Vine Vale, where is that??
Vine Vale is a small area in the eastern section of the Barossa Valley, while not an official sub-region it is an area characterised predominantly by sandy soils at the foot of the Barossa range (See Figure 1). The proximity to the range means it is relatively windy as the cool air falls from the higher, cooler Eden Valley (Figure 2). The name Vine Vale is likely linked to its long serving suitability to grape ‘vine’ production since the Rocky Gully church was established in the early 1800’s.
Vine Vale Soils
The generalised soil map shows Vine Vale as being predominately within the soil type of deep sand over clay, see yellow areas in the map below. There are only two other areas with true deep sand over clay, both to the south and west of Vine Vale. While still home to some grapes, the orographic conditions of these areas - Rowland Flat and Lyndoch/Sandy Creek - makes them slightly less ideal as evidenced by the limited plantings of significant age.
Vine Vale soils provide moisture in spring that is rapidly depleted from the sand, but has long term slower release of moisture from deeper down in the clay. The deeper moisture is well insulated against evaporation by the lightly textured sand.
Figure 1. General soil types of the Barossa Valley, Vine Vale area highlighted in red with Vinya Vella also circled. Yellow indicates areas of deep sand over clay while blue indicates deep alluvial soil.
Vine Vale Climate
It’s the Barossa, so I’m not arguing that Vine Vale is cool climate, however... local knowledge and experience on the ground finds that the wind from the cooler Eden Valley affects maturity, delaying ripening in the area. It also aids acid retention as does the insulating sand over the moist clay. This makes Vine Vale a unique mesoclimate within the wider Barossa macroclimate.
Local weather station data supports that the Vine Vale is cooler, windier and accumulates less degree days than other sites on the Valley floor. Interestingly, Vine Vale accumulates more solar radiation during the growing season than sites to the west but with lower temperatures. This is important as the radiation is the fuel for photosynthesis and achieving ripeness through plant function. Temperature which is often linked to radiation can be detrimental to plant function so having higher radiation but lower temperatures is ideal for producing wines with natural balance.
All these attributes contribute to the ability to produce Grenache that is light, lifted and fresh, with high natural acidity and ripe, smooth tannins.
Figure 2. Growing Degree days map of Barossa Valley. (Barossa Australia source)
Vine Vale is Old
In the early 1800’s the Barossa Valley was divided into sections for settlers, which were released and labelled sequentially from 1 to over 900, and now well over 1000! Vinya Vella is found on the 57th section to be assigned, in the best land available in the 1800’s. In the early days of settlement, vines were among some of the first crops to be planted and one of the longest lived perennials to survive following importation.
The area of Vine Vale with its easy to manage sand, flat topography, proximity to the main towns of the region and nearby streams meant it was established as productive early on. The current concentration of old vine material in this area is testament to that fact. It is also an indicator of the long serving quality and production, with some blocks avoiding times of uprooting due to economic shifts in the wine industry, especially in the transition of demand from fortified production to fine table wine. Luckily the varieties that persisted in this area have the ability to be flexible, this has allowed them to remain in demand and in production across three centuries.
Figure 3. the Hundred of Moorooroo from 1875 with Vinya Vella highlighted. Inset: arrow indicates section 1 and points to Vinya Vella in section 57.
Grenache is a Jewel, Old Vine is a Rare Jewel
A range of old and notable vineyards exist in and around Vine Vale, think of Yalumba's Tricentenary vines, or Cirillo, SmallFry and Pete Schells Dominion vineayard are all in the immediate area. This concentration of old vineyards tells us that the conditions have been suitable for production through almost 200 years of economic changes, environmental challenges and varietal fashion swings.
Today there are approximately 600ha of Grenache in total in the Barossa Valley. If you wonder why you don’t hear so much about the variety it is probably due to the fact there are over 7700ha of Shiraz in the Barossa Valley!