It also extends southeast to include Langhorne Creek and Currency Creek. Jacques Larson from Bordeaux has reversed the usual flying winemaker pattern here, commuting to Kangaroo Island, while at the highest point in Southern Fleurieu Brian Croser, founder of Petaluma, is making some pretty impressive Pinot Noir.
But for the moment by far the most prominent and historic wine region in the Fleurieu Zone is McLaren Vale, a popular tourist destination, but unfortunately a victim of Adelaide urban sprawl. John Reynell, who gave his name to Chateau Reynella, planted South Australia’s first vines in 1838, and McLaren Vale can still boast many old vines, some more than 100 years old. For most of the intervening decades, Reynella claret and fortified wines were respected names, and the original underground cellar Lliat Reynell built is one of the historic landmarks Australian wine. Today, it is the headquarters of the almost equally ancient firm of Thomas Hardy & Sons (now part of the giant Accolade company) along with the Tintara winery bought by the original Thomas Hardy in 1876.
In the cooler northern area around Blewitt. Springs, deep sandy soils over clay produce good, aromatic, spicy Grenache and Shiraz. With its greater diurnal range. Kangarilla to the east produces more “elegant”, tarter Shiraz than the McLaren Vale norm. The area north of the township of McLaren Vale has some of the thinnest topsoils, resulting in low yields and intense flavors. Willunga, lying to the south of the town, feels less of the ocean and seems to ripen its grapes later.
Recent plantings, many of which are in the southeastern sector of the region (although some nudge up into the Sellieks foothills that overlook the coast) tend to ripen faster than the norm and often have a herbal note. Overall, harvesting begins in February and may continue well into April for some of the classic Grenache and Mourvedre vines.
The local climate could hardly be better for the vine than in this coastal zone, a narrow band between the heights of Mount Lofty Ranges and the temperate sea. There is a long, warm growing season, good air drainage to prevent frosts, and about 20% of vineyards survive without the irrigation water that is in increasingly short supply. The ocean supplies some cooling influence, particularly in the form of afternoon breezes, which help to retain acidity. Nonetheless, white grapes are very much in the minority and the region has yet to develop a clear varietal strength, though not of want of experimentation. Vermentino, Fiano, Viognier, and Roussane all show promise. As for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, the cooler neighboring Adelaide Hills is much more suitable. And why try to grow everything?
There is a confidence in McLaren Vale’s glossily seductive reds, with old-vine Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon. and then Grim ache clear varietal strengths. Chapel Hill, d’Arenberg, Hugh Hamilton, Paxton, Samuel’s Gorge, SC Pannell, Ulilhorne, Wirra Wirra, and Yangarra Estate all make good examples. And Gnrinlc, Kangarilla Koad, and Prirno Estate demonstrated quite some time ago that the palette of varieties could be widened to include at least Sangiovese. Nebbiolo, and Primitivo (also known as ZitifаndeI). Iberian grapes are showing great promise, especially Tempranillo at Cascabel and Gemtree Estate, while Georgia’s Saperavi and Italy’s Sagrantino are especially valued for their high acidity. At least 80 wineries are based in McLaren Vale, although more than half the fruit grown here is plundered by others – some located as far afield as the Hunter Valley – to add plump ballast to blends. McLaren Vale’s Shiraz is said to contribute a mocha and warm-earth character; others detect savory black olive and leather notes.
South Australia’s big secret
Langhorne Creek, it could be argued, is South Australian wine’s big secret. Less than a fifth of the wine made here is sold with the region’s name on the label, even l hough it is as productive as McLaren Vale. Most wine disappears into the blends put together by the big companies keen to take advantage of the region’s dominant strengths: soil, gentle, mouth-filling Shiraz and succulent Cabernet Sauvignon. Originally, this fertile bed of deep alluvium was irrigated by deliberate late winter Hooding from the diverted Bremer and Angas rivers, and unreliable water supply that limited expansion. It lias only been since the early 1990s, when licenses were granted to transport irrigation water from Lake Alexandria al the mouth of the mighty Murray River, that Langhorne Creek has seen rapid development.
The older vines lend to be close to the riverbanks. They include the famous Metala vineyard owned by the Adam s family, of Brothers in Arms, since 1891, and those planted by Frank Polls at Rleasdale once he had felled the titanic red gums growing by the Bremer River. But the ambitious new plantings such as those of Angas Vineyards pipe water In their high-tech irrigation systems via a complex network of ditches on the pancake flat-land.
The so-called Lake Doctor, a reliable afternoon breeze off the lake, slows ripening here so that grapes are usually picked two weeks later than those of McLaren Vale.
Currency Creek to the immediate west also depends crucially on irrigation but is so far the domain of small, relatively low-profile wineries. It is slightly warmer than Langhorne Creek, but even more maritime.
Soil types and topography vary enormously throughout McLaren Vale, as does wine quality and style. The region’s producers are making a concerted short to explore these differences through the Scarce Forth project.