McLaren Vale - wine production
McLaren Vale is located 40km south of Adelaide in the historic wine state of South Australia. By car or bus, it is a little over half an hour’s drive from the Adelaide CBD. Take Goodwood Road and travel south to South Road, and then Main South Road.
For a more scenic route, journey southeast to Clarendon via Grants Gully Road. Follow Kangarilla and Dashwood Gully Roads to Brookman Road (B34) and Willunga beyond.
McLaren Vale is one of five premium wine regions that collectively make up the Fleurieu zone. The remaining regions are Currency Creek, Kangaroo Island, Langhorne Creek, and Southern Fleurieu.
The McLaren Vale GI was finalised on 2 September 1997, when the name was entered in the Registrar of Protected Names. The term defines the region’s physical boundaries and proscribes its use under Commonwealth of Australia law (Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980).
Like its much larger sister region northeast of Adelaide - the Barossa Valley - McLaren Vale is frequently seen as occupying the heartland of the South Australian wine industry. Interestingly, vines were first planted at Reynella in McLaren Vale at least four years before those established in the Barossa by its German Lutheran settlers.
The pioneering John Reynell was one of many newcomers of British origin who planted vines here as part of their family-owned, mixed farming ventures.
Somewhere around 1850, McLaren Vale witnessed the establishment of its first genuinely commercial vineyard – a 12ha site at Hope Farm, planted by one George Manning. Similarly, Dr Alexander Kelly and the highly successful Thomas Hardy were to add to the region’s size, reputation and production. With the 1890’s boom in wine-growing, came families like the Kays and the Johnstons.
The region’s vineyards thus continued to grow and prosper until World War One, firstly as producers of dry regional table wines, and then as one of the corner stones of the Australian fortified wine industry.
Unlike the Barossa Valley, which declined in business activity between the 1920s and 1950s, McLaren Vale (or the Southern Vales as it was also known) was able to march to its own drum until key export markets in the United Kingdom fell away in the 1960s.
In the latter part of the same decade, Australia’s domestic red wine boom began to bring new players into the region. By 1975, McLaren Vale was once again home to dozens of small and medium-sized vineyards. Many of these new players brought with them experiences of life in the northern hemisphere. Grape growers now began to plant premium quality varieties like Chardonnay and smaller numbers of vines with exotic-sounding names like Sangiovese.
Today, McLaren Vale is home to 76 wineries, many with vineyard cellar doors. The region’s iconic Hardys brand is not just its most popular and most readily identifiable wine label, it is also a key player in Constellation Wines, the world’s largest wine company.
Thanks to the cooling influences of the nearby Gulf of St Vincent, vineyards in McLaren Vale enjoy a Mediterranean climate – a climate characterised by warm rather than hot summers, moderate winters, and winter-dominant rainfall (580-700 mm per annum). The region’s low relative humidity, high evaporation rates, and well-structured loamy sandy soils make it a remarkably agreeable one for wine-growing.
McLaren Vale’s undulating slopes increase in altitude as the region merges with the neighbouring Adelaide Hills. Sites around Clarendon – around 250m above sea level - are considerably cooler than the appropriately named McLaren Flats. That provides additional aromatic lift to that sub-region’s red wines.
McLaren Vale’s highest monthly rainfall totals are recorded during winter and spring. Summer rainfall is invariably low, ensuring growers the need for supplementary drip irrigation if they are to stave off vine stress and unwelcome berry shrivel, particularly among young vines.
Average rainfall during the growing season from October to April rarely climbs above 180 mm.
Mean January temperature maxima vary little beyond to 21.7°C.
From vine to glass
On international markets, the McLaren Vale brand is strongly associated with premium quality wines. In 2006-2007, export sales for wine labelled McLaren Vale exceeded $7.1m. Its top three destinations were the US, the UK, and Canada.
In June 2008, the average price per litre of exported McLaren Vale wine was valued at $10.87, well in excess of the $3.78 average per litre calculated for all Australian wine exported during that period.
McLaren Vale vineyards at a glance:
- Fleurieu Zone
- GI registered 1997
- Located 34°14'S, 14422'E
- Altitude: 50m-250m
- Heat degree days: 1910
- Mean annual rainfall: 580-700mm
- Growing season rainfall: 180mm
- Mean January temperature: 21.7°C
- Planted area (2007): 6249ha
- Principal varieties (in order of planted area):
- Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon
- Typical harvest period: Mid-February to late April
- Total crush (2007): 35,293 tonnes
- Fleurieu Peninsula (SA)
- Fleurieu (including Kangaroo Island) (SA)
- McLaren Vale (SA)
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