In the heart of Langhorne Creek, South Australia, lies a vineyard with a story etched in time - a tale of legacy, passion, and a trophy that set the wheels of history in motion. The iconic Metala label, made at Stonyfell wines, achieved a feat that would forever resonate in the world of wine – winning the very first Jimmy Watson Trophy at the Melbourne Royal Wine Show.
The story began in 1891 when William Formby and his son Arthur planted the first vines on the Metala property, the vineyard that would later give birth to the iconic Metala brand. Today, the legacy is carried forward by Guy Adams, the fifth-generation owner, who keeps the tradition alive and the wine flowing.
"My family planted the original vineyard here in 1891 in Langhorne Creek,” said Adams proudly. “We had a family connection with the Martin family of Stonyfell. My Great grandfather Arthur Formby married Elsie Landseer. Her sister Hilda was married to Ronald Martin of Stonyfell. It was with his encouragement and support that saw my family plant Shiraz and Cabernet vines. I am now the 5th Generation custodian of those beautiful old girls.”
We had cellars on the property from 1902 -1952. A winemaker from Stonyfell would come down each vintage to make the wines then return at various times of the year to check on their progress. Up until the 1940’s the wines were almost exclusively fortified and sold to England.
Brian Dolan became the winemaker here in the 1940’s and during his time he began to play around with dry table wines. In 1952 the cellars on the farm were closed as road transport had improved enough to take the grapes to the Stonyfell Winery in the Adelaide Hills.
It was Brian who made the now famous inaugural Jimmy Watson Trophy winner – a 1961 Cabernet Shiraz that had been submitted as Stonyfell Claret, the fruit for which had been sourced from Metala. Brian had always wanted to showcase the wines from Metala as an estate product and winning the Jimmy Watson gave him the opportunity to suggest using the property name for the label. Working with the famous designer Wytt Morro, the iconic label was created, becoming the first Australian wine label to feature individually numbered bottles.
The first wine to be bottled under the Metala Label was the 1959 vintage when it was ready for release and then subsequent vintage were released in due course. Stonyfell had registered the label under their name and when they sold to Dalgety wine Estates in 1972 the label went with the business. So began a 55-year symbiotic relationship between the Metala Vineyards and who ever owned the label at the time. Metala was produced as an estate wine until 2017 when the then owners, TWE, decided that the provenance of the fruit was not important and cut Metala’s grape supply contract.
“That was the pivotal moment for me” says Guy. “We had tried to bring the brand home before but this decision motivated me to double down on returning the brand to our family ownership. In 2022 we came to an arrangement with TWE and now all the Metala wines are completely estate grown and made here on the property.”
The focus for Metala now is restoration of the brands heritage and tradition with a strong emphasis on the consistency and quality consumers have come to rightfully expect. To that end, we are working with Brian’s son Nigel Dolan, himself a Jimmy Watson Trophy winner and the winemaker for Metala for many years, to ensure the styles and essence of the brand is maintained.
"The pandemic changed the consumer, so one of the things that we've noticed post-COVID is the consumer has very much pivoted… they're looking for paddock to plate, they are looking for provenance and understanding the story behind what they're consuming," Guy says.
Beyond the trophies and awards, Adams finds his true passion in the connection between the vineyard and its consumers.
"It's really seeing the pleasure that you can produce just by giving people a snapshot of our life through a glass of wine" he shared, highlighting the joy that comes from sharing the fruits of their labour with consumers around the world.
As the 60th Jimmy Watson Trophy approaches, Metala Wines stands poised at the intersection of history and progress. A journey that began in 1961 continues, each vintage weaving its story into the rich tapestry of Australian wine history. With a trophy proudly displayed and a bottle ready to toast the next winner, Adams eagerly awaits the unveiling of the newest chapter in the Jimmy Watson legacy.
“It's such a privilege to be part of the Jimmy family, having won a Jimmy Watson Trophy,” says Adams.
“Not only that, to have won the inaugural Jimmy Watson Trophy, it really is a special part of my heart in the sense that it really set the wheels in motion to propel Metala, the vineyard and the label, into the 21st century.”