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Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill Winery in McLaren Vale was built on the site of the Seaview Chapel and school house. The 1865 ironstone Chapel still proudly stands today and is an integral feature of the tasting room. Planting of the vineyard commenced in 1972 and the first vintage was in 1975. Perched on the edge of the spectacular Onkaparinga Gorge, shallow rocky soils are a feature with sweeping views back over McLaren Vale and Gulf St Vincent.

“The purity and balance expressed in our wines is inspired by a deep respect for our land and vines.” Michael Fragos.


Chapel Hill Winery is named after our iconic ironstone Chapel, built by Methodist settlers to the McLaren Vale area and officially opened on December 5, 1865. It served as a place of worship, school and social gathering spot for local farming families for a century. A special commemorative service was held on December 5, 1965 to officially close the Chapel after 100 years of use.

The Chapel began its next chapter in the early 1970’s. Boarded up and in disrepair, the historic stone building positioned high atop a ridge in Northern McLaren Vale, caught the eye of Adelaide Professor Thomas Nelson. Tom purchased the building and surrounding land from the Uniting Church and planted the first vines on the site in 1972. He worked tirelessly to methodically convert the old Chapel and add sympathetic additional spaces to the site to create a winery, offices and tasting room – the foundation for the current Chapel Hill Winery.

A feature of the chapel renovations is the stain glass window which is Chapel Hill’s logo, said to have been constructed in Glasgow around 1770. Tom purchased the window from an Adelaide chapel that was set for demolition, the chapel was run by the Trevelion family, prominent South Australian funeral directors.

The growth of Chapel Hill Winery into a world-renowned wine producer was led by winemaker Pam Dunsford. Pam was a pioneering winemaker in South Australia. The first female graduate of the acclaimed winemaking course at Roseworthy in 1983, Pam’s work led to many acclaims and awards for Chapel Hill Winery, a lot of those great wines from the 1990’s are still drinking beautifully today.

Chapel Hill has had only a handful of custodians since Thomas Nelson, with the Sellick and Gerrard families adding to the rich tapestry of buildings, brand and place. The Swiss Schmidheiny family’s long-running love affair with wine led them to a dream of owning a world-class Australian winery – a dream that was realised in December 2000 when they purchased Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill celebrated its 40th consecutive vintage in 2014 and with strong foundations in place from all who have come before, look forward to the next chapter of the Chapel Hill story.


Perched on the side of the Onkaparinga Gorge with views to the sea, the beautiful Chapel Hill vineyard boasts elevation, ancient rocks, contoured plantings and moderating sea breezes. The undulating landscape results in a series of small blocks with unique combinations of geology, soil, aspect and climate.

At the winery, we view ourselves as custodians of this very special place and continually strive to make improvements to grape growing practices. Chapel Hill was one of the first wineries in the region to embrace the McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing Australia program.

The vineyard is irrigated with reclaimed water from the Willunga Basin Water Company ensuring there are no negative impacts on the underground water table.  As the winery does not have access to mains water, rain water is collected and utilised in the winery. The winery waste water is then captured and treated via a wetlands system for vineyard irrigation.

All marc and bunch stems from the winery are composted on site then spread back on to the vineyard, negating the need for synthetic fertilisers.

The winery spray program has been revised to minimise the impact on beneficial insects, helping to maintain a natural balance in the vineyard and prevent pest and disease outbreaks.  Double-row equipment is used where possible to reduce compaction of the precious soils.

Hoeing, spot spraying and brush-cutting have replaced blanket under-vine weed spraying.  Volunteer cover crops have been encouraged in both the mid-row and under-vine area to smother out problem weeds.   These grasses are left to die off naturally over summer, providing valuable cover for the soil and hence decreasing evaporation, increasing organic carbon levels and reducing erosion.  Overall soil health is continually improving as a result.  These grasses are also great for biodiversity as they provide a favourable environment for the beneficial insects which help to control other pests and diseases that can damage the vines and fruit.

Due to the age of the winery plantings, a regeneration phase has been entered for many of the older blocks.  Reworking these vines removes problematic diseases such as eutypa (dead arm) and revitalises the vines.  The age-old technique of layering is used to replace any vines that require replacing.

The Kangarilla Vineyard was first planted in 1995. The vineyard is nestled in the foothills of the Mt Lofty Ranges.  Due to the influence of elevation and the moderating effect of the cooling gully breezes, we are able to achieve favourable slower ripening conditions to obtain optimum flavour development, whilst still retaining stylish varietal definition and purity.

As a result, we have focussed the white varieties at the Kangarilla Vineyard as it is an ideal site within McLaren Vale to capture the more delicate fruit characters associated with these varietals.


To complement the grapes grown at the winery, Chapel Hill also sources grapes from a range of ‘like-minded’ grower vineyards.  The growers are highly valued and are an integral part of the Chapel Hill family.  The focus when selecting growers is on small, unique blocks that provide provenance and a sense of place.  A close relationship is maintained throughout the year and consists of regular communication, vineyard visits, winery tastings and events.  Growers are encouraged to visit Chapel Hill during vintage and taste their wines during the ferment process. Comprehensive post vintage tastings provide valuable feedback on the quality and end use of their fruit.  Selecting grapes from various vineyards provides options in wine style, harvest timing and varietal complexity.

Growers who have fruit selected for the Chapel Hill flagship wine, The Vicar, are recognised on the label for their dedication to quality and excellence.

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