McLaren Vale - endless contrasts
By Mark Smith
How can one wine region play host to such a diverse range of seemingly endless contrasts? Sun-kissed sands and fertile strips of orchard, grove and vineyard. Rolling hillside slopes and pancake flat beaches. Traditional Aussie shiraz and hearty grenache; savoury Mediterranean wines made from sangiovese, nebbiolo and barbera.
Barely 35 minutes south of Adelaide, McLaren Vale takes its name from that of 1830s senior surveyor, John McLaren. The region’s earliest enterprises all bore hallmarks of the dour Scot’s Celtic and Anglo-Saxon roots – 19th century farming and grazing, sea fishing, flax milling and artisan craftsmanship.
Today, McLaren Vale is a rich tapestry woven from colonial and contemporary strands, with wine companies like Hardys and Scarpantoni Estate; verdant plantings of olives and almonds; country kitchen folk and city-slick baristas. A journey through this gateway to the fabulous Fleurieu Peninsula beckons pure indulgence. The scenery changes frequently, and the ocean is rarely out of view.
Highway or byway? The region is only 40 kilometres from the Adelaide CBD. There’s an expressway for part of the trip. For a more scenic route, drive through Clarendon and onto Blewitt Springs. Older buildings hereabouts reflect the typical state of South Australian architecture during the 1880s. Clarendon Recreation Ground on the Onkaparinga River provides an ideal location for a lazy picnic treat. Be sure to seek out gourmet chocolates, boutique breads and cheeses, and pickled Willunga squid.
Domestic airlines Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Blue all operate multiple daily flights into Adelaide from Australia’s State capitals and key regional centres in the south-east.
McLaren Vale has long been known as a place where the vines meet the sea. Visitors to the region’s 76 cellar doors are bound to meet up with some rich and opulent shiraz. Look for juicy blackberry or raspberry fruit characters, with occasional pepper, dark chocolate or black olive nuances. Many of Australia’s best known wine companies seek McLaren Vale shiraz for super premium, single vineyard labels as well as show-stopping cellar blends.
The region also produces powerful, fragrant, well-structured grenache wines with the remarkable capacity to improve with age. Each vintage, McLaren Vale’s unique Cadenzia project celebrates the quality and diversity of its old vine grenache by inviting winemakers to experiment and improvise with the variety to create distinctive and clearly identifiable regional wines.
McLaren Vale producers make rich reds as if the world depended upon them. The best of them keep a neat trick or two up their sleeve – perhaps an apricotty viognier or a tempting tempranillo. No other wine region in Australia can offer a palette of alternative or new wave varieties that is so rich in number and diversity. Wine traditionalists can keep the faith with stylish, barrel-fermented chardonnay, punchy sauvignon blanc, and long-ageing vintage and non-vintage fortified wines.
Be sure to explore McLaren Vale’s cultural landscapes as well as its vineyard trails.
• Each October, its network of undulating roads and carriageways will lead you by the glistening waters of St Vincent’s Gulf to Christies Beach and its renowned Celtic Festival – the region’s heartiest celebration of its English, Scottish and Welsh heritage. October’s Bushing/Fiesta! Festival welcomes visitors to the medieval celebrations of new vintage wines and the hardy valley folk who helped create them.
• In January, more than 90,000 visitors flock to the McLaren Vale to watch world-class cyclists do battle in the Willunga, Aldinga Beach, and McLaren Vale stages of the Tour Down Under international cycling race.
• During the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June, The Sea & Vines Festival opens more than 50 cellar doors to usher in top quality regional food and music. For a party with a difference, this seaside event has few equals.
• Wend your way through the friendly human throng while buying fresh, regionally grown produce at any one of the region’s regular farmers markets.
All hale McLaren Vale.
- McLaren Vale (SA)
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