Immediately to the south of the city of Adelaide lies McLaren Vale, bounded to the south and east by the Sellicks Hill Range, and touching the waters of the Gulf St. Vincent to the west. The climate here is Mediterranean, with significant variations of temperature depending on exposure and protection from the cooling influences of the ocean. As one gains elevation moving inland from the coast, the climate cools, soils thin, and the growing season lengthens. However, soil composition varies widely, consistent with the extreme age of most of mainland Australia. Reddish, loamy sands are dominant, though patches of yellow clay subsoil and limestone-rich deposits can be found. Like much of South Australia, McLaren Vale remains largely phylloxera free, which allows extremely old, ungrafted vines to thrive.
As is typical throughout most of South Australia, Shiraz is king, accounting for over half of the total vineyard plantings, followed distantly by Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. McLaren Vale Shiraz is rich and dark, with broad tannins, hints of bittersweet chocolate on the nose, and ripe fruit notes; a style which in previous times was labeled as Australian “Burgundy” because of its elegant texture. The Grenache is also distinctive in McLaren Vale, as the age of vines and concentration of flavors give red berry tones and peppery spiciness like what can be found in classic French examples. Like southern France, Grenache from the McLaren Vale is often blended with Syrah and Mataro (Mourvèdre) to form a GSM blend. This builds on the structure of Mataro, the spice and acidity of Syrah, and the body of Grenache to make a sum that is greater than its parts. The climate of the McLaren Vale has also prompted many innovative growers to experiment successfully with other grapes indigenous to the Mediterranean basin, like Nero d’Avola, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, Barbera, Vermentino, and Fiano.
The ease of the climate reduces the types of disease pressure more commonly associated with other regions in Australia. Thus, organic and biodynamic viticulture has flourished in McLaren Vale to an extent unmatched anywhere else in Australia. This focus on the environmental, economic, and social impact of viticulture in McLaren Vale led to the development of the Sustainable Australia Winegrowing (SAW) certification, which now has expanded to other premium wine regions throughout South Australia. McLaren Vale continues to lead in this area, with over 65% of its annual production meeting the standards of the SAW program. Another McLaren Vale initiative derived from the SAW program is called Scarce Earth, which draws attention to the distinctive terroir differences within McLaren Vale by recognizing single vineyard Shiraz wines that show the distinctive character of their sites.