South Australia’s Clare Valley Shines with Cabernet Sauvignon

Clare Vineyards

© South Australian Tourism Commission/Mike Annese

Clare Vineyards

Clare Vineyards

© South Australian Tourism Commission/Mike Annese

Better known for its racy Rieslings, Clare Valley in South Australia is also home to Cabernet Sauvignon. We already know that its altitude and sunny but fresh climate give Riesling its zest and zing, but it turns out that these conditions also favour structured, fresh and elegant Cabernet Sauvignons.

Heat and cold

The fact that Clare is a north-south oriented valley means that it receives the heat from the interior of the continent as well as the cold ocean breezes from the Gulf of St Vincent, creating day-night-temperature shifts. Weather data shows that these swings range between 13-15°C – or 55-59°F. This compares to 6-9°C in Margaret River and 10-11°C in Pauillac, Bordeaux – two regions noted for their fine Cabernet Sauvignon. The climate is also rather dry, especially during the growing season. The average annual rainfall is just 500-600mm compared to 1,000mm in Margaret River and 900mm in Pauillac.

Clare character

Micheal Kane, winemaker at Knappstein Wines, farms his 50-year-old Cabernet vines at 475-480m/1558-1574ft and says: “Clare is really good at ripening dark fruit characters like cherry and boysenberry. This, combined with the freshness, the varietal characteristics and that Clare mint character – these elements make the wines what they are.” He notes that the warm and dry days during the growing season make “ripening easy. So we can choose when to pick.”

Flavour, juiciness and elegance

Getting vivid freshness was also Jeffrey Grosset’s intention, so he planted his Gaia vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon at a lofty 570m/1,870ft in 1986: “I wanted to get the coolest spot in the Clare Valley, so I planted it in the highest spot where it would not get blown away,” he says. He is a celebrity in the world of Riesling but his Cabernet is a class act, too. Stephanie Toole of Mount Horrocks sums it up: “These Clare Cabernets, they've all got flavour. They have juiciness and elegance and fine-grained tannins and nothing is overdone. You can drink them now or in 25 years."

Undervalued gems

There are just 1,136ha/2,807 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in Clare Valley – just 4.5% of this variety in all of Australia – but it is one of those little, undervalued gems. The historic winery Wendouree, founded in 1893, has a cult following for its tiny output, but it turns out that other Clare Cabernets are exquisite value for money. Those who love a snappy and fresh elegance in their Cabernets now know where to look.