9 of the Best Wineries in McLaren Vale

Ask any Adelaidean the ideal way to spend a sunny weekend with friends and 9 times out of 10 it’ll involve heading to McLaren Vale. Plenty of easy-drinking wines, an abundance of top restaurants, scenic views stretching to the pristine coastline – you’d think you were on holiday somewhere in the Mediterranean, not 40-minutes from a capital city. With so many awesome wineries to choose from, we’ve rounded up 9 of the Best Wineries in the McLaren Vale and highlighted what makes them special. It’ll be sure to make your visit an absolute corker!

Samuel’s Gorge: Great wine without the Pomp & Ceremony

People often ask us – what’s your favourite winery? The first place that comes to mind is often Samuel’s Gorge. Their unpretentious attitude and deliciously drinkable wines make it a perfect destination to get a feel for the real McLaren Vale.

Their suite of reds includes Mediterranean varieties like Graciano, Grenache, and Tempranillo are just as good to crack open and drink today as they are to stash in the wine-tomb and bring out in few years time. Couple that with a shabby-chic boho cellar door with one of the best views in McLaren Vale and you’ve got a winning combination. It’s not uncommon to see our guests completely relax into the vibe that is “the Gorge” where time just disappears.

Small Batch Wine Tours shared-group tour Uncork McLaren Vale regularly visits Samuel’s Gorge before the crowds arrive, so guests can enjoy one of McLaren Vale’s best wineries in a perfectly idyllic way.

Inkwell: Leading the way for the Sustainable Wine Movement

Now, if you’re curious about sustainability, Inkwell Wines is an absolute must visit. Dudley and Irina Santiago-Brown are the formidable husband and wife duo behind the brand, with Daisy (pictured) as the official boss and welcoming committee. While Dr Irina Santiago-Brown was busy studying and writing the framework for Australia’s Sustainable Winegrowing regime, Dudley was busy playing with Lego – a.k.a designing their tasting room and boutique hotel to be made out of 20 repurposed shipping containers.

These two have all things eco, sustainable, regenerative running through their veins. Always moving forward, never standing still or complacent, there’s always something new to learn from their insights. Nowhere else in McLaren Vale (nowhere else in Australia, probably) is what they’re doing in the vineyard more noticeable in the glass than at Inkwell. Capturing more carbon in the vineyard and maintaining a healthy biome is changing their wines in ways that even they never expected.

As big fans and supporters of Inkwell since the beginning, there is no one better able to take you into their world than the team at Small Batch. Our head wine-nerd Matthew even worked with Inkwell Wines for a short time during the 2022 vintage. Book a private McLaren Vale tour with us and mention that you want to deep-dive into sustainability for the full Inkwell experience.

Yangarra: A Journey Through Grenache

Twenty years ago you’d have trouble finding someone to buy your old bush-vine Grenache fruit. Back in the 1980’s the Australian Government was paying people (literally) to rip the vines out of the ground and plant something else. Luckily, some growers faced the winds of change head on and kept their vines in the ground, with Yangarra Estate now being home to the largest plot of old-vine Grenache in the world.

McLaren Vale old-vine Grenache is now the coolest kid in town, finding its way onto the hottest wine lists around the globe. That’s because the style of wine being made from Grenache has changed from being a heavy handed brute into something much more delicate and refined, lending itself to a wide variety of cuisines. At Yangarra, you’ll have the opportunity to try through a range of different styles of Grenache, from white to rose, aged in oak or ceramic egg, to blends and unique blocks. At last count there were nine Grenache-dominant wines to try!

Yangarra is usually the first stop on our private Essential McLaren Vale Wine Experience, unless we have curated a special itinerary at your request. By visiting Yangara, you are experiencing a winery that is helping to redefine the region. There’s also a variety of different wines to taste – from whites and rose, curious blends and everyday wines, through to the most expensive in the region.

Alpha Box & Dice: A Lesson in Flavour Gymnastics

How can you sum up Alpha Box & Dice? You know that one friend we all have that dances to the beat of his own drum, doesn’t do anything mainstream, and knows all the cool places to go before they’re even open – that’s Alpha Box & Dice. Throwing convention into the wind and doing whatever the hell they feel like doing, and doing it with class.

Are you tired of the same old wines – Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz… Well try your hand at some Trousseau, or a skinsy Semmilon/Gruner blend, maybe Aglianico or a dry barrel-aged botrytis Semillon. At the “corrugated castle” you never know what you’re going to get, except that you’ll definitely be doing a lot of flavour gymnastics like never before. Limber up and give your tastebuds a workout!

Kay Brothers: Traditional Reds and Fortified Wines

For lovers of age-worthy reds or sweet fortified wines (often called tawny or muscat), visiting Kay Brothers in McLaren Vale is an absolute must. This fabulous family-owned winery has built a legendary reputation for crafting some of the most collectable and age-worthy expressions of Shiraz in the region. With a history dating back into the 1800s – when most of what was produced in the region was fortified wines – they definitely know a thing or two about making great tawny and muscat.

Their premium range of rich reds includes the Cuthbert Cabernet, Hillside Shiraz, Block 6 Shiraz (from vines aged over 100 years), and the iconic Australian blend Shiraz Cabernet in the IronMonger. For fortified lovers they have a Grand Liqueur Muscat, an Old Tawny, and a Rare Muscat, with average ages of 12, 20, and 22 years respectively.

When visiting Kay Brothers you are treated to a warm, unpretentious, and intimate wine tasting experience. The rustic charm of the cellar door filled with huge vats full of tawny is a great way to finish off a tour of McLaren Vale, especially for those seeking out fortified wines.

Sherrah: Lo-Fi Winemaking & Fun ‘Smashable’ Wines

Having made wine in here Australia, in Austria and France, and in the US (with wines that fetch upwards of US$300) Alex has seen it all. He’s brought his own ethos and style to the young brand he started with his wife Liz. Choosing to eschew the glitz and glamour of the opulent, oaky wines destined for eons in the cellar, Sherrah wines are much more palatable from the get-go, easily enjoyed without having to be meticulously studied and understood.

“Wine to me is not about tasting blackcurrant and cigar box but how the wine ‘feels’ to drink. I believe in balance, a great wine should have no sharp edges – it should have beautiful smooth curves from front to back.” – Alex Sherrah

Much of this ethos stems from the belief that the wine is grown in the vineyard, without the need to be manipulated and changed, simply framed and presented. This also means there’s less chemical nasties involved, making for a fresher, cleaner wine. So, if you’re up for trying some totally drinkable and possibly out-of-the-ordinary, Sherrah is absolutely your go-to spot. We’ll often visit somewhere like Sherrah wines on our shared-group tour Uncork McLaren Vale, especially if you leave us the comment that you enjoy the more natural wine movement without all the nasty additives.

Oliver’s Taranga: Vineyard Experience with a Difference

The Oliver family have been grape-growers in McLaren Vale since the early 1800’s, selling their fruit into some of the most highly-prized wines in the country for many years. Around the turn of the millennium two strong-willed cousins in the family, Briony and Corinna, decided it was high-time they started making their own wines. That’s when Oliver’s Taranga the brand was born.

When visiting the winery you can hear about the family history from the early years, taste the results of their foray into growing sustainable varieties, and relax in one of the most scenic cellar doors with outstanding service. What really sets them apart however, is their ability to take you into the vineyard where you can learn more about their grape growing practices.

Jumping into “Ollie” – their battery powered vineyard buggy – knowledgeable staff take you on a journey around the property in comfort and style. Not only will you be drinking wines in the vineyard which they were grown, you’ll get a better understanding of where and why they’re doing what they do and how choices or conditions in the vineyard affect the wine. At the right time of year, you will even be able to try the fruit directly off the vine!

A completely immersive and comprehensive experience, it’s quite unlike anything else on offer in the Vale and we can include it as part of our Pinnacle of McLaren Vale tour.

Hither & Yon: The Home of Alternative Varieties

Touriga, Carignan, Nero D’Avola, Montepulciano, Aglianico, Mataro, Tempranillo – these are the sort of varieties you can grow well in McLaren Vale if only you have the means. Starting off as a grower and consultant, the Leask brothers started Hither & Yon to give these lesser-appreciated varieties a go – simply because they think they’re better suited to the conditions. Sure there’s a big movement in “alternative varieties” in McLaren Vale, but nowhere leans into it more than these guys.

The change into growing these varieties is born of a desire by the brothers to be more sustainable, more climate appropriate, and more eco-friendly. As testament to this, they were the first winery in the Vale to be Certified Carbon Neutral.

Stepping into their cute and welcoming tasting room on the Willunga main street, you feel more like you’re in a boho cafe/wine-bar than in a tasting room, and this relaxed vibe translates through to the wines. Light-hearted and made to be enjoyed, there’s a convivial sense about the brand, the wines, and the people that makes Hither & Yon truly endearing and well worth a visit.

d’Arenberg: The Willy Wonka of Wine

It’s hard to read anything about McLaren Vale these days and not hear about the d’Arenberg Cube – and rightly so! Now an icon of McLaren Vale wine region, no list of the best wineries in McLaren Vale is complete without The Cube. Combining the Alternative Realities Museum and a glass-walled top-floor tasting room with commanding views in every direction, it’s a spectacle tyou will absolutely admire. A multi-sensory experience where art meets wine, the eccentric personality of owner Chester Osborn is on display on the walls, the ceilings, the floor, and of course in the wines. It’s a great place to come, especially if you have people in your party who aren’t neccessarily into wine and want something else to keep occupied with.

D’Arenberg is one of Australia’s first Families of Wine, they are still family-owned and have been part of the McLaren Vale wine scene since the beginning. Firmly rooted in tradition, all d’Arenberg wines have been basket pressed (reds and whites) with all red ferments foot trod during fermentation. Last we checked there were over eighty wines produced by the brand, including strange blends and varieties alongside the all the traditionals, so they definitely have something for all wine lovers.

In summary…

Exploring these diverse wineries will help you to discover the richness and variety of the Vale’s wine scene. Each one offers a unique angle and experience, making your visit to this progressive Australian wine region truly memorable. While they are just some of the best wineries in McLaren Vale there’s always plenty more to explore and uncork. So, grab your corkscrew and your sense of adventure, and head to the McLaren Vale with Small Batch Wine Tours for a journey that you’ll remember for years to come.