The Clare Valley South Australia
On my recent visit to the wonderful South Australian wine regions I spent a couple of relaxing days in the beautiful Clare Valley about 90 minutes north of Adelaide.
The Valley has gently rolling hills with abundant stone buildings giving it a warm and inviting feeling. With a continuous history of winemaking dating back to the 1850s, the many old stone wineries of the Clare Valley add to the region's striking and varied beauty. (click on map to right to enlarge)
The Sevenhill Cellars are a must see for any visitor. Founded in 1851 by a religious order escaping persecution in Europe this winery, church and vineyard is one of the great historical treasures of Australia.
The Clare is a high quality producer of long-lived, intensely flavoured and strongly structured table wines, virtually all of which are made in limited quantities. Although much has been written about the climate of this region, in many ways it is difficult to reconcile with its wine styles. Its weather data point to a far warmer climate than is the case; cool afternoon breezes are the key and play a major role in slowing down the ripening process. Furthermore, altitude and position within the Valley as well as aspect all lead to considerable variations in individual site climate. Overall, however, the climate is moderately continental, with cool to cold nights and warm to hot summer days; the rainfall is winter-spring dominant, making irrigation all but essential while relatively low humidity (and summer rainfall) means a low incidence of fungal disease (unfortunately the wet summer of 2011 being the exception).
Harvest commences in early March and finishes, typically, with Riesling coming in last in late April. With the exception of the open expanses of the Polish Hill River to the east, and Auburn to the south, the region is defined into a series of sub-valleys running in every direction, with numerous creeks or creek beds. The higher altitude or west-facing slopes often produce the best vineyard sites and this very beautiful region is no exception (see the map of the region). The soils vary but are, by and large, excellent; red to brown grey in colour, and with significant limestone sub-soil content, particularly in the more southerly sub-regions around Auburn.
The major wine styles:
Much of Australia's finest Riesling is grown in the Clare Valley, and it is the most important wine for the region. Typically, it starts life in a fairly austere mode with faint aromas of passionfruit, a touch of lime, and a steely strength. Almost immediately a telltale touch of lightly browned toast starts to emerge, and as the wine ages and becomes more complex the intensity of that toasty character grows. These are long lived wines; only in the weakest years will they not benefit from five years in bottle with many of the better wines improving for up to 10 years. Some of the best include Grosset, Knappstein, Paulett and Pikes.
This is the other great wine of the region. Here the character and the style are less homogonous, in part reflecting the philosophy of the winemaker and in part the imperatives of the vineyard terroir. The wines are seldom less than full bodied and are at times as strikingly dense, rich and as concentrated as any wine to be found in Australia. My favourites include Crabtree, Eldridge and Greg Cooley.
There are those who think that Clare Shiraz is every bit as good as Cabernet Sauvignon and, over the years, the two have frequently been blended, sometimes with the addition of a little Malbec. The wines are deep in colour and flavour, rounder and softer than the Cabernet Sauvignon but with similar strength and depth. Some of the smaller wineries make some excellent shiraz including Eldridge, Wilson and Mintaro. Whilst Jim Barry has some great premium shiraz called the Armagh.
The Clare Valley is definitely a great place to stay for a couple of days, with plenty of great B&Bs and a fantastic country club. It doesn’t matter whether you enjoy wines or not.