone Bridge, also in the Clare. “And Waite Winery continue to make our white wines,” say Margo. They use David’s family name on their wine labels, a tribute to the vision and courage shown by his great grandfather’s move to Bangor. The white farmhouse and vineyards, are a snapshot from 1905.
Success with Peter Lehman Wines
Hard work and luck lead to a contract with Peter Lehman Wines, a fifth generation wine making family based in the Barossa.
“In the year 2000 over supply caused many growers to lose their contracts,” Margo explains. “Being a new and untried region many small producers were let go because of the over-supply, but Lehman’s honoured our contract.”
The Blesings supply Lehmann’s with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. “We keep a two tonne back-up of those grapes for our label,” says Margo. Other varieties like Riesling, Chardonnay, Semillon Merlot and Nebbiolo are made and labelled under the Blesing’s Gardens own wine label. The Blesing’s opened their cellar door in 2008. They now sell almost entirely from the cellar door, with limited sales to a small number of local outlets.
During the pandemic because Australians couldn’t cross the interstate border or go overseas, they drove to regional Australia. “No one had even heard of the Southern Flinders Ranges for winemaking,” says Margo. “But during COVID lockdowns, people came to visit. In 2021 we sold 115 dozen bottles of Shiraz. For the last three years we have sold out of stock every year,” says Margo happily.
Meet the winemakers David and Margo Blesing
Inside the cellar door, to the right of the tasting bar is a shiny black Yamaha baby grand piano. David’s mother was a pianist who loved classical music. David learnt music from his mother as a ‘young fella.’ If he happens to be in the vicinity of the tasting room, he will happily tinkle the ivories, while you taste their wines.
“Never mind his tsk tsking,” says Margo from behind the counter. As she twists the cap from a bottle of wine she explains, “When he plays he gets frustrated by the mistakes his arthritic riddled hands cause him to make.”
David is seated at the piano, hands hovering above the keys. He plays Mozart. (I didn’t recognise the piece – I had to ask!) Watching him, eyes closed, I feel he’s left the room we’re in – the music has transported him elsewhere. If he falters, he shakes his head, annoyed. At the end, he clasps his hands together. His dancing blue eyes close tightly, silently wishing away the arthritis. He offers an apology that is completely unnecessary. I am in awe of anyone who plays music so beautifully AND from memory.
Of the 30 acres of grapevines planted, the Shiraz, whites, Merlot and Nebbiolo grapes are grown on the hills. Because they ran out of space, the Cab Sav grapes are grown over the hill in another section. The couple used to do all the pruning but as they are well into their seventh decade, both David and Margo can be excused for bringing in contractors.
“All white grapes must be handpicked, but the Cab Sav and Merlot are done by machine.” They regularly seek support from the community with the grape picking. “Chardonnay must be selected first, then Riesling and Semillon. The Nebbiolo takes the longest to come on.”
In what many may consider their retirement years, I’m wondering why they are working so hard?
“This is a wonderful life,” says Margo smiling. “Yes, it has its challenging moments but so does everything. I like welcoming people at the cellar door and giving them a taste of what we’ve created. When they purchase a bottle to take home its a very satisfying end result of our hard labour.”
They enter wine shows for an unbiased opinion. In a small winemaker show held in Stanthorpe (Queensland) they received medals in all the categories they entered. Bronze for their Riesling, Chardonnay, Semillon (2022) and Nebbiolo (2021) and silver for Shiraz and Cabernet (2021).
Near the cellar door under the shade of the lemon scented gum tree, I survey the garden once more. The sculpture of the piano man, by metal sculptor Stephen Schwark (who once lived locally in Stillwater but now lives in Oklahoma America) is a metallic version of David, seated at a grand piano, arms outstretched towards the keys.
Margo feels it’s important for visitors to meet the creators – so they can hear their story. I’m glad we did. l leave with a few bottles of their 2021 Riesling to introduce to my Brisbane friends, a lovely dry wine they will not find anywhere else – unless they venture down to the Southern Flinders Ranges.
The story was published in the Flinders Magazine Autumn 2023 issue (inside the Valley Magazine)
I’ve shared it here, with a few edits, as the Flinders Mag doesn’t have an online presence.
Where to find Blesing’s Garden Wines
Blesing’s Garden Wines White Park Road, Bangor via Wirrabara SA 5481
Cellar Door Open 10:00am – 5:00pm 7 days a week, its worth the trip!
Phone: (08) 8666 5222
From their website:
Directions (from Port Germein)
If you are travelling from Port Germein along the Port Germein/ Murray Town Rd, drive for approximately 20km towards Murray Town until you see the Bangor Historic Site on your left. From here, there is a junction that is 200m further up the road, where you will see an A-Frame sign for Blesing’s Garden – turn right onto White park Rd and travel for 1.5 kilometers.
Directions (from Murray Town)
If you are travelling from Murray Town, head south towards Wirrabara for approximately 4km until you see the signage for Port Germein. Turn right on to the Port Germein-Murray Town Rd and drive for approximately 9km. The Blesing’s Garden Cellar Door A-Frame sign will be on your left. Follow the signs from here for 1.5km.
We don’t have visitors, we have guests…
Sit. Just for a moment.
Listen. Magpies serenade.
Look. Ancient weathered hills and valleys surround.
Smell. Eucalyptus…the warmth of the sun’s rays on green vines and dust beneath your feet.
Feel. The late summer afternoon breeze envelope you.
Taste. It’s like nothing that’s passed your lips before. Sensual chocolate, ripe raisin and vanilla lingers.