The trilogy – Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon
The secret of the Clare Valley is revealed quickly through understanding the region’s geology and climate. This terroir, a combination of surprising elevation and ancient seismic soils, blesses our famous Riesling grapes, but less known is the equally exceptional Shiraz and cabernet sauvignon from the region. A unique viticultural trilogy.
While famous for 1051 hectares of outstanding Riesling, our region, in fact, has significantly more Shiraz (1886ha) and cabernet sauvignon (1135ha) vineyards. Together these three varietals comprise almost 80% of Clare Valley’s wine production.
Because Riesling is a high-producing variety, it is the leading variety in tonnes crushed (5589t), followed by Shiraz (4438t) and cabernet sauvignon (2396t).
Clare Valley Rieslings show great diversity and distinctive characters which are an expression of, not just, a variety and a place but of a specific site. Our amazing climate with clear, pure, unpolluted skies and night-time temperatures that drop dramatically create Riesling wines with great flavour and natural acidity.
Our Shiraz and cabernet sauvignon thrive in the Clare Valley’s ancient soils and rocks, often in challenging sites where the vines have to struggle and the fruit is small, concentrated and gives life to intense wines. Clare Valley is a region which prides itself on the understatement. How else do you explain the unrecognised skill of grape growers who consistently, and without celebrity, provide some of Australia’s best shiraz fruit, including to Penfolds’ Grange and St Henri and Leasingham’s Classic Clare Shiraz, the 1995 Jimmy Watson Trophy winner?
Alternative varieties to suit our future climate
As the Clare Valley has advanced from pioneering vignerons to modern viticulture, the grape varieties grown have also evolved. Many of the first varieties grown in the Clare Valley were suited to alter wine and fortified wines such as port, sherry and muscat, followed by the production of traditional French varieties.
Winemakers’ interest in alternative varieties began to take off in the 1980’s and by the early 2000s the alternative varietal movement had really gained pace with grapes such as Pinot Gris/Grigio becoming common wine styles.
Southern Mediterranean varieties not only suit our warming climate but also our diverse and contemporary lifestyles. It is these varieties that are capturing the imagination and appealing to the curiosity of a new generation of winemakers.
Olssen Wines experimented with alternative varieties in the early 2000s, including success with Malbec and Mataro. Malbec wines are now made by 15 producers in the Clare Valley. However, it is Mediterranean varieties such as Temprenillo, Sangiovese and Fiano that have proved the most popular alternative varieties in the region.
Artwine has continued to champion new-emerging varieties in the Clare Valley, with its Montepulciano winning Best Wine of Show at the 2018 Clare Valley Wine Show. These vines sit beside other alternative varieties Fiano, Graciano and Temprenillo.
Patience and persistence has paid off for Jim Barry who has introduced a new white variety, Assyrtiko, into Australia, adopting it from the Greek island of Santorini where he fell in love with it while on holiday in 2006. It’s the variety’s ability to retain high acidity and produce top-quality wines even in the face of intense heat makes this emerging variety an exciting prospect.
But it is the new generation of winemakers who possess a freedom to make wine and grow grapes their own way. Look out for 2019 young winemakers of the year Koerner brothers, Damien and Johno, and their vibrant Vermentino and Sangiovese and lesser known Mammolo and Fer.
Varieties currently planted in the Clare Valley (by area)
The SA Winegrape Crush Survey 2019 provides an annual update about the grapes planted and crushed in the Clare Valley. Current plantings and fruit crushed are shown below by variety.
|Current planting (ha)
|Fruit crushed (t)
|Other red varieties
|Current planting (ha)
|Fruit crushed (t)
|Other white varieties