Nestled in the northern Mount Lofty Ranges, the picture-perfect Clare Valley wine region is just two hours’ drive from Adelaide. The Clare Valley’s wineries and cellar doors are some of the most welcoming in Australia, with a real sense of hospitality and an open, honest, authentic approach to wine. This historic region is a heartland for riesling, but you’ll also find rich reds and an array of other intriguing varieties on pour at its cellar doors. One example of the latter is assyrtiko, with Halliday Wine Companion award-winning winery Jim Barry Wines home to the first plantings of this Greek white variety in Australia.
Welcome to the Clare Valley
The twisting, tree-lined roads of the Clare Valley will lead you to discoveries around every bend. This rolling wine region is pretty and peaceful, and you’ll enjoy much of your time here without crowds. Prepare to visit a range of iconic, historic, and exciting wineries. As well as wine tasting, hike and bike through the stunning natural environment, refuel at charming restaurants and pubs, and spend some time just gazing out to the horizon.
the history of wine in the clare VALLEY
Vineyards began cropping up in the Clare Valley in the mid-19th century. According to James Halliday in his Wine Atlas of Australia, Englishman John Horrocks was the first to put in vines, establishing the first rows on his Hope Farm site in 1840. The Jesuit Brothers founded Sevenhill shortly after, with their initial intent to make sacramental wine. Other industries that brought people and wealth to the Clare Valley included copper mining, wheat farming, and silver mining. This last part is important. It was in 1885 that high-quality slate was discovered, a natural resource of benefit to wine, too, with the region’s minerally soils ideal for growing riesling. It was also around this time that wine really started to accelerate – by the turn of the 20th century, the land under vine had more than doubled, and exports were booming. A couple of sizeable players dominated production, but small yet significant wineries such as Wendouree also made a mark. By the 1980s, successful wine companies like Hardys and Penfolds began taking notice and invested in the region.
Today, the Clare Valley is home to wineries big and small – from family-run brands with long legacies to first-generation producers doing things their way. Despite the tradition this region has to draw upon, it is known for its willingness to innovate. The tight-knit community here has been responsible for everything from the move to screwcap, an initiative led by Jeffrey Grosset in mid-2000, to pushing new varieties and styles.
The winemaking conditions of the clare valley
While the climate in the Clare Valley is technically warm, maritime breezes have a moderating effect, and there are often drastic temperature drops from day to night (sometimes swinging as much as 40 degrees Celsius). It is this combination of climatic characteristics that means the Clare Valley can make some of the best rieslings in Australia. Colder nights, elevated sites, and ideal slate and stone soil types all contribute to the Clare Valley’s success with this aromatic white variety.
“More than any other district, the Clare Valley throws into question the accuracy of the heat summation index as a measure of climate,” James Halliday says. “The style of the wines is inconsistent with a climate seemingly so warm – the continental climate and cold nights in the growing season provide the answer,” he explains.
clare valley wine types
The Clare Valley is one of the few Australian regions where a focus on riesling is reflected by substantial plantings, which here are nearly on equal footing with shiraz. Along with nearby Eden Valley, the Clare Valley is one of the most important destinations for riesling in Australia. That being said, you can also expect some highly drinkable reds from the region, with cabernet sauvignon and shiraz in a plush, medium-bodied style, as well as many emerging wine varieties, from fiano to assyrtiko, tempranillo and malbec. The three varieties ahead, however, still hold the lion’s share of plantings.
Clare Valley riesling is classically floral and citrusy, but with a beautiful depth of flavour. The region’s ageworthy wines typically evolve from tart lemon, lime and Granny Smith apple characters to a softer profile of honey and toast. Recently, Clare Valley producers have been experimenting with styles that have a touch of sweetness and spice.
Juicy plum and berry fruit within a framework of oak are usual of Clare Valley shiraz. Medium- to full-bodied styles with balance and richness are characteristic of the region.
Clare Valley cabernet sauvignon is full of fleshy dark fruit, currants and chocolatey decadence, plus spicy notes from oak. These flavoursome styles, with their fine tannin and refreshing acid, can be quite approachable when young.
things to do in the clare valleY
While Clare Valley wine tours will naturally be on the itinerary, the region’s offering extends to outdoor activities, excellent dining, and so much more. Cycle the 35-kilometre Riesling Trail through the vines, explore the historic townships, go on nature walks at the local reserves, visit farm gates and markets, dine at character-filled restaurants and taverns, and pop into a brewery. The Clare Valley region also hosts several events throughout the year, with one of the biggest the Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend in May, featuring a jam-packed program that celebrates the region’s award-winning wine and produce. Otherwise, you will find great food, wine and entertainment options on the Clare Valley calendar all year round.
Clare Valley Accommodation
While it’s possible to visit the Clare Valley on a day trip from Adelaide, this beautiful region has so much to offer that it’s worth booking accommodation for a couple of nights and taking your time to explore it. There is a range of options available to accommodate all types of travellers. If you’re visiting for a romantic getaway, consider one of the area’s luxury lodges, unique bed and breakfasts or cosy cottages. Groups of friends may enjoy the country club which has an adjoining 18-hole golf course or self-contained apartments. Families might prefer a stay at one of the local caravan parks which have recreational facilities to keep the kids entertained.
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Early March to late April