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Your 2022 Guide to the McLaren Vale Wine Region SA

Posted by David Laity on
Your 2022 Guide to the McLaren Vale Wine Region SA

A Snapshot of the McLaren Vale Wine Region

This region is located on the traditional lands of the Kaurna People. They are the traditional custodians of the land.

Basically, South Australia was founded in 1836 and Mr. McLaren turned up at the Vale in 1838. He surveyed the place and the first grapes were also planted in 1838, wineries were up and running by 1850 and it's been a major wine producer ever since. Hugh Hamilton Wines - founded by Hugh Hamilton's great great grandfather - is the oldest surviving wine family in Australia. Fair to say that McClaren Vale is deeply deeply connected to the grape.

Add in the olive oil, cheese, almonds, fruit and other fresh produce, and beautiful McLaren Vale starts to solidify itself in your mind as a lovely outdoor delicatessen.

There's a bit of a Mediterranean climate thing going on in McLaren Vale, with long, hot summers and dry autumns. This is great for ripening grapes, and the region is known for producing rich reds and elegant whites. It's also one of the few areas in Australia that produce award winning fortified wines like Sherry and Port.

Located between the city and the sea - it's located by the foothills of the Mount Lofty Ranges, close to the Gulf of St Vincent and less than an hour from Adelaide - with warm summers and cooling breezes, and a population of under 4,000 people, it's one of the hidden gems of Australia's wine scene.

The locals are passionate about their wine, food and lifestyle, and they're more than happy to share it all with you. The McLaren Vale Wine Region is a beautiful place to visit, and it's no wonder so many people fall in love with it.

photo by RossHelen - licenced under shutterstock

The McLaren Vale wine industry is also a leader in sustainability - there's the greatest concentration in South Australia of biodynamic, minimal intervention and dry grown grapes.

Hither & Yon became the first carbon neutral winery in South Australia, and many of the McLaren Vale wineries have a tasting room that highlights their commitment to sustainable development and low impact tourism. See our list below of the best McLaren wineries to visit for their cellar doors.

Take Me There!

How to get to McLaren Vale Wineries

Head down from Adelaide on the Southern Expressway. It takes about forty minutes.

You can also get to Seaford by train or bus. Visiting McLaren Vale by train takes an hour and a half and will set you back $7. By bus, you're looking at $4 and close to three hours.

For the well-heeled among us, there's always the possibility of taking a helicopter flight, a limousine, renting a vintage car or taking an Uber from Adelaide airport for something around $110-130.

What are McLaren Vale wines like?

An overview of McLaren Vale wines

Like your big, brassy Barossa wines? I certainly do. However, without a hearty meal or a few cheese platters to accompany the wine, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the second half of the bottle.

McLaren Vale red wines are also, like their valley cousins, full of spice and red berry flavours, but they are also somewhat softer and sometimes considered more subdued and elegant. Red wine lovers are certainly catered to in McLaren Vale's wine making world with over 90% of the annual crush being red grapes.

Don't stay home just because you prefer white grapes though ... the chardonnay from around these parts, and there's more than 700 hectares planted under chardy, is known for being rich and elegant. Lots of tropical fruit flavours and often with good cellaring potential.

Sauvignon blanc, more often a cooler climate grape, has higher sugar levels and consequently less of the grassy/citrus flavour profile and more of the lychee, asparagus and passionfruit profile.

photo by kwest - licenced under shutterstock

Terroir - Soil and Climate

How do the soil and climate affect wine flavour in McLaren Vale?

A substantial amount (26%) of the soil here is a deep silty loam over clay. Another 20% is Terra Rossa - the famed red soil shared with Coonawarra. Out at McLaren Flat the soils tend more towards sandy. In fact, it's one of the most geographically diverse regions in the world for soil.

Some of the best McLaren winegrowers will select their fruit from several vineyards in order to take advantage of the different flavour profiles that arise from these very different soil conditions.

The climate is pretty varied too, with warm days and cool nights thanks to the cooling sea breezes that blow in from the Gulf of St Vincent. You could describe it as pretty classically Mediterranean with warm summer, cool winters and most of the rainfall coming in the winter.

The climate and soils lead to wines with good colour, concentration and structure. The tannins are often fine and silky.

Something out of the box?

Unusual wine varieties in McLaren Vale

Italian varietals have been performing solidly in many McLaren Vale wineries. Vermentino, Nero d'Avola, Sangiovese, Versecco, Prosecco - all have been widely reviewed, praised and drunk the last few years. Many of the immigrant families that established wineries in the area would plant themselves a selection of wine grapes that they knew from home - sell wine to the Australian public, drink your grandfather's favourite varietal at home. These rarer varietals are experiencing a boom in popularity in the 2020s.

There's said to be a resemblance between the climate of McLaren Vale and the south of France. Some local winemakers have decided to further pursue this connection and plant varietals such as Cinsault and Carignan - with their respective aromas of cherry and rose petals.

Fiano

Fiano has started to surge in recognition and is promising to be one of the signature wine styles of the future. Straw coloured, with notes of honey and spice, it can suffer from being an easily oxidized wine. Modern winemakers, however, have a range of traditional and scientific techniques to limit this and increase the likelihood of the wine cellaring well. Where other white varietals can easily lose their structural acidity in the heat, this Italian grape keeps a lovely, dry finish. Gourmet Traveller awarded a 2018 McLaren Vale fiano 95 points and commented that it has "as fresh fruit on the nose, with lemon, a hint of pineapple and suggestions of complexity from grape soils in the fermentation. There’s an intriguing sweet/savoury interplay in the flavours and the length is excellent."

The stars of the show

The top varietals of the McLaren Vale wine region

Mover over Shiraz, these days, there's a new star in town.. Grenache.

Grenache

Well, it's not quite that simple. From the National Vintage Report 2020, In Australia, overall, Shiraz was the largest variety with a crush of 376,000 tonnes, accounting for 25 per cent of the total crush – an increase in share of one percentage point. However, in the McLaren Vale Region specifically, Grenache [was] up by 16 per cent to $2156 per tonne. The average value of Grenache was higher than Shiraz for the first time. Fox Creek, a McLaren winery has some of the world's oldest grapevines of grenache.

Basically, McLaren grenache is medium bodied, on the dry side, and usually sitting right in the middle with regards to tannins, acidity and how much 'oakiness' is present in the flavour profile. It usually has quite high alcohol (>13%) and where it was once commonly used as one of three performers in a blend (GSM - Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvèdre) - these days it 's winning awards as a single varietal.

Shiraz

Lest shiraz feel neglected though, it's still the wine that brings McLaren Vale fame and fortune. Grown on surprisingly distinct soils within the region, it expresses diverse notes of chocolate, spice, pepper, mulberry, currants, wood smoke, cedar and cherries to name a few. Halliday gave the 2017 Petaringa Yeoman McLaren Vale Shiraz an outstanding score of 97 for its 'ultra full-bodied' pizazz. 2020's McLaren Vale best wine in show was also a shiraz blend - The Lion’s Tooth McLaren Vale Shiraz Riesling

Cabernet Sauvignon

The cabernet sauvignon from hereabouts is none too shabby either. Full-bodied, rich and with an appreciable amount of soft tannins, McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon ranges from approachable and soft to bottles ideal for many years cellaring. Halliday's Wine Companion describes the McLaren Vale style of cabernet sauvignon as "favoured for its easy-drinking opulence. Typical characteristics are blackberry, bay leaf, cassis and dark chocolate."

Stellar Cellars

Some of the best wineries in the McLaren Vale wine region

Adelaide Hills has 50 cellar doors, Barossa Valley 80, Clare Valley 30, and the McLaren Vale Wine Region has 88. So, you have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to finding a place to drink an extensive range of good wines. The McLaren Vale region typically has smaller wineries with some of South Australia's best restaurants attached. Throw in some coastal scenery and I'm completely sold. Here's just a handful of the best wineries to consider visiting :

McLaren Vale Wineries

  • Alpha Box and Dice Wines - Alpha Box is attempting something really interesting, with an attempt to match a wine/style to every letter of the alphabet. Alpha Box are also championing lesser known Mediterranean varietals.
  • Angove Winery - Big on sustainability, craft and being a family owned winery. Their organic range is biodynamic and all vegan!
  • Beach Road Wines - Cellar door, restaurant with picturesque views ots of Italian varieties and a tasting room with a combustion heater for those chilly winter days.
  • D'Arenberg Wines - 4 generations of winemaking royalty and a truly unique McLaren Vale winery. Great place to combine your love of wine, wine making and architecture. There's a wine sensory room, a 360 degree video room, a virtual fermenter, you can make your own wine or there's an eclectic mix of tasting experiences to be had.
  • Hugh Hamilton Wines - has one of the more famous cellar doors in McLaren Vale, Hugh Hamilton Wines is a giant of the region's wine industry. Wine tastings range from $10 - $100pp - The Tasting of the Senses is held in their jarrah lined wine tasting room
  • Leconfield Wines - Small, family-owned winery making handcrafted wines from McLaren Vale fruit. A bit of a hidden gem.
  • Bondar Wines - Halliday's best new winery in 2017, Bondar Wines is a boutique winery that prefers a lighter, savoury, fragrant style of shiraz.
  • Samuel's Gorge - The winemaker Justin McNamee focusses on shiraz and grenache, but also Graciano - often an accompaniment to tempranillo, but also being made into a single varietal wine. Samuel's Gorge. The cellar door at Samuel's Gorge, built in 1853, overlooks the Onkaparinga River National Park.
  • Coriole Vineyards - The Lloyd family have a fine pedigree with traditional grapes (their first wine made here) in 1969 but Hugh and Molly Lloyd have also been pioneers of Mediterranean varietals - "fiano, montepulciano, nero d’avola, piquepoul, for example" The restaurant overlooks the Coriole vineyards.
  • Oliver's Taranga Vineyards - The Oliver family are legends of grape growing -a six generation affair that are members of the Penfolds Grange Growers Club. Oliver's Taranga Vineyards not only grow exceptional grapes for other wineries, they are one of the best wineries in their own right as well. A heritage listed wine tasting room winery tours and a cellar door available.
  • Primo Estate - Primo Estate has a strong focus on Italian varietals. They have a restaurant on site as well as cellar door. Both father and son graduated Dux of the Roseworthy winemaking school. Primo Estate were also early pioneers of making dessert wines with The Noble Rot - botrytis infected Riesling grapes,
  • Shingleback Wines - Award-winning biodynamic wines, made with no added sulphur. Focused on sustainability, minimal intervention and letting the terroir speak for itself.
  • Mitolo Wines - Mitolo Wines has all the trademarks of a McLaren Vale winery - Italian varietals, a cellar door, a tasting room, an Italian restaurant and exceptional wines.

Need a nap after all the fun?

Best accomodation options

Fancy going boutique - stay in of the McLaren Vale wineries to experience the area as up close and personal as you possibly can.

The Vineyard McClaren Vale has six self contained guesthouses and a concierge to guide your path through the best of the Vale wineries and artisan food producers.

Karawatha Cottages - located right in the McLaren Vale character preservation zone - also do self contained cottages right in the midst of the Vale wineries.

Basic more your style? There's a Lakeside Caravan Park, a campground and glamping for when you want basic with bells and whistles.

The current owners of the historic Carrick Hill in the Adelaide Hills also have a business in McLaren Vale. The Retreat at Chapel Hill is an accommodation venue also offering a 90 seat restaurant for weddings and corporate events.

Why visit McLaren Vale in 2022?

The lowdown

The 2021 harvest reports were excellent for the region. A good soaking early in the spring, a steady warm summer, almost no botrytis and good weather for the harvest. There was generally average rainfall for the season, but it mostly came before the grapes were developed, thus avoiding problems with botrytis and mildews.

The overall crush was up 28% on 2021, and the grenache harvest was up 7%, definitely establishing itself as the premier value variety. All in all, a season that winemakers have said was one of the best of the 21st century. Don't need much more reason than that to go and visit the Vale and grab yourself a most excellent bottle of plonk, do you?

If you include some of the beautfiul beaches of the Fleurieu in your wine region visit, you could easily spend a week or more in the area and never be bored.

Fancy a bevy while visiting?

Beer, wine and cider in the McLaren Vale Region

I'd like to call by the Adelaide Gin Festival in June.

Flight's Gin Bar, out at Penny's Hill Wines seems like it makes a mean MadMen martini.

Maxwell Wines - not only has a two hatted restaurant, and is one of McLaren Vale's best wineries, but the winemaker's father was responsible for introducing mead to Australia and it's still a signature drink of the winery.

Primo Estate, just won Prosecco of the Year and D'Arenberg (both )mentioned in our winery listing above, have released a Sparkling Red Chambourcin Shiraz that both sound like a damn fine reason to visit South Australia in 2022.

Fancy out of the ordinary cellar doors? Mitolo Wines has a high end cellar door made from shipping crates and plate glass, and Down the Rabbit Hole have their cellar door in a double decker bus.

Samuel's Gorge cellar door is in an 1853 built farm shed overlooking the spectacular Onkaparinga River National Park.

Hugh Hamilton Wines offers a 270 degree view over a sea of McLaren Vale wineries and all the way to the Gulf of St Vincent.

How about some good tunes and good times?

Live Music and Festivals in the McLaren Vale Region

Wine Machine out at Serafino Wines is a big music and wine festival. Featuring Spacey Jane, Masked Wolf, Art vs Science, Stace Cadet, Mell Hall, Jimi The Kween etc etc etc. This March 13.

Big Easy Radio is a cellar door right by Aldinga Beach. Local live music every weekend.

Cheap Trick are visiting Adelaide in March Kings of Leon in April, then Dua Lipa and Guns n Roses will both be performing in November (presumably not together).

Bringing Granny and the kids?

Family Friendly things to do McLaren Vale

Shouldn't be hard to find something to keep the kids happy around here. Lots of lovely beaches, national parks and wildlife to spot. If you're feeling like relaxing with a glass of good wine while the kids are kept busy, try a kid friendly cellar door.

Fox Creek Winery has a treasure hunt for big and little kids.

Maxwell Winery has a conifer maze.

Shottesbrooke Wine, out on McLaren Flat, has wine making, wine tasting, a wine cellar and the well loved Currant Shed - a 1916 buidling surrounded by lime orchards, but for the true family friendly award, it has a kid friendly play area and activities throughout the year.

Woodstock Wines has a wildlife sanctuary. You feed yourself with a cheese platter while the kids feed the kangaroos.

Geeking Out?

Quirky and clever things to do in the McLaren Vale wine region

Spend a day wine making in a laboratory called The Blending Room at d'Arenberg Winery. For wine making nerds this would be a fun experience.

Events, talks and activities will be held around the state for National Science Week, from August 10 to 18. There will be exhibitions at MOD. at UniSA and Royal Adelaide Hospital. Science Alive! at the Adelaide Showgrounds allows visitors to fly a drone, try virtual reality, hold a native animal and explore the universe.

Feeling Artistic?

Arts, Culture and Entertainment in the McLaren Vale region

Visiting D'Arenberg is a great experience for lovers of architecture. Along with the 360 degree video room and Salvador Dali exhibition, the Chief Winemaker (Father D'Arry Osborn and since 1984, the son Chester) of D'Arenberg just won the Art and Culture category of the 2021 Great Wine Capitals Best of Wine Tourism South Australian Awards.

Red Dot Gallery out by Penny's Hill cellar door has a corrugated iron display space and is currently showing hand painted lino cut works from a McLaren Vale artist.

There's an exhibition running until May which features Cedric Varcoe and a group of Ngarrandjeri artists. Check out some mixed media Aboriginal art. It's called Ngarrandjeri Ruwe- our Lands and Waters

Looking for Something Sporty?

Active events and outdoor sports in McLaren Vale

The McLaren Vale Running Festival 2022 has a range of marathons on offer - full, half, 10km, 5km and youth categories. It's on from October 16 - 17, 2022. You can register here.

Get out and explore the nearby Fleurieu Peninsula. The Deep Creek Conservation Park is situated where the Mount Lofty Ranges meet the sea. You can climb up to the Tapanappa Lookout to burn some carbs and maybe see some whales (or for sure see some kangaroos at dusk).

There's often events down at Aldinga Beach- a ten minute drive from McLaren Vale. Yoga, QiGong etc by the sea. Sounds nice to me.

McLaren Vale is quite hilly, but Escape Goat offers bike tours where you are driven to the highest point in the Vale and then you can mostly cruise your way down past the best wineries that wine lovers can hope to find while remaining sober enough to pedal.

The Wrap

We've hope you've enjoyed this run down of the McLaren Vale wine region and some of the incredible wineries and activities it has on offer. We will be regularly updating this page and greatly welcome any input you can offer. And if you go ahead and visit McLaren Vale, we hope you love it as much as we do.

Cheers

The team at Goodwill Wine

Who is Goodwill Wine?

Goodwill Wine is Australia's only certified social enterprise wine company.

What's that you ask?

We are a wine company with soul. While other wine companies are focussed on maximising their profit, we are focused on maximising our impact. We do this by donating half our profits to Australian charity. Better still, when you buy, you get to tell us where the money goes.

Our wines are every bit as good as our competitions - in fact hundreds of five star reviews would indicate better (see below) and thanks to Australian's choosing to buy their wine ethically, we have been able to donate almost half a million dollars to date.

So why would we do this?

Our founder, David Laity lost most of what he owned in the Black Saturday bushfires. Thanks to the generosity of fellow Australians, he was given the chance to start again and so he made it his mission to pay forward the help he received.

You can read his story here

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