McLaren Vale is an absolutely gorgeous wine region located on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula just 22 miles (35 kilometers) south of Adelaide. There is something on offer to suit every palate with around 80 cellar doors and a variety of tasting experiences to choose from. The region is home to both large scale and boutique producers. Over one third of McLaren Vale’s wineries take advantage of the abundant seasonal produce on the Fleurieu Peninsula, incorporating the region’s products within tasting experiences – from high-end, starred restaurants to custom made platters.
The region can proudly claim the title of the birthplace of wine in South Australia. McLaren Vale was founded by John McLaren in 1838. The families of William Colton and Charles Hewitt were the first to settle there were. Both were immigrants from Devonshire who established the Daringa and Oxenberry farms, encouraging others to immigrate to the region by accounts of their farming success. Oxynberry is still around today producing award winning wines. Grapes were first planted in McLaren Vale in 1839 by Thomas Hardy and John Reynell. Both men went on to start wineries of their own — Hardy founded the Australian giant Hardy Wine Company and Reynell started Seaview. Today, McLaren Vale boasts a massive 6,000+ hectares under vine.
In addition to South Australia’s oldest region, McLaren Vale is also the most picturesque. The region rests between the Mount Lofty Ranges and the Gulf of St. Vincent, bound in the northwest by the Onkaparinga River. Visitors should be prepared for stunning views as rolling hills lined with vineyards give way to ocean views.
The McLaren Vale region is described by many as the Mediterranean of Australia with mild winters, warm summers, and seasonal rainfall that typically shows up around late autumn and winter. The vicinity to the Gulf of St. Vincent provides a maritime influence helping to cool the vineyards during hot, dry summers. Regional winds also blow down the Mount Lofty slopes and in from the Gulf to help cool the vines. Elevation ranges from 0-417m. Rainfall averages 225mm over the growing season and around 600mm per year. Many micro and meso climates can be found throughout the region due to diverse topography.
This large region boasts over 40 separate geological configurations. Soil types vary between yellow clay, limestone, red/brown loam, terra rossa, and sandy soils. Red or brown loamy sand soils are quite common. Generally, soils in the region are fairly free draining.
Though McLaren Vale is home to a wide range of varieties, Shiraz reigns supreme claiming 50% of the region’s vineyards. McLaren Vale Shiraz can be full-bodied with pronounced notes of spices, bitter chocolate, and dark berries or can be more nuanced and medium bodied with notes of raspberries. The flavor profile depends on the site where the wine was grown. In more recent years the region has been recognized for outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon and even more so Grenache. Australian wine critic James Halliday even likened McLaren Vale Grenache to that of the Rhône Valley.
More and more Mediterranean varieties are being planted in this Mediterranean-esque climate. Think Vermentino, Fiano, Sangiovese, Barbera, Savignan, and more! Reds are definitely favored here with production at around 90% red wine to 10% white wine.
Deciding which wineries to visit can be a daunting task when faced with over 80 options! Here are my favorites to help you narrow it down a bit.
Primo Estate – High quality wine showcasing Mediterranean varieties and unique production methods. Affordable tasting experience in a timeless cellar door.
Paxton – Organic and biodynamic wines offered in a laid-back setting amongst the estates gorgeous vineyards.
D’Arenberg – A must experience for anyone visiting the region. Trust me, just go and see for yourself.
Serafino – A winery with incredible history, award-winning wines, and a gorgeous estate.
Mollydooker – Some seriously impressive Shiraz and a new approach to the cellar door tasting experience.