130km north of Adelaide (and west of the Barossa), the Clare Valley sits within a high-altitude pocket granting the vineyards cool to cold nights with long, warm to hot summer days. This cooler climate grants thin-skinned (and indeed temperamental) grapes like rieslings a perfect climate in which to mature slowly without risk of mould during the harvest season. The resulting wines are perfumed, complex, softly flavoured yet powerful.
There are several sub-regions in the 35km stretch of valley, pocketed with varying soils, altitudes and climates. West-facing, high-altitude slopes benefit from drying afternoon sun in summer, producing some of the regions best vintages. The vines are planted from 400 to 500 metres (1,300 to 1,600 ft). The higher altitude, compared to other wine regions in South Australia, ensures cool nights even during the heat of summer allowing the fruit to ripen more evenly and slowly. Soil is a mix of red to brown-grey over basement rock.
The region was first planted in the 1840's by James Green, and later by Jesuit monks who fled Silesia seeking the freedom to follow their faith. The Sevenhill Cellars, which was first established by the monks, is still owned and operated by them today, producing wine for Catholic ceremonies.
The favourable climate ensures riesling is the standout variety, and the Clare is regarded as the Australian home of this renowned white. Thankfully, the sub-regions also produce very high quality Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and superbly complex reds, so a visit to the region is recommended. With dozens of boutique wineries, there are plenty of cellar doors in a small area so you can sample the delicious varietal expressions of acclaimed wineries such as Tim Adams, Pikes, Taylors, just to name a few.
Principal red varieties are Cabernet sauvignon and shiraz. They make a range of styles of varietal wines, reflecting different approaches to winemaking as well as the influences of the various sub-regions and micro-climates in the valleys.