They’ve got in wrong in the Clare Valley!
It’s easy to be critical from the sidelines, but as a spectator watching the wine industry blossom in South Australia’s Clare Valley, I can’t help but wonder if players and coaches alike might have made the wrong call. I’m probably going to be howled down for saying so, but planting so many Shiraz vines in Australia’s best Riesling producing region seems counterintuitive to me.
The Clare Valley is situated a little over 100kms to the North of Adelaide at the Northern end of the Mount Lofty Ranges zone. At an elevation of 400- 500m above sea level, it’s significantly higher in altitude than most other wine producing regions in South Australia. The elevation means cooler evening temperatures and slower ripening of fruit. In summer, the climate can be hot, but the dry heat generally falls away at night so managing fungal diseases isn’t a big issue. With its rocky soils and elevation, it’s perfectly suited to the production of Riesling although other varietals like Shiraz, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Semillon, Tempranillo, Grenache and Sauvignon Blanc are ably represented by the region’s viticulturists.
The Clare Valley region has a relatively small grape production but despite accounting for only around 2% of the national grape crush, it produces wines which impress both wine judges and oenophiles alike and the region’s winemakers regularly take home trophies from the major wine shows. The Clare Valley has around 13,000 acres under vine but surprisingly, almost 35% of the vines are Shiraz. To me, it seems odd that Shiraz is given such prominence in the vineyard when the region’s Cabernet (which accounts for about 22% of plantings) and Riesling (accounting for about 22% of plantings) is amongst the best in the country. Oddly, red wine varietals in total, account for almost 70% of vines in the area despite the global success of Clare Valley Riesling.
The bias towards Shiraz is probably a consequence of the Nation’s thirst for the style. For many years now Shiraz has been the biggest selling red wine varietal in the Country. But if I had my way, I’d graft the rootstock over to Riesling and Cabernet tomorrow!
The Clare Valley is home to dozens of well-known wineries such as Knappstein, Jim Barry Wines, Sevenhill and O’Leary Walker, but there are probably none better than the family-owned Skillogalee Winery at Trevarrick Road at Sevenhill.
The Skillogalee Winery is owned by Dave and Dianna Palmer and was established in 1970 with its first wines released in 1976. These days, production sits at only around 250 tonnes, meaning that wines are individual, made in relatively small batches and only from fruit grown on the property. The Skillogalee team produces Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay for the white wine lovers, and Shiraz, Cabernet, Sauvignon and red blends for those cool winter evenings. Winemaking practices combine the very best of modern technologies whilst remaining reverent to traditional processes such as using open fermenters and basket pressing of the red varietals.
2016 Skillogalee Gewürztraminer
As you would expect, the Skillogalee team produce some exceptional Rieslings. Their 2015 Trevarrick is exceptional (and still available) while their more youthful 2017 Estate Riesling was awarded 93 points by James Halliday. But for a food-friendly aromatic white, it’s hard to go past the 2016 Gewürztraminer. Although originally from the Alsace region in France, Gewürztraminer does well in cooler climates like the Clare Valley. The Skillogalee Gewürz has a delightful bouquet of stewed lychees on the nose but on the palate, there are hints of rose petal, passionfruit and a tang of ginger marmalade. These aromatics defy a greenish edge that appears around the glass while on the palate, a mouth-filling ripeness has the audacity to make a cameo appearance before ample acids march the fruit through a crisp and semi-dry conclusion.
It’s not a style that we see a lot of in Australia, but I reckon it’s a perfect partner for spicy Asian dishes or even just as a pre-dinner Apéritif.