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McLaren Vale: small but powerful

 

 

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In the south of Australia is a small, sparsely populated region known as the McLaren Vale. With a population of less than 2,000, it is one of the smaller regions in the country, but is home to some of the most internationally-renowned wines. Two wineries still found in the Vale – Hardy and Seaview – were founded in the 1850s, and are two of the longest continually-operated wineries in the country.

 

The climate in McLaren Vale, as in much of Australia, is hot and dry. This lends itself to shiraz, for which the region is primarily known, as well as other hot-climate grapes: sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, tempranillo, merlot, and petit verdot chief among them. White wine production is limited mostly to chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and viognier.

 

The region is one of the most terroir-driven areas of Australia. In spite of its small size, there are radical differences in the soil types – ranging from terra rossa to dark clay to sand. A sizable portion of the grapes – some 20% – are dry farmed. These tend to be the most sought after shiraz from the Vale, as the dry farming leads to smaller fruit, which in turn leads to more concentrated, powerful flavors.

 

Within the overall region, there are six sub-regions: Seaview, McLaren Flat, Sellicks Foothills, Willunga, Blewitt Springs, and McLaren Vale itself. Some of these regions are incredibly sparsely populated, with less than a hundred people within the entire district.

 

McLaren Vale is also well known for its dedication to sustainable winemaking, comprising not only dry-farming techniques, but also proper fertilizer management, water and waste management, pest control, and biodiversity. The McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing Australia group spearheads the movement, and the region is rapidly gaining renown for its trailblazing in the world of hot-climate sustainable winemaking.

 

The region’s shiraz is often co-fermented with small amounts of viognier, making it one of the few regions in Australia to mimic this Rhône practice. This creates more aromatic, slightly lighter shiraz, that nonetheless has the clear characteristics of Australian shiraz, and is radically different from French syrah-dominated wines.

 

There are more than 90 wineries in the McLaren Vale, and more than 50 of them open their doors in a massive open house celebration during the birthday weekend of the Queen. More than 30,000 visitors descent on the Vale during this weekend – fifteen times the population of the entire region – and the atmosphere becomes one large party, with wine at its core.