Production and winemaking
McLaren Vale has produced wine since 1838. With more than 180 years of experience, our region's reputation is strongly established in South Australia's and Australia's winemaking origins.
Today, our region remains phylloxera free and is known for innovative viticultural and winemaking techniques and an international reputation for producing the 'trilogy' of Australian reds: Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.
Of our region's 7,308 hectares of area under vine, 54% of our plantings are dedicated to Shiraz, however our region also excels in producing exceptional Mediterranean alternative red and white varieties including Fiano, Vermentino, Barbera, Montepulciano, Nero d'Avola and Tempranillo
McLaren Vale is also home to a significant number of boutique brewers and passionate distillers and our region's reputation continues to grow steadily.
The crown jewel of McLaren Vale is Shiraz - producing a densely coloured, richly flavoured wine that quickly develops a velvety texture. McLaren Vale Shiraz is known the world over for its quality and its seductive style.
Cabernet Sauvignon wines from McLaren Vale are full bodied and rich, often with a touch of dark chocolate intermixed with blackcurrant. The tannins are plentiful but soft, and the wines have structure for aging.
Grenache has enjoyed a spirited renaissance during the last decade. The older plantings produce incredibly richly flavoured wines with juiciness. One would be hard pressed to find a variety more ideally suited to McLaren Vale and many old-vine vineyards still exist and are revered.
Mataro (Mourvedre) has a long history in the region although few old vine plantings remain. Interest in this variety has certainly increased in recent times due to its ability to withstand dry, warm conditions.
Chardonnay established a dominance in white grape plantings with virtually every producer having a Chardonnay however in more recent years winemakers have shifted their focus to Spanish and Italian varieties better suited to the maritime climate.
The diversity of so called ‘Mediterranean varieties’ continues to grow with considerable excitement around varieties such as Vermentino, Barbera, Montepulciano, Fiano, Nero d’Avola, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.
McLaren Vale inherently produces wines of ample concentration and flavour; however greater restraint and terroir translucency are good terms to describe the current winemaking trend.
Harvest or 'vintage' in McLaren Vale can begin as early as the start of February in early ripening varieties such as Chardonnay and is usually complete by the end of April.
Adequate temperatures reliably ripen all varieties in almost all areas of our region. Rainfall and heat are the two major climatic factors that can impact upon harvest conditions.
Typically, the southernmost point of our region will ripen first with harvest dates occurring later travelling in a north-easterly direction from Aldinga through to Blewitt Springs.
McLaren Vale is one of the most geologically diverse wine regions in the world. More than 40 unique geological units are present in our region and vary in age from 15,000 years to over 550 million years.
The Geology of the McLaren Vale Wine Region map was developed as a result of decades of diligent investigation by curious geological scholars and provides a key to the complex, constantly unfolding links between geology and modern wine flavours.
First published in 2010, the map was initially prepared by Geologists Bill Fairburn, Jeff Olliver and Wolfgang Preiss of Primary Industries and Resources South Australia (PIRSA), together with wine writer Philip White. Following continued research and investigation, the map was updated in 2019.
Ongoing study of our region's geology provides a key to the complex, constantly unfolding links between geology and regional wine varietals and flavours, whilst the map continues to assists viticulturists in appropriate planting.
There is a wide variety of soil types, a reflection of the varied terrain; red brown sandy loams, grey brown loamy sands with yellow clay subsoils interspersed with lime, distinctly sandy soils and patches of red or black friable loams are all to be found. As the long-standing and intensive viticulture of our region attests, the soils and geography of McLaren Vale are well suited to grape growing.
McLaren Vale is at the forefront of best practice in terms of soil surveying and this diversity is well respected, with a dedicated group of our region's growers, wine makers and geologists forming a committee to explore these differences. This ongoing study has resulted in a series of geology pits excavated throughout the region to highlight the relationship between geology and the region’s fine wine. You can find information on the sites here.
McLaren Vale’s climate is Mediterranean and characterised by warm summers, moderate winters, winter-dominated rainfall, low relative humidity and relatively high evaporation.
McLaren Vale is roughly triangular in shape and bordered on three sides. Adelaide to the north, the Mt Lofty Ranges to the east and south, and the Gulf St Vincent to the west.
The proximity of Mt Lofty and the Gulf of St Vincent play a very important role in moderating the climate of our region and are largely responsible for many of the meso and micro climatic differences.
Elevation in our region peaks at 350 metres along the Sellicks foothills and Chandlers Hill, with the majority of vineyards located on gently undulating to flat land between 50 - 150 metres.
Wind is a significant factor within McLaren Vale. There are two distinct and completely separate wind sources within our region: gully winds which blow east-west down through the foothills, and sea breezes blowing south-north up through Gulf St Vincent.
The climatic diversity of McLaren Vale has helped producers successfully embrace Spanish and Italian varieties such as Barbera, Fiano, Tempranillo, Mouvedre and Moscato and explore re-emerging varieties like Viognier, Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Verdelho.
McLaren Vale was the first region in Australia to declare and manage its underground water resource so that it is self-replenishing. In addition, McLaren Vale built the first and largest reclaimed water network in Australia so that 100% of all irrigation used in our region is now from a sustainable resource other than river water.
There are three main sources of water in McLaren Vale which are important to irrigated grape production. Traditionally the main sources have been groundwater aquifers in the Willunga Basin and surface catchment dams, where water is collected and stored from natural run-off. Sprinkler or flood irrigation has not been used in McLaren Vale for over 30 years.
In recent years, a third resource has been introduced: treated reclaimed water which is piped into our region from the Christies Beach Wastewater Treatment Plant and Willunga Basin Water Company in the Aldinga area. The use of recycled water is very important to the sustainability of natural water resources as it takes significant pressure off the natural groundwater.
Uptake and use of moisture monitoring technology for making informed irrigation management decisions is a touchstone for our region.