McLaren Vale

South Australia

About

Bordered by mountains and sea, the McLaren Vale wine region provides interest for the traditional and intrepid wine lover alike, with its wineries serving up classic wines, surprising styles and impressive quality across the board.

As the first place vines were planted in South Australia, McLaren Vale is a well-established wine region with a wealth of haloed, ancient sites. And with its wine trail offering a huge range of producers experimenting with all manner of varieties and styles; landscapes stretching from the Mount Lofty Ranges through undulating vineyards and out to the sea; and cellar doors dishing up experiences from the casual to the conceptual, it’s a dream destination for travellers.

"McLaren Vale has many secrets waiting to be discovered, from the folds of its ever-changing landscape, to its small restaurants and cellar doors and the spectacular d’Arenberg Cube." – James Halliday


If you’re touching down in the city, it’s a short 45-minute road-trip from Adelaide to McLaren Vale. Adding to its appeal, McLaren Vale is within easy reach of the Fleurieu region’s breezy beaches, made inviting by the typically temperate weather, and if you have some extra time it could be worth tacking on the drive and ferry ride to visit the dramatic, deserted coves of Kangaroo Island. That said, with McLaren Vale’s charming heritage architecture, tempting restaurants, 80-plus cellar doors, and producers of food and drink from cheeses to spirits, olive oils, honey, chutney, chocolate and more, you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied.

McLaren Vale's history

With nearly 200 years of winemaking history, McLaren Vale is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions. But this doesn’t mean it’s set in its ways. In fact, one of the hallmarks of McLaren Vale is its inventiveness, with winemakers constantly pushing the boundaries and setting new benchmarks. Since its beginnings in the early 1800s, McLaren Vale has excelled with Rhone red varieties such as shiraz and grenache, but it was with an influx of Italian migrants that the food and wine scene here really spread its wings. Today, it is revered as a home of food-friendly varietals that reflect its mix of influences and warm, dry climate.

James Halliday on the early days of McLaren Vale:

Unlike the Silesian background of the Barossa and Clare Valleys, the development of the Southern Vales – from Reynella to McLaren Vale to Langhorne Creek – was almost exclusively due to the efforts of Englishmen. More precisely, to the efforts of three men: John Reynell, Thomas Hardy and Dr A.C. Kelly, with a lesser contribution from George Manning at Hope Farm and Frank Potts at Langhorne Creek.

Despite the early start – John Reynell laid the foundations for Chateau Reynella in 1838 – viticulture initially played second fiddle to wheat, which enjoyed a brief boom during the 1850s and 1860s. As in the Clare Valley, the soil’s fertility was soon exhausted; the wheat fields disappeared as quickly as they had arrived.

In large part due to the success of Thomas Hardy, who acquired Tintara from Dr A.C. Kelly in 1876, the pace of viticultural development steadily picked up through the 1880s and 1890s. In 1903 over three million litres of wine (almost entirely red and fortified) was made by the 19 wineries in the district. 

“In the late 19th century McLaren Vale had a brisk trade with the UK based in no small measure on the belief of some English doctors that the ‘ferruginous’ qualities of the wineswould restore the health of anaemic patients.” – James Halliday

THE STORY OF MCLAREN VALE'S SOILS

McLaren Vale’s climate is a contributing factor to its diverse wine styles, but that’s not the whole story. The success of its wine is linked to an intricate geological story under-vine. Up to 50 sub-soils can be found across the region, some dating back 550 million years, and they each contribute to the character of its sub-districts and wines. An intensive piece of work has been done to map these, showing specifics about the soil types, where in the region they exist and how old they are, as well as where McLaren Vale's wineries lie in relation to them. 

MCLAREN VALE'S SUB-REGIONS

McLaren Vale is demarcated by its various elevations and soils into several distinctive sub-regions. Their proximities to the mountains and sea also create particular microclimates, which in turn influence the styles of their resulting wines. Of these, one of the most celebrated is Blewitt Springs, with sand over clay soils and a location alongside the southern part of the Mount Lofty Ranges that’s sacred for winemaking. According to James Halliday, the wines here “have a unique structure, texture, flavour and style, elegant yet highly aromatic and effortlessly flavoured”. Others sub-regions of note are Willunga, Sellicks, Seaview and McLaren Flat.

Mclaren Vale's Wine Varieties

The Mediterranean climate, mixed with the cooling influence of the Mount Lofty Ranges and the coastline, means an array of wine varieties are successfully grown and made in McLaren Vale. Shiraz in a complex, sumptuous style dominates the landscape and its cabernet sauvignon competes with some of the best, but it’s McLaren Vale grenache that has industry insiders talking. In addition to these note-worthy reds, there’s a throng of wines that thrive here – especially Italian and Spanish varietals that are suited to the environment.

“Grenache is McLaren Vale’s secret weapon – not merely Australia’s best, but every bit as good as that of the Rhône Valley.” – James Halliday

McLaren Vale's winemaking

The riches of McLaren Vale have attracted top talent from around Australia, with backgrounds as varied as the wines. The industry includes savvy business people who have come here for a creative, country change; sommeliers putting their knowledge to the ultimate test; well-known wineries opening their brands up to more playful styles; successful winemakers taking their crafts in fresh directions; and eco-warriors with organic, biodynamic and sustainable wineries that lead the way worldwide. There are also those who have always been here. Multi-generational wineries that uphold the history of the region play an integral part. In addition to Mother Nature’s influence, the hand of the winemaker is not lost on McLaren Vale’s wines. Experimentation spans the use of alternative vessels (i.e. clay amphora and ceramic eggs over the traditional oak and steel), fermentation with wild yeasts to create surprising character and impressive texture, the grafting of vineyards to less-known varietals, and the puzzling together of those less-known styles into blends that are truly idiosyncratic wines.

Facts

Wineries 177
Tasting Notes 9729

Geographic

Latitude 34°14’S
Altitude 50–200 m
Heat Degree Days 1910
Growing Season Rainfall 180 mm
Mean January Temp 21.7°C
Harvest Mid February to late April