What Makes the Clare Valley so Ideal for Wine Production?
Wed, 29 July 2015
Early settlers who were interested in wine production must have thought they’d hit the jackpot when they discovered South Australia’s Clare Valley! The region is a winemaker’s dream, with gullies, rolling hills, a variety of soil types, and a great Mediterranean climate.
The Clare Valley is known for the production of superior wines – particularly excellent Riesling and Shiraz varieties. These premium wines can only come about through the expertise of winemakers and what is known as ‘terroir’ – a French word to describe that special combination of climate, soils, and landscape that influences the character of the fruit and the wine.
The terroir of the Clare Valley
So let’s take a closer look at the elements that make up the Clare Valley’s particular terroir.
Geology / soils:
At least 11 soil profiles have been identified in the Clare Valley. These include the sandy loam soils of Armagh, the grey sandy loam of Hutt River, the shallow loamy soils of Tower Hill, and the red soils or terra rossa of Auburn and other areas. This variety of soil types means that there can be great variability in the character and flavour of wines from the region.
Terra rossa soils – made up of red loam over limestone – are particularly good for winemaking. This type of soil is formed as limestone weathers and dissolves, leaving behind clay which ‘rusts’ due to oxidation, resulting in its rich red colour. Terra rossa soils have excellent drainage, and the soil composition means the vines can achieve a perfect state of balance – a very important requirement for the development of high-quality fruit! At Taylors, we’re very proud of what our terra rossa soils help us produce.
The climate of a region is very influential when it comes to grape growing and winemaking. For instance in warmer climates, more sugar accumulates in the fruit which results in higher levels of alcohol in the wine, whereas in cooler climates the fruit usually develops less sugar and has higher acidity.
In the Clare Valley, we get the best of both worlds with the region’s large diurnal temperature range. Daytime temperatures can be very warm, enabling the vines to ‘sunbake’ and to develop some wonderful fruit flavours. Night-time temperatures can be as much as 20°C lower than during the day, allowing the fruit to ‘rest’ in the cool of the night. This in turn leads to a longer and more even ripening of the fruit, resulting in grapes with an excellent natural acid balance and tannin structure – traits most certainly required for the production of superior wines.
The changing seasons of the region’s climate also help to ensure quality fruit.
New growth begins in the spring and is known as the ‘budburst’ season, followed by flowering and setting of the fruit in October and November. January is ‘veraison’ time, when the grapes plump out and take on their delightful hues, followed by harvest time, which can run from February to May depending on the weather conditions.
Weather of course is never totally predictable. This means growers need to keep a careful eye on the weather conditions, as well as on the vines themselves for signs of problems and indications of optimal times for harvesting.
Geography / landscape:
Vines are also influenced by altitude, aspect, terrain, flora, location, and water bodies. With the Clare’s diverse range of micro-climates, many varieties of grape can be grown. Riesling for instance is grown in east-facing sheltered positions, while Shiraz is better west-facing. Cabernet is grown in warm and sheltered river flats, while cool-climate Chardonnay does best in denuded red soils at higher altitudes.
The potential impact of global warming
Sustained higher temperatures of even a few degrees can impact on fruit development, resulting in faster ripening and a need for earlier harvests. We believe that winemakers in the region need to be prepared for temperature changes and to adapt accordingly.
Adapting to warmer temperatures may include growing different grape varieties to suit the region, moving to higher ground or further south for plantings, and learning how to craft different wines varieties. Mediterranean varieties such as Fiano, Vermentino and Tempranillo for example may end up replacing some of the cooler-climate French wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
At Taylors, we also believe that environmental responsibility is important for developing greater sustainability of wineries in the region. Our Environmental Management System tackles a number of important measures including energy efficiency, soil management, water consumption, waste management, carbon offsetting, organic cultivation, and recycling.
The Clare Valley’s secret is simple!
We consider the Clare Valley’s ‘secret’ for wine production to be really quite simple – a combination of great natural terroir, top winemaker skill and expertise, and wise environmental management. When these elements are put together, the magic happens and superior wines are produced!