David Gleave writes:
Until the 1960s, Grenache was the most important variety in Australia. Overtaken in popularity first by Shiraz and then Cabernet Sauvignon, many of the oldest vineyards were grubbed up. However, as appreciation of Rhône varietals has grown once more, plantings have increased and its fortunes have been revived. Luckily, in South Australia many of the early plantings of Grenache survived, and there is a wealth of old-vine fruit still available.
In recent years, this resurgence has been helped by a major transition in the way Grenache is being made, with a move away from picking raisined fruit and producing port-style wines. Instead, the grapes are picked when ripe – both in sugar and phenolics – but freshness is retained. Many winemakers are now using cold soaks and whole bunch fermentation techniques, which are generally more familiar to producers of cool climate Pinot Noir, in order to bring out the best in the fruit.
Extensive research shows that McLaren Vale in particular is an ideal site for Grenache. Early budding but late ripening, it needs a long, warm growing season in order to ripen fully and the Mediterranean climate of the McLaren Vale provides just that. Two prevailing winds and proximity to the sea are essential to cool the vines, maintaining the acidity in the fruit and therefore the freshness of the best wines.
The ancient soils of the region are also a perfect match for the variety, the oldest of which date back over 550 million years. Sandy soils provide lifted aromatics while darker soils including `Terra Rossa` types contribute to rich, bold tannins.
With more of the newer plantings coming of age and understanding of viticulture and winemaking possibilities continuing to improve, the future looks increasingly bright for Australian Grenache.