The fertile and bounteous Adelaide Hills is the traditional land of the Peramangk people. Parts of the foothills were also shared with the neighbouring Kuarna people of the Adelaide Plains, especially after the arrival of Europeans.
Mount Lofty – the highest point in the Adelaide Hills – was named by Matthew Flinders in 1802 when he circumnavigated the coastline of Australia in 1802. A later explorer Collet Barker climbed it in 1831, providing sightings of the Port River, which would help Colonel William Light determine the place for the settlement of Adelaide in 1836.
South Australia was settled as a free "non-convict" colony, attracting shiploads of optimistic small farmers, artisans and business people, keen to make their fortune.
Most of the new settlers were from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and many established villages such as Stirling, Crafers and Bridgewater in the cool, green park-like environment of the hills, which reminded them of home.
By 1839 German and Silesian emigrants were also arriving, fleeing religious persecution in Old Europe, and they started their own European style villages at Hahndorf and Lobethal.
The first South Australian vineyard was planted in 1836 by a settler name John Barton Hack in Chichester Gardens, North Adelaide. They were no doubt European vine cuttings such as Grenache or Shiraz, gathered in Cape Town and hastily planted on arrival.
Escaping the rapid urban development in the city, Hack pulled his vineyard in 1840 and transplanted the vines to Echunga Springs near Mount Barker. In 1843, Hack sent a case of wine made from the vineyard to Queen Victoria, the first gift of Australian wine to an English monarch.
Other hills vineyards followed including Auldana in 1842 and Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold's "The Grange" at Magill in 1844 as well as plantings by Arthur Hardy at Mount Lofty; John Baker's Morialta Vineyard at Norton Summit; EJ Peake at Clarendon, Glen Ewin Wines at Houghton (today Willabrand Fig Orchards) and Harry Dove Young's Holmesdale at Kanmantoo.
One of the major influences on colonial Adelaide Hills winemaking was Edmund Mazure, a French trained winemaker who was employed by Sir Samuel Davenport at Beaumont in 1884. He went on to work at Young's Kanmantoo vineyard and Auldana Vineyards where he pioneered methode champenoise champagne and sparkling burgundy - a unique Australian red wine style.
From 1840 to 1900 a total of 225 grape growers practised viticulture and winemaking in the central Mount Lofty Ranges.
However, many of these early vineyards and wineries went bankrupt in the early 1900s due to the removal of Imperial Preference, which had favoured exports of Australian produce to the United Kingdom. For the next 50 years the land was used for dairying, beef cattle, sheep and fruit and vegetable growing.
A revival took place in the 1970s and 1980s with a new group of pioneers such as Brian Croser, Stephen George, Tim Knappstein and Stephen and Prue Henschke, Geoff Weaver, Michael Hill Smith and Martin Shaw, who recognised the cool climate characteristics of the region.
Since then it has become a mecca for small artisan winemakers keen to produce elegant, long lasting European style wines.