On the frontline
There’s a story to be told about the patchwork of soldiers’ blocks dotted across the Riverland. Ricca Terra is devoted to capturing it.
Ashley Ratcliff is a driven bloke and pretty much as busy as it gets but he’ll always make time to ski the River Murray. It is his happy place. Life after all, is about balance.
If Ashley isn’t barrelling at high speed down the stunning stretch of water, he can usually be found in the vineyards he and his wife Holly grow across the region. The couple runs Ricca Terra Vitners (made up of individual in vineyards located in Barmera) and has their collective eye on the future. Ashley is relentless in championing the Riverland as a premium wine grape growing region and tends a dizzying amount of alternate grape varieties.
“Alternative varieties are really important,” Ashley says. “But we’ve also got to look to the past.”
The region’s soldiers land captures his imagination. Delve into their back story and a moving century-old story of family and cultivation unfolds.
After WWI and WWII, returned soldiers were offered small plots of land as part of the Australian government’s Soldiers Settlement Scheme.
“They were sent up here to a life of farming,” Ashley says. “The first soldier settlement was a bit of a failure because they didn’t have experience in farming. It was tough. This was 100 years ago; back then, you’d survive off eating rabbits you caught. The second settlement program was more successfully because they gave them agricultural training.”
Many of them are hidden; dotted across the flat red land, but Ashley seeks them out, determined to produce wine with the quality fruit they produce.
By nature, the plots were small (six-hectare) and each soldier played an important role in the patchwork of produce across the Riverland. “Stone fruit, grapes, vegetables. They are important because they have some of the best fruit on them,” Ashley says. “The plantings are like a snapshot of history. A lot of them were pulled out due to economic reasons but many of them are still there and we’re always on the hunt for them – we want to showcase the fruit from these 90-year-old vines. It is really wonderful, low yielding, hand-pruned stuff. We just can’t pull these vines out.”
Ricca Terra produces a Soldiers’ Land Shiraz and a Soldiers’ Land Grenache, with more on the horizon. Through the wines, there’s a hope to keep the memory of returned soldiers alive. “Those vines and their stories have purpose,” Ashley says. “Especially the way the world is at the moment. There are people fighting wars on the frontline right now who really don’t want to be there. It wouldn’t have been easy for the soldiers coming back.”
Ricca Terra makes an annual donation to the RSL (The Returned and Services League of Australia). “If we can help them even a little, that’s great.”
Ashley has a cracking back story of his own. He was born in Essex, UK, and his parents met at Scotland Yard. “My dad was a detective and we emigrated to Australia when I was young. I grew up on a farm in the Adelaide Hills and now live in the Barossa.”
Fruit-wise, the Riverland stole his imagination and Ashley now splits his time between the regions.
You’re as likely to find Ricca Terra wines at the local pub or a hip interstate bar. That’s the beauty of boundary pushing. Ricca Terra’s small batch wine fall under the labels Ricca Terra (primarily Italian varieties), Terra Do Rio (made using Portuguese varieties such as Tinta Amarela, Monvedro, Touriga Nacional, Arinto, Alvarinho, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela, and Tinta Cão), and 22 Degree Halo which provides a stepping stone into exotic varieties by blending the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon with Nero d’Avola. There’s also Fiano, Greco, Vermentino, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Grenache Blanc, Zibibbo, Negroamaro, Greco, Nero d’Avola, Aglianico, Tempranillo, Lagrein, Aglianico, Nero d’Avola, and Durif to play with – just to name a few.
“Each brand we produce has a different market. Our model is to make wine and get it out to the market fresh. These are varieties that have a great future.”