What is the McLaren Vale Scarce Earth program?
(I wrote this print article recently to provide a little insight into the Scarce Earth program. I’m reprinting it here as it provides some useful context for the tasting notes)
|The McLaren Vale geological regions map.
Click to view larger version
As you can imagine, setting up new vineyards is a slow business. Not only do you need to plant vines, but you’ve also got to install irrigation systems, hammer in posts, hang trellising wires… It’s a process that, no matter how small the vineyard is, always seems to take forever.
Such repetitive work is useful for one thing though – it’s perfect thinking time. And it was over one particularly long (40km long to be precise) stretch of dripper line, back in 2004, that McLaren Vale wine producers Adrian Kenny and Dudley Brown got talking.
It was more like lamenting actually, for the pair agreed that, in direct contrast with some of the more famous wine regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Mosel, McLaren Vale had no ‘special sites’ program. There was no obvious way that the greatest spots in ‘the Vale’ were able to be celebrated, with the celebrations belonging just to the great producers themselves.
What came out of that conversation, after a long period of local consultation and extensive discussions, was what is now called Scarce Earth.
Scarce Earth (originally known as ‘Rare Earth’) is a project that aims to highlight the impact of site on the flavour of McLaren Vale wines. It utilises a resource known as the McLaren Vale Geology Map, which divides the region up into 19 ‘districts’, to help ascertain whether similar geologies can indeed make for similar (or perhaps very different) wines.
To put this theory into action a plan was devised. The concept was fleshed out to be something of ‘a celebration of McLaren Vale Shiraz’ as d’Arenberg’s Chester Osborn describes it, whereby these geological differences/similarities would be explored by looking at Shiraz from all over the region. It would be a McLaren Vale Shiraz-fest.
Kicking off from the 2009 vintage, McLaren Vale producers are thus encouraged to submit a Shiraz to be a part of the programme, with the parameters of entry quite rigid (but simple). Namely, the wine must be produced from a single, 10 year old plus McLaren vineyard; it must be produced in a fruit driven, expressive style (so excessively oaky wines were out) and there must be at least 225 litres of the wine produced.
The advantages for participating producers entering this project is twofold – one, they’re helping to establish whether indeed there is a link between similar sites and similar wines, and two, it’s about being making the wine selected as ‘amongst the best’.
Importantly, this is not a wine show, but all of the submitted wines are tasted by a panel of winemakers, wine writers and wine judges before they were allowed into the Scarce Earth program (and more than 30% don’t make the cut on average) and all wines that make it in are given special neck tags and local recognition.
Another key component to the program is all about exclusivity. The 2011 vintage Scarce Earth wines have just been released and, with the average make sitting at just 30 dozen, the wines won’t last long. They are also confined to cellar door only sales until late August, which means that, to really get a feel of the wines you need to visit yourself (and soon!).
As for whether the wines, when grouped by ‘districts’ do express their similarities/contrasts? Well, having tasted all of the latest 2011 vintage wines, I can confirm that certain districts definitely performed better than others (look towards the warmer southern districts around Sellicks Beach this year), but whether the influence of geology plays as much of a part as the influence of a good viticulturist is still up for debate…