introduction to Mc laren vale
Located on the coast, South of Adelaide, McLaren Vale is one of South Australia's oldest and most picturesque regions, also known for great innovation and well developed oenotourism. McLaren Vale has produced wine since 1838. The climate is rather Mediterranean, with ocean winds and coolness from the nearby mountains, which temper the heat of South Australia.
Today, McLaren has an international reputation for producing the "trilogy" of Australian reds: Shiraz (54% of their plantings), Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache. The region produces mainly red wines with aromas of black fruit and round, ripe tannins.
McLaren Vale is home to some of the oldest vines in the world. Some vines more than 100-year-old still produce grapes! The centuries-old Shiraz and Grenache vines produce wines that are renowned for their depth and complexity. They produce small quantities of highly concentrated grapes. The climate and soil favour a very perfumed fruit and a wine with a beautiful purple colour that can last for decades in the bottle. McLaren Vale is also recognized for its sustainable practices and commitment towards the environment.
McLaren Vale has also started producing white wines using Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Zonte's Footstep was created in 2003 by two prominent figures of the Australian wine world, Ben Riggs and Zar Brooks. Soon, the team grew and the Canadian Brad Rey joined the project to take care of the export. The common goal is to produce the best possible price-quality ratio from very old vines. Thus, although the winery is located in McLaren Vale, Zonte's also owns vineyards in Barossa, Clare Valley, Adelaide Hills and Langhorne Creek. This diversity of terroirs allows the producer to offer a highly original diversity of wines, including among others a 100% Malbec, Sangiovese and a fresh climate Sauvignon blanc!
our time at zonte's footstep
During our day in Zonte's Footstep vineyard, we first met Brad Rey, one of the founding members of the vineyard. He explained in more detail the vineyard's export strategies, and in particular their focus on the Asian market, which is becoming a growing concern for Australian vineyards. We also learned about their wish to express the Australian terroir and to show what the country can offer: fruit-driven, they try to optimize the flavor profile of each grape variety and therefore use minimal oak. As we started to talk about the climate in McLaren Vale, we found out that this summer was the hottest summer they had in the past 8 years and temperature even reached 45 degrees on January 23rd. Then we had the opportunity (for the first time!) to test a Prosecco in a can, an original and surprising experience and we really enjoyed the wine.
Then we met Anna Fisher, the managing director of Zonte's Footstep. We were lucky to have lunch with her, which allowed us to learn more about the wine characteristics in Australia and more specifically in McLaren Vale. Anna also gave us key and very interesting information on the place of women in Australia and proved that women can take on positions with high levels of responsibility in the wine industry.
Anna then showed us McLaren Vintners, a cooperative winery in which Zonte wines are made. We visited the laboratory, where measurements on fermented wines are carried out, as well as their bottling room. We were wearing safety vests and glasses to comply with the safety measures. Fortunately, we had earplugs to reduce the deafening noise of the bottling process! We were able to observe all the stages of wine bottling: bottle washing/rinsing, filling, capping, labelling and storage. We also tasted wines directly from the tanks!
After this very interesting visit, Anna took us to see their cellar door "The General". We were able to see the labels of their wines, which are very original.They have always aimed to bottle wines with personality and expression. That's why they gave them names. Now these wines have evolved to have a face of their own!
Their cellar door is also equipped with a wine vending machine. Thus, we were able to serve ourselves our own glasses of wine for tasting. The wine bottles are placed in the wine vending machine, connected to a spout. Then all we have to do is choose the wine we want to taste, press a button and the dose of wine is automatically served!
Then Anna offered us a blind tasting of four Shiraz, to test our nose! We had to associate each Shiraz with its specific terroir, since the Shiraz came from different geographical locations:
Hills are Alive Adelaide Hills Shiraz: tastes like plums, cherries, rhubarb, a hint of pepper and spice, cocoa
Baron Von Nemesis Barossa Shiraz: tastes like mulberries, blackberry pie and smells like 90% black cocoa and macerated raspberry.
Chocolate Factory McLaren Vale Shiraz: tastes like milk chocolate, cedar and plums
Lake Doctor Langhorne Creek Shiraz: tastes like cedar, blackberries and caramelized orange peel
Congratulations to Alexandra who perfectly succeeded in this blind tasting!
In 1912, concerned about the future of his son Frank who had failed in his medical studies, Joseph Osborn, the founder of this dynasty of winegrowers (the estate is now in the hands of the 4th generation) bought some acres of vines in Mclaren Vale. This mark of paternal love is all the more remarkable because Joseph was a man who did not drink a drop of alcohol! Today, d'Arenberg owns some 200 hectares spread throughout the valley and has around 39 different grape varieties! All their vines are certified organic and biodynamic but not yet their wines.
The take-off of the estate was due to Arry when he replaced his father in the 1960s. Today, Arry has left the estate to his oenologist son Chester Osborn who has reintroduced some old traditions while bringing new techniques. For instance, they play music to the vines to stimulate the grapes, which is very innovative, but everything is still 100% foot stomped, which is very traditional: a great mix!
Today, d’Arenberg is known throughout the world for its wines with a very high concentration of ripe fruit, a silky texture with firm tannins that balance a complex bouquet.
our time at d'arenberg
During our visit of d’Arenberg, we met Emma Beckett, the trade marketing coordinator of the domain. We first visited the legendary d'Arenberg cube! This unusual building with the appearance of a giant Rubik's cube enabled us to play the role of apprentice winegrowers, and took us on an educational wine trip, a fun experience in an original setting! The first room of the Cube is composed of horn pears connected to jars containing different aromas. We trained ourselves to discover the different flavors that can be found in the wine: it allowed us to develop our nose! Then we visited a museum, the Alternate Realities Museum, that lead us through a space filled with wall to wall artistic installations designed to excite and awaken our senses. After that, through videos exposed on the walls, we were able to discover the ancestral winemaking techniques used by d’Arenberg. For instance, all their grapes are trampled manually by barefoot people to release the juice and begin fermentation. This method is very rare today, and most estates use a crusher/destemmer instead. Nevertheless, crushing with the foot enables to squeeze the juice in the most meticulous way possible, which allows it to keep all its ardor, its tannins, and therefore all its character.
In addition, fermentations are carried out in the gentlest way possible, with natural, non-interventionist fermentation starts. Everything is done here to preserve the identity of the terroirs, the grape varieties and the vines. Then we were able to discover the art gallery on the top floor, in which some works inspired by Dali were temporarily exhibited. Through this visit to the d’Arenberg Cube, we’ve clearly felt the taste and love of art that Chester and his father Arry have.
Finally, we visited the tasting room inside the cube, with a breathtaking view of d’Arenberg and McLaren Vale vineyards. We joined Lucie Lefevre, a Frenchwoman who currently works at d'Arenberg and whom we met last year during our visit to la Cité du Vin. She let us taste some delicious wines!
We met again with Emma and discovered some of the estate's vines as well as their cellar. We were impressed by the ancestral character of the machines and containers (old presses, wines fermented in cement tanks...).
We had a great day at Chapel Hill Winery. The vineyard, planted in 1972, benefits from an amazing place with a great view over McLaren Vale and Guld St Vincent. More astounding, it is established on the site of the Seaview Chapel. This ironstone chapel built in 1865 still exists and is now converted into an original tasting room.
our time at CHAPEL HILL
During our day, we had the chance to meet with several members of the team: Bodhi Edwards- the retail and marketing manager, Bryn Richards- the winemaker, Rachel Steer- the viticulturist, Camillia and Justin. This gave us a real overview of the vineyard and wines.
First we visited the cellar with Bryn, who explained us all his winemaking process. First of all, the cellar is 100% undercover which is quite unusual for Australia as we’d normally find tanks outside. What’s more, they try to be as sustainable as possible: all the winery’s wastes are reused for compost and the water is recycled for irrigation. What’s more, as 60% of the energy consumption in a winery is for refrigeration, being 100% undercover is great since it helps keeping temperature down. He also puts the emphasis on the need to be gentle and patient during all the process. For instance, he uses small batches handling and traditional open fermenters to preserve all the characteristics of the grapes. For premium wines, He also prefers punch downs rather than pump overs as it’s smoother and uses baskett press which is better than regular press because of the constant and slower pressure applied to the grapes. Talking about press, for their white wines, they only use the free run juice (the 1st juice): they’ll ferment the press juice separately but it’ll be sold and not used in their final products.
Then we helped Rachel to analyse the soil structure of different parcels of the vineyard to understand the impact of the soil on the wine’s favours and determine a terroir. We filmed and took pictures of the soil at several depth levels for the study. They have 44 hectares of vines and over 10 different grape varieties (60% is Shiraz!). We were lucky to meet with Rachel, who is a famous woman viticulturist in the region: she recognized that nowadays it’s easier to be a woman, that people are less “worried” if it’s a woman giving orders and recommendations than in the past. However, there are still very few women viticulturists in Australia as this aspect of the industry still attract more men than women.
Finally we had a tasting session with Camilia in the Chapel. What a great setting for a tasting! We’ve appreciated their tasting format. Indeed, usually, you have between 6 and 12 glasses of different wines (sometimes more), from the lower segment to the premium one. The risk is to have tasted too many wines when you reach the last and best ones, and so not be able to really appreciate them. There, we tasted only 4 wines, but the 4 best wines, so we could spend more time on each one and fully appreciate them.
To end this very interesting morning, we all had a friendly lunch together at Swell Brewery.