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"The region is so effortless in the fun-loving lifestyle it exudes, that I always feel a little guilty visiting the area for 'work'.” Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW and wine writer The Wine Advocate
Less than an hour from the South Australian capital Adelaide, McLaren Vale is within easy reach for visitors, only 40 kilometres south of the city. Built around the coast of the Great Australian Bight, the region has a Mediterranean feel, reflecting the seaside location and the early settlers who first came here, many of whom were Italian and German.
Known for a relaxed pace and a mecca for great food and wine, McLaren Vale is a very diverse region boasting a unique mix of sub-regions that display different characteristics reflected in the wines that are produced. Over time, different regions have been identified as better-suited for different varietals, depending on their geology, soils, elevation, rainfall and distance from the sea. With over 7463 hectares of the region covered in vineyards, it is the skill of passionate winemakers who are drawn to McLaren Vale to create the award winning wines that the region is known for.
While 51% of McLaren Vale vines are Shiraz, the region is also home to many other varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet. McLaren Vale also embraces lesser known varieties such as Grenache, Mouvèdre (Mataro), Fiano and Vermentino.
The region generally commences harvest in late January/early February, right through until April, working across the different varieties and sub-regions.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Shiraz are sourced from Seaview. Soils range from quite sandy to red clays with quite a bit of surface iron stone. Soils include Reynella Siltstone, North Maslin and South Maslin Sands, Tapleys Hill Formation and Blanche Point Formation. Seaview sits above the McLaren Vale township at roughly 110 metres above sea level.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are the varieties that Rosemount Estate currently source from Blewitt Springs (Grenache also performs strongly). Generally, deep sands abound. The underlying geology consists of North Maslin and South Maslin Sands. Altitude is roughly 166 metres above sea level. This area has higher rainfall and lower temperatures than the rest of McLaren Vale.
Tatachilla is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache and Shiraz. Soils vary greatly in this sub-region (With alluvial soils through to black cracking clays). Predominately, the geologies are Pirramimma Sandstone, Ochre Cove Formation, Ngaltinga Formation and Blanche Point Formation. The majority of McLaren Vale would sit at between 90 and 100 metres above sea level. The sub region is a more exposed area and thus hotter than McLaren Flat.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Mataro and Shiraz are sourced from McLaren Flat. Being in a natural low point below Blewitt Springs, soils in McLaren Flat are more alluvial. A mixture of geologies are found in this sub-region: Kurrajong Formation, Pirramimma Sandstone and Christies Beach Formation. The Kurrajong Formation is found mainly along the foothills, Pirramimma Sandstone along the ridge tops and the Christies Beach Formation in the lower lying areas. The altitude is approximately 95 metres above sea level in the village of McLaren Flat. Due to the lower nature of the topography, this area is more protected from winds and higher temperatures.
Aldinga is known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Deep, dark cracking clays persist throughout the majority of this sub-region. The underlying geologies are alluvial clays to the east and Ngaltinga Formation heading to the north and west (towards the coast). At between 50 and 30 metres above sea level, this is the lowest sub-region in terms of altitude.
Willunga is known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Shiraz. Soils are predominately black cracking clays. The geology associated with the area is Christies Beach Formation. The area sits at between 80 and 90 metres above sea level. Willunga is quite prone to strong gulley winds.
Shiraz and Chardonnay are sourced from Sellicks Foothills. Soils tend to be quite gravelly on the foothills running down to black cracking clays on the flats. Geology of the Sellicks Hills area is Christies Beach Formation and Ngaltinga Formation. On a north facing slope this tends to be the warmest area of McLaren Vale. Like Willunga it also gets quite strong gully winds. From the foothills, altitude runs to 80 metres down to 30 metres on the flats.