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McLaren Vale: No Place Like Home

When I travel, I am often lucky to find a little piece of home. Wherever I am in the world, McLaren Vale wines always seem to be available in restaurants and wine bars, which fills me with joy, knowing that a particular bottle of wine was lovingly produced in my home town – and I probably know the winemaker personally, too.

One of the reasons McLaren Vale is such a tight-knit community is that many of the families have been here for generations. Even if people leave, they usually come back. And why wouldn’t you! Just 45 minutes south of Adelaide, but a world away from city living, McLaren Vale has a beautiful natural environment featuring 30 kilometres of pristine beaches and row upon row of gorgeous vineyards.

So when you visit McLaren Vale’s family-owned wineries, you’ll often find the winemaker in the cellar door, keen to share their passion for not only their wines, but also life in the Vale. 

Mediterranean charm

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As you drive up the long, windy driveway to the Lloyd family’s Coriole Vineyards, you’re reminded just how Mediterranean McLaren Vale’s environment is. Coriole itself is like a little slice of Italy. It’s beautiful in whichever direction you look, from the rolling vineyards in the foreground to the Willunga Hills in the south, all the way across to the ocean. Lovely cottage gardens, initially planted by Molly Lloyd in the 1970s, and now cared for by daughter Ann Lloyd Wilson, surround the restaurant and cellar door, and the colours and scents are intoxicating.

Members of the Lloyd family are often scattered around the place on any given day. When I spoke to senior winemaker Duncan Lloyd in the barrel shed, the big doors were open, looking out at that picturesque view. We were joined by Mark – Duncan’s father and Coriole owner and director – and Paul, his uncle. The Lloyds make you feel like you’re part of the family – as if you have simply been invited to their home to enjoy some good food and wine.

Duncan works with over 20 different varieties, grown across four family vineyards, and is passionate about capturing each variety to show its greatest varietal expression.

“The blending is really done in the vineyard to ensure we get the right balance of fruit, structure and acidity, while keeping things simple in the winery,” says Duncan.

“There is a great joy in bringing wines to life that the whole family has had input into. For years we’ve had lively debates around the dinner table on different varieties and wine styles.

“Without the family contribution, we wouldn’t have products such as our dry aperitif-style Prosecco or experimental small batch wines such as our Montimaro (a co-ferment of Montepulciano, Barbera, Negroamaro and Sangiovese).

“It really is a great way to keep pushing the boundaries and sharing these new wines over the next meal,” says Duncan.

Eccentric meets tradition

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d’Arenberg is a just a five-minute drive from Coriole, but what a different experience it is! Soaring over the Mourvedre vines is The Cube – a multi-story glass rubix cube Chester Osborn describes as “inspired by the complexities and puzzles of winemaking.” It features luxury dining, art installations and wine experiences that challenge convention.

Chester is the fourth generation of the Osborns to head d’Arenberg and when you meet him – with his zany shirts, mop of unruly curls and infectious energy – you soon understand why he’s the brains behind this unconventional cellar door.

If you visit d’Arenberg mid-afternoon, you might also find Chester’s father d’Arry Osborn enjoying his daily cup of tea. At 92 years of age, d’Arry has completed over 72 consecutive vintages, having started at the winery at the age of 16. He took over from his father in 1957, going on to create the d’Arenberg brand with its famous red stripe in 1959.

While there’s the eccentric side of d’Arenberg, there’s also history in the form of the stable shed cellar door, d’Arry’s Verandah restaurant and Polly’s Lounge. And then there’s Chester’s approach to winemaking.

“All of my wines, including the whites, are basket-pressed,” he says. “The reds are traditionally fermented in open wax-lined concrete fermenters and stainless-steel replicas. 

“I like to make wines that have a fragrant fruit character, with palate structure showing long, balanced and vibrant tannins and soil and geology characters.”

Italian passion

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While McLaren Vale might feel like a slice of Italy in places like Coriole, it’s also home to a community of Italian families and among them are the Maglieris of Serafino.

When Steve Maglieri arrived in the region in 1966, he had a suitcase, the equivalent of $20 in his pocket, plus a whole lot of passion. By 1968, he and his father Giovanni had planted some vines and 51 years later, his vineyards span to 350 acres. While Steve remains managing director, his daughter Maria is CEO.

Their heritage shines through in the fact they have the largest Italian wine portfolio in McLaren Vale and like their Italian owners, these varieties flourish in the region. “The Mediterranean climate is perfect for varieties like Fiano and Montepulciano,” explains Serafino’s marketing manager Russell Gallagher. “The vines feel like they’re right at home and thrive in the local summer conditions.”

In fact, Russell thinks these varieties will one day give the French favourites a run for their money. “Fiano could be the next Chardonnay and Montepulciano is also a star.”

Serafino offers a serene tasting setting from its cellar door that’s surrounded by 200-year-old gum trees and overlooks a lake. And while you might not get to meet one of the Maglieri family, you will meet the gaggle of 20 geese who call the property home and who, Russell says, will be “interested in your every move.”

A first-rate experience

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As you venture out of the heart of McLaren Vale past The Salopian Inn (worth a visit itself!), you’ll find the Primo Estate cellar door – another gorgeous architectural addition to the McLaren Vale landscape.

“Primo Estate is named after my father Primo,” says Joe Grilli. “Dad emigrated from Italy in 1953 and was a grower for many years, before backing me in my winemaking endeavours. He mortgaged the family home and vineyard to build a winery. So, there I was – a 19-year-old winemaking student with a brand-new winery at my disposal!”

Joe is still head winemaker and managing director and you’ll often find his children, Elena and Matteo, in the cellar door on the weekends.

The Joseph Experience – a seated tasting with some fresh crusty bread, hard Italian cheese and Joe’s much loved olive oil – is worth exploring. It also includes a sparkling red, dessert wine and fortified wine. You can also choose to taste any of the other wines from the Primo collection. Joe’s signature style is ‘Amarone’, a Northern Italian method of drying the grapes for weeks before crushing. Joe was the first to use the technique outside of Italy back in the 1980s, and Primo’s flagship red, the JOSEPH ‘Moda’ Cabernet Merlot, is a renowned example.

Brotherly venture

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Just south of McLaren Vale, in the historic township of Willunga, you’ll find Hither & Yon.

With its cosy cellar door on High Street, this little gem is nestled in between an art gallery and a provedore café, and with its long wooden tasting table, comfy armchairs, and homey décor, it’s like having a wine at a friend’s house.

Brothers Richard and Malcolm Leask are H & Y’s owners. Richard is the viticulturist and winemaker, while Malcolm is responsible for branding and marketing.

“Table-style wines are important to us,” says Richard. “Capturing the essence of the vineyard and variety, bottling that freshness – making wines that taste like the fruit did on picking day.”

Some examples of this include H & Y’s Tempranillo, which Richard describes as having “a wild nature, a healthy vigour, big berries, thick skins”, along with their Cabernet.

“For the Tempranillo, we ferment slowly and macerate gently, to produce a dark, fruity, spicy, earthy and bold style, great for matching with chargrilled squid and chorizo or haloumi. With our Cabernet, we pick early on, so it has a crunchy, herbaceous edge with lower alcohol, light on oak, with a medium body. Concentrated but elegant, perfect with local cheddar.”

The H & Y range is long so be prepared to taste a lot – there’s also a selection of local produce to share.

A sustainable gem

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McLaren Vale is arguably Australia’s greenest wine region with a commitment to sustainable grape-growing dating back to the early 2000s.

Chief winemaker and Managing Director of Gemtree Wines Mike Brown explains this collective approach is about creating a sustainable future. “We all want the region to thrive and prosper and we know what we need to do to make it happen, not sit back and wait for others to act.”

Mike works alongside his viticulturist wife Melissa, whose parents Paul and Jill Buttery established Gemtree in the 1980s. The vineyards are certified organic and biodynamic and one of their tours, ‘Being Biodynamic’, is a great way to learn about the philosophy behind this approach.

The family’s sustainable approach extends beyond the winery with the Gemtree Eco-Trail. This one kilometre walking track is the result of the family planting over 50,000 native trees and shrubs. Freely open to the public, it’s a beautifully peaceful way to explore native Australian plants and animals.

So, come discover for yourself. McLaren Vale is home to world-class wines across beautiful land and sea with plenty of restaurants, cafes and markets in between. Each cellar door is so different to the next. Taste the wines, but more importantly, meet the growers, winemakers and passionate cellar door staff who contribute to making this region such a pleasure to visit – and call home.

Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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