Clare Valley, SA
Warm to hot climate/Elevation 400-500m
John Horrocks was the first settler in the region and encouraged his servant James Green to plant the first vines in 1842 at Penwortham. Edward Gleeson founded Clare in the 1840s and also planted the Inchiquin vineyards. The development of Clare, however, was uneven. When the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited was established at Broken Hill in 1885, Clare became a major transit centre for supplies. By 1897, the region had over 580 hectares of vines in production.
The climatic data suggests that Clare is essentially continental with hot summers and cool/cold winters. However, the vineyards are mostly located at higher elevations than the weather stations. For instance, Petaluma’s Hanlin Hill is at about 500m. During the growing season moderating cool breezes funnel up the Clare’s corrugation of hills and gullies from the south. The soils are red brown, chocolatey loams over shale allowing excellent drainage. Although snow is rare, the chill factor is something to behold. Some of the older vines are planted in the valley floor, originally to take advantage of the deep water holding capacity of the soils, as rainfall is relatively low. With the advantages of supplementary irrigation, many of the best vineyard sites are located on higher elevations or towards the south of the valley. Polish Hill and Watervale are important sub-regions. The Clare Valley has become particularly famous for its fruit-pure Rieslings and tightly-knit Shirazes. Cabernet Sauvignon also performs quite well.
Clare Valley Shiraz is rarely as opulent as Barossa Shiraz: concentrated, yes, but with spicier, cracked pepper and anise aromas over ripe, prune-like fruit and a slightly more structured palate with angular tannins. Jim Barry's The Armagh is a rare beast making intensity, immensity and density a seamless combination. Wendouree Shiraz is particularly idiosyncratic with its iron-fisted tannins. Leasingham is making very impressive wine - witness its gobsmacking 1994 Classic Clare Shiraz - yet this label is undervalued considering its quality. Tim Adams (especially The Aberfeldy) and Mitchell are also very impressive producers who have yet to make their run.
After Hunter Valley Semillon, this is one of the most recognisable wines of Australia, which makes the Clare Valley one of the classic wine regions of the world. Indeed, these wines are often thrown into a Master of Wine tasting exam. When young they have a very strong lime/citrus/floral aroma, moderate to high alcohol, incredible fruit purity and an indelible, minerally acid cut. They are devastatingly thirst-quenching. Over time they develop toast-and-honey characters, with the palate fleshing out and becoming a little oily. There is strong evidence to suggest that there are differences between Watervale and Polish Hill, the latter showing more intensity and definition. The best performers in the secondary market are Grosset and Petaluma. Mitchell, Wilson Vineyard and Mount Horrocks are well regarded but have yet to impress investors. Old Leo Burings are fabulous wines; 1975 DWE 17 was brilliant, but the bin numbering system is difficult to understand. Orlando's Richmond Grove label hosts some great Clare Valley Riesling, but is yet to develop brand definition. It is interesting to note that many Clare Valley producers are now embracing the use of 'Stelvin' closures as an alternative to cork.
Andrew Caillard MW, Langton's