It’s a hot, sunny day as I drive my friend’s little workhorse car through the winding roads of the Adelaide Hills, steadily making my way to the fabled natural wine wonderland known as The Summertown Aristologist, a little less than half an hour away from Adelaide city. In classic hills style, I’ve lost track of time chatting to a winemaker down the road, and arrive to the Aristologist too late for lunch—but luckily still in time to be served up some housemade bread and saucisson alongside Tasmanian cheese, and a glass of deliciously fizzy wine.
While Basket Range and the Adelaide Hills have long been heralded as a concentrated microcosm of minimal intervention winemakers, the venues in the broader area have historically focussed on cheap beer and counter meals that are typically served with chips and some limp lettuce masquerading as salad. It’s a state of affairs that has long been a gripe of the local winemakers, and one that some of those same winemakers have set out to change on their own terms—in this case by creating the sort of place they’d want to go to themselves. Opened in October of 2016, The Summertown Aristologist is the brainchild of winemakers Jasper Button (Commune of Buttons) and Anton van Klopper (Lucy Margaux), along with hospitality gun Aaron Fenwick (formerly of Orana restaurant).
The Aristologist sits on the corner at the top of the hill in the suburb of Summertown, with the interior being split in two, with a large open kitchen to the left (with some bar-seating so patrons can watch the magic happen) matched by timber booth seating and a large communal table to the right. This is paired with an outdoor seating area featuring high wooden tables, perfectly situated to take in the afternoon sun while drinking a delicious drop. On walking down the narrow stairs to the right of the inside seating, the temperature immediately drops at least five degrees and you’re met with a cellar full of bottle-lined walls and hunks of meat slowly curing in their dedicated cavern.
Chatting with Fenwick, he outlined their goals with the Aristologist—they’re pretty simple, and at the same time daring, befitting of the wines being poured here. “We want to create a beautiful world,” he told me, “where there is a lot of work done in the background to ensure purity and nourishment. However, what really matters to us is the enjoyment of simple pleasures done right.”
The food menu here is super fresh and seasonal, with 70 percent of produce coming from Van Klopper’s garden patch alone. The rest comes from local suppliers who farm with the same principles—organically and sustainably. The offering is largely vegetable-driven, with a balance of fresh, cured, and fermented foods, with all of the curing and fermenting taking place in-house. Great produce is lovingly combined and served in a small share-plate style, with combinations like raw fish, lemon verbena and green strawberry, or zucchini, basil, and smoked curd. For dessert think dishes like fig leaf, plum, and caramel made from milk whey.
While you could quite happily go to the Aristologist for the food alone, the real drawcard here is clearly the wine list—encompassing winemakers from all around the world that are able to meet their strict criteria. To make the list, winemakers must work only with organic fruit, add nothing and take nothing away from the wine (i.e. no filtering, fining, or heat treatments), and have no more than 20ppm of sulphur. It’s a set of restrictions that’s still not strict enough for Van Klopper; if he had his way, he told me over a splash at the bar, there’d be no sulphur allowed at all, effective immediately.
A small selection of wine comes by the glass, with everything else on the list by the half bottle or bottle. Here you’ll find the expected selection of wines from Button and Van Klopper’s own wine labels as well as a bevy of gems making up the 380-strong cuvées from the likes of Jean-Pierre Robinot, Partida Creus, Manon, l’Octavin, Radikon, Gentle Folk, and many more. The team here have even started up an importing business under the Aristologist name, with their first shipment coming in later this year. If you’re after something that isn’t wine, there’s a range of naturally made spirits from the folks at Spirit People and Man of Spirit, or even a wild-fermented ale or cider from Two Metre Tall.
It seems so simple, but it took winemakers to make it happen: a restaurant befitting the prestige and promise of the Adelaide Hills, rightly looked at as a new global hub for outrageously good natural wine. Fitting all of this goodness under one roof is an ambitious task, but one that’s been accepted by locals and visitors alike. “It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” Fenwick tells me, beaming. “It’s amazing that we can create something for us to enjoy first, but to then have people also support and enjoy it, well…it’s just incredible.”
Eileen P. Kenny is a Sprudge Media Network contributor based in Melbourne.