Setting off from Adelaide airport, we drove our rental car 139 km north along the Harrocks Highway to the main town of Clare. The initial drive north consisted of sweep pastoral scenes with rolling green hillsides populated by sheep and Gum trees. Once we reached the town of Auburn, this then changed to vineyards. Here is where the Clare Valley starts, at 250m above sea level, it continues north through the main towns of Watervale, Pentwortham, Sevenhills and finally Clare. The interesting thing we noticed however was that although we reached an altitude of around 550m, we had not noticed the climb. It was a very gentle climb. Along the drive we noticed cyclists on the Riesling trail, a wine route you can cycle through from cellar to cellar built along one of the earliest railway lines in South Australia. There was also a lot of walking routes and farm shops selling local produce and beer. Clare Valley is very much a foodie’s paradise. The main street of the town of Clare populated by butcher shops, green grocers, restaurants and a Paleo shop! All serving locally sourced food and wine. That evening we were hosted by Warrick Duthy, Kilikanoon’s Managing Director, at his home. Warrick is quite the cook – preparing locally reared venison, roasted beets, carrots with goats curd and a cherry sauce reduction. Yum! Sending us off for a nights rest and an early start next day.
Kilikanoon was founded in 1997 by Kevin Mitchell purchased the property of the same name in the hamlet of Penwortham in South Australia’s picturesque Clare Valley. He succeeds his father, hailing from a long line of wine grape growers. The next day morning our first visit was to Kilikanoon’s cellar door in Penwortham, 10km South West of Clare village (town). The winery is set in an old farmhouse, built in 1860. We began with a topographical and geological lesson. Here Warrick points out the different ranges and fissures that make up Clare Valley’s unique landscape.
The Clare valley is a series of eroded blocks of ridges, gentle slopes and north-south running valleys. This was formed over 100s millions of years of sedimentary pressure, movement and erosion. Clare valley first began life as part of the supercontinent of Gondwana some 500 – 800 million years ago. The 10 to 25 km deep of sedimentary rock created enormous pressure and temperature resulted in sedimentary rock formation of siltsontes, sandstone and quartzite, in addition to limestone, dolomites and marble from the carbonates. This pressure caused the ‘folding and buckling’ of the land creating major mountain ranges and the valley itself. After separation into the continent we know today, millions of years of weather and river erosion, carving channels into the landscape, washing the sandstone and gravel throughout the valley. This resulted in the landscape we see today, where the soils on the ridges are shallow solely derived from the underlying rock, as opposed to the lower slopes where soils are deeper as a result of out wash from the neighbouring higher ground.
The valley is divided physically by the Harrocks Hwy, but also topographically differs from West to East. This means that soil types also differ across the Clare valley and are many and varied. Kilikanoon vineyards consist of four distinct soil structures, such as Terra rossa soil overlying calcrete and calcerous siltsones. The topography also lends to the vast differences in sunshine and rain between vineyard sites due to the different vineyard aspects, giving rise to different micro-climates. Vines are planted in both North to South and East to West, depending on the aspect of the vineyard. One side can be more sheltered, another is more exposed, giving rise to variations between vineyards (i.e. diverse vineyards across different terroirs). However, where Kilikanoon really attribute much of the quality of their wines is to the diurnal temperature difference from the altitude – warm dry days and cool, crisp nights. This gives fruit and phenolic ripeness while maintaining a crisp acidity in the grape. For example, Auburn is at 250m rising to the pinnacle at Penwortham at an altitude of 450 – 500m. For example, The KiliKanoon vineyards to the East, Skilly Valley are cooler and at higher altitude. Further down southwest at Watervale, gentler ridges and plains, warmer climate.
Cellar Door Tasting
- Mort’s Block 2015 & 2016 (not released yet). This vineyard site sits amongst the Golden Hillside suite of vineyards in the Watervale sub-region. Mort’s Block was planted over 40 years ago by Mort Mitchell, father of Kevin Mitchell. Here light brown clay over limestone provides ideal soils for premium Riesling grapes.
- Skilly Valley Pinot Gris 2015 – 2 vineyards cool climate 450m, handpicked, brief skin contact followed by free running juice (pure pristine style) slow cool fermented over 3 weeks. Bottled early to preserve freshness. Aromas vibrant fresh with integrated acidity and great balance, 2.7g/L slight residual gives enhanced mouth feel balances alcohol, great texture and length.
- Semillon 2014 – 460m altitude, Barrel fermented (40% new French oak, rest is large hogshead barrels) with 6mths aging on lees stirring twice a week. Shades different from a traditional Hunter Valley Semillon wine, this wine has a refreshing citrus palate along with notes lingering apricots, creamy texture balanced with a refreshing acidity structure. Will age and improve for 10 years. Limited quantities are made each year (around 300 cases a year) last few of 2014 remains. 2015 due for release soon.
- Prodigal Grenache 2013. A Blend of 2 vineyards from Walton’s Block in Watervale. Has terra Rossa soils over limestone, along with the dry growing conditions, hand pruned and handpicked, from 50 – 60 year old vines. Basket pressed, aged for 16 months in French oak, unfined and unfiltered. Dark cherries and spice, a frim structure with balanced acidity, body enhanced by fine tannins giving a smooth and elegant length.
- Duke Reserve Grenache 2012 – named after Kevin’s maternal grandfather, Maurice Duke. Only produced in the finest years, slowly ripened fruit with intense fruit balanced, smooth textured tannins and integrated acidity. Truly amazing wine with intensity and finesse.
- Attunga 2013 Mataro. The history of the Mataro grape in Australia was one of a blending grape and also used for fortified wines and Rosé wines. Known as Mourvedre in France and Monastrell in Spain, the Mataro grape is experiencing a revival in Australia and some would say producing some of the finest examples of this varietal. This is one such wine. Coming from the Attunga vineyards, it is the first release of the varietal wine for Kilikanoon, having previously used the grapes for their Reserve GSM wines. A meaty, robust wine with dark fruits pepper and spice.
- We were treated to a tasting of the 1865 Attunga 2012 Shiraz. A 1 hectare site. A truly handmade wine, basket pressed and aged for 22 months in hogshead barrels. Deep, dark and rich, the wine has both fruit intensity, complexity and depth. It is definitely a wine to put down to age and enjoy 15 to 20 years from now.
The next visit was to the Kilikanoon winery in the Watervale sub-region in the southern part of Clare Valley. Set in the Golden hillside set of vineyards, Kevin’s father Mort Mitchell has been a defining influence, planting and tending to these vineyards including the famed Mort’s Block, for over 40 years. Kevin took us on a tour of the winery. Here, he tells us of the winery’s history and his memories of growing up in this location. In the background of the picture below is Kevin’s childhood home.
The barrel room was substantial with up to 300 barrels of differing sizes, all French oak with medium plus toast. One of the main points of differentiation is that each wine is ascribed a quality standard and if the wine that is intended for the quality level is not of the same standard it is not used – it doesn’t make the “marque”. This is how Kilikanoon maintains if consistency of both quality and style from vintage to vintage. They also blend wines across different single vineyard areas. While competitors in the aread focus on just one vineyard site, they believe that to take the best wines across the best parcels that reach the ascribed quality standards give wines that are consistent and uncompromising quality. Closures are in Stelvin screw caps. As they believe for the style of wines they wish to achieve, cork closure would compromise the style by aging the wine oxidatively. While aging under screw cap is of a reductive nature, they believe will maintain the freshness of the fruit opposed to the more tertiary elements that come with cork age.
Overall, Clare Valley was a wonderful experience. Beautiful landscapes with sporting activities, wonderful food and wine. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to a holiday with all of the above!