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Wine

How climate change is changing our wine

In 2012, a leading Coonawarra viticulturist looked out upon a vineyard in the northern part of the region, a place of shallow soils, home to 25-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines. It was a good site, had been a strong performer for his employer Wynns Coonawarra Estate, but now, viticulturist Allen Jenkins decided to see just how robust it really was.

He divided the block in half. For one set of vines it was business as usual. For the other, a harsher new reality was about to set in as he deliberately reduced the amount of irrigated water it would receive for the next three years, just 10 per cent of its normal allowance. When the results were collated, there was nothing but sad news for those parched Cabernet vines.

“Yield dropped for each of those three years by 40 per cent, on average,” says Allen.

“The berry number also dropped, berries were much smaller, there was an increase in colour and tannin, but the problem was you lost some of that Cabernet varietal character.”

Recovery for the vines once water was returned was another big hurdle, it was far from immediate and they continue to struggle to this day.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the flagship grape for Coonawarra, a symbol of its national and international standing in the world of wine, and here it was being stripped of its noble character by a deliberate man-managed climate intended to mimic global warming in all of its nastiness.

Allen had made his point. Climate change was capable of treating even the most celebrated of grapes with disdain.

Now, he’s learning to adapt.

He’s not the only one in the Australian wine industry.

A harsh reality

Between now and the year 2030 the annual average temperature is expected to rise between 0.2ºC and 1.1ºC in many of Australia’s grape growing regions.

By 2050, the projected increase is 0.4ºC to 2.6ºC. A warmer future will go hand in hand with a drier one and one, it is believed, that will be increasingly erratic, throwing up unpredictable extreme weather conditions.

Under this scenario, the annual Australian wine grape harvest will be earlier; grapes coming into full ripeness during the hottest parts of summer, stressing vines.

Some suggest it’s already here.

“Vintage 2015 was our 35th in the region,” says Jeffrey Grosset of Jeffrey Grosset Wines in the Clare Valley.

“We commenced harvest for our two Rieslings (Polish Hill and Springvale) 35 days, almost to the day in both cases, earlier than we did 35 years ago. The suggestion of a (earlier vintage) trend to around roughly one day earlier each year, seems compelling.”

His Clare colleagues at Jim Barry Wines, to the north of his vineyard, had already picked and were fermenting their 2015 Riesling, Shiraz and Cabernet by mid February, a first for them.

What does climate change mean for my wine?

In a warmer climate, vintage will probably be shorter and more compact, which might suit earlier ripeners like Chardonnay, but won’t go down well with late season starters such as Cabernet. The heat that drives sugars up will also force acids down.

A drier season scenario similar to what Allen Jenkins found  with smaller yields and lack of varietal flavour may become a widespread problem. The effect will be more noticeable in inland regions that are expected to be hotter than coastal areas. Australian research suggests grape quality will be reduced nationally by seven to 23 per cent by 2030, and 12 to 57 per cent by 2050.

The fact that climate change is real and not some annoying trend that will eventually cycle off and bring certainty back into our lives, would appear to now be acknowledged by Australian winemakers. And it’s not exclusively about heat.

“Climate change to me is both heat and rain,” says Peter Barry at Jim Barry Wines. “Yes, it’s the unpredictability of the weather, all that is puzzling and a little terrifying.”

Dr Leanne Webb, Climate Projections Liaison Manager at the CSIRO and an academic with more than a decade’s research into the subject, chooses her language carefully when describing the causes behind our changing climate.

“Increasing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are altering the composition of the atmosphere,” she wrote in her seminal paper, Modelled Impact of Future Climate Change on the Phenology of Winegrapes in Australia (2007). 

“It is very likely that most of the global warming since the mid-20th Century is due to increases in greenhouse gases from human activities.”

For the first time in recorded history, the earth’s temperature is clearly more than 1.0ºC above the 1850-1900 average. Since 1997, which at the time was the warmest year on record, 16 of the subsequent 18 years have been warmer still.

What to do?

Dr Webb suggests Australian wine producers do three things to address its impact on their vineyards: 1. Look to grapevine management techniques, 2. Shift vineyard sites and 3. Think about different grape varieties.

In the Yarra Valley, winemaker Dan Buckle at Domaine Chandon, one of Australia’s leading sparkling winemakers may be locked into the classic Champagne trio – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier – but he is still free to look at different sites.

“I think that by focusing on altitude in vineyard selection we can avoid risks of climate change,” he says. “Certainly the results we see from our Whitlands vineyard are exciting.”

Whitlands is one of the highest vineyards in Victoria, around 800 metres on a high point in the King Valley, and was planted by Brown Brothers in 1982. In 2010, Brown Brothers went in search of parts potentially cooler, buying the extensive Tasmanian vineyards of troubled forestery giant, Gunns Ltd. for $32.5 million. It was an expensive commitment to a changing climate, ironically, coming at a cost: the forced sale of Whitlands.

But not everyone can change vineyard location. It’s far easier and cheaper to change the grape variety.

McLaren Vale boasts a sunny, Mediterranean-style climate. With that in mind, Coriole winemaker Mark Lloyd thought it obvious to look to Italian varieties. Some didn’t work. Nebbiolo and Barbera are real sooks in the heat, as he discovered during the January heat wave of 2009. Fruit all but disappeared on the vine.

However, grape varieties sourced from Southern Italy are a different story. Fiano has become possibly his greatest success story, an inspiration to others. It is already being hailed as making the region’s best white wine. Nero d’Avola, a late maturing red variety, is also performing well. And this year, he has Apulia’s dark-hearted Negroamaro planted.

In the Clare Valley, one of the most surprising alternative grape stars is an unpronounceable Greek variety that originally hails from the fabulous volcanic soils of Santorini. Assyrtiko was brought into Australia by Jim Barry Wines and from its first vintage in 2014, its crisp acid personality was a delight. The grape absolutely thrives in the dry and the hot.

Still, new grape varieties, many with difficult-to-pronounce names, may be trending, but there are others who simply look to adapt what they’ve got. Maybe they’ve read the controversial new book from pioneering Western Australian viticultural scientist, John Gladstones, Wine, Terroir and Climate Change (Wakefield Press) which doesn’t want to be too doom and gloomy about the future. His message? Terroir is resilient.

Others may see hope in new varieties being developed by the CSIRO. Brown Brothers had moderate success with Cienna some years back and are now backing Project Enigma, another first in the wine world, a totally new grape variety that laps up the heat.

Climate change means change. But, if handled with thought and positive action, it could signal an exciting future for winemakers and drinkers alike.

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Top 50 wines of 2015
Words by Mark Hughes on 16 Jan 2016
The Wine Selectors Tasting Panel, made up of nine highly tuned palates belonging to iconic winemakers and wineshow judges, meet almost every Friday at Wine Selectors HQ to taste and rate wines. Each and every wine that is submitted to Wine Selectors is reviewed in a blind tasting format, meaning their label is masked from the Panel, so as to remove any bias. Therefore, each and every wine is tasted purely on its merit in the glass. On average, the Panel tastes around 60+ wines a week. For 50 weeks a year, that equates to...well, a lot of wines! Up until now, this regimented tasting ritual has had the sole purpose of ensuring that the wines we send out to our Members are top quality, every time. The rule is, if the wine doesn’t score 15.5 out of 20 or above, Wine Selectors won’t buy it. In real terms, this means that every wine that we sell is of medal-winning standard. It has been the golden rule that Wine Selectors has operated on for 40 successful years. As an editor, and as a wine lover, I saw the Panel’s arduous tasting schedule as an opportunity to generate a ‘best wines of the year’ list. More than meets the eye Examining the results makes for some pretty interesting reading. The Top 50 is a mixture of old favourites, recent acquaintances and brand new friends, which is all very exciting. The most popular varietal in the Top 50? Shiraz with 11. To be expected really, with it being our most widely planted and produced grape. Chardonnay with nine listings was next, not totally unexpected, but a pleasant result given the fact it has taken a battering in the white wine world over the past decade or so from other young dames. It must also be noted that two of these were Hunter Valley Chardonnay! Then followed: Cabernet Sauvignon (6), Pinot Noir (4) and three blends involving Shiraz. 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Draytons Family Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Hunter Valley, $20) 35. Pindarie Western Ridge Shiraz 2015 (Barossa Valley, $28) 36. Yering Station ‘Little Yering’ Cabernet Shiraz 2010 (Yarra Valley, $18) 37. Geoff Hardy Wines K1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Adelaide Hills, $35) 38. Box Grove Vineyard Roussanne 2009 (Goulburn Valley, $28) 39. Bleasdale Second Innings Malbec 2013 (Langhorne Creek, $20) 40. Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Quartage Cabernet/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot/Merlot 2013 (Barossa, $25) 41. Redgate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Margaret River, $38) 42. Harewood Estate Chardonnay 2014 (Denmark, $27.50) 43. Millbrook Winery Limited Edition Chardonnay 2012 (Margaret River, $45) 44. Hungerford Hill Classic Range Chardonnay 2014 (Tumbarumba, $33) 45. Tower Estate Coombe Rise Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 (Hunter Valley, $38) 46. Seville Estate ‘Old Vine Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2013 (Yarra Valley, $90) 47. Thompson Estate Four Chambers Shiraz 2013 (Margaret River, $22) 48. Penny’s Hill Footprint Shiraz 2012 (McLaren Vale, $65) 49. Bremerton ‘Tamblyn’ Cabernet Shiraz Malbec Merlot 2012 (Langhorne Creek,   $19.90) 50. Rockcliffe Third Reef Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (Great Southern, $26) Further reading: the of Best wines of 2016
Wine
Celebrating 150 years of Best’s Great Western
Iconic Victorian, family owned winery, Best’s Great Western is in celebration mode this year with 2016 marking their 150th anniversary. Here at Wine Selectors we’ve proudly been working with Best’s Great Western for over 20 years and we’re excited to be a part of their amazing history. Established by the Best family in 1866, and owned by the Thomson family since founder Henry Best’s death in 1920, the estate is home to some of Australia’s oldest and most significant vineyards. “His determination, flare, and pioneering spirit are been huge qualities that I admire greatly. I'm extremely fortunate to work with my father Dominique and share his same vision for quality.” Patriarch and fourth generation winemaker Eric (Viv) Thomson is currently overseeing his 55th consecutive vintage and Best’s is now managed by his son Ben who is also the vineyard manager and Best’s talented winemaker, Justin Purser. “I’ve been working with Viv since the 1990s and what is truly impressive about Best’s Great Western is they consistently deliver exceptional wine at great value year after year – that’s why we love their wines,” says Trent Mannell, Wine Selectors Panel Member and senior buyer. “I love visiting their winery in the Grampians, it’s full of original equipment and the barrel stores and cellars are just amazing. When you walk in there you can smell the history.” “ While we’re celebrating 150 years of winemaking, our philosophy at Best’s remains the same as in the beginning – great wines are made in the vineyard,” says Best’s Great Western’s winemaker Justin Purser. “Even while practicing a minimalist approach, attention to detail is key. At Best’s, we avoid the overpowering use of oak or additional treatments. Instead, we prefer to let the fantastic fruit from Great Western tell the story.” Victoria’s historical home of Shiraz, Best’s Great Western produces superb cool climate, aromatic Shiraz including their Bin 1 Shiraz that’s made in a style that is floral, spicy and peppery yet retains generous fruit characteristics and intensity. In 2013 their 2011 Bin 1 Shiraz won the highly-esteemed Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Wine Show and also received the Fine Wine Partners Trophy for Australia’s Wine of the Year. The 2013 vintage has already been awarded a Trophy and a Gold medal. We have Best’s Great Western Bin 1 Shiraz 2013 on tasting at our Cellar Doors at Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth domestic airport terminals during March, so if you’re travelling please join us to experience a little taste of Best’s ongoing dedication to excellence. For more Best’s Great Western wines click here
Wine
Intellectual property
Words by Mark Hughes on 8 Apr 2016
There’s something remarkably special in the hills outside of Canberra. With a truly unique heritage, this ‘thinking person’s wine region’ has taken just four decades to emerge as one of Australia’s premium wine areas. What do you get when two etymologists meet with a biochemist to talk about wine? It almost sounds like the opening line to a joke, but it is in fact a crucial moment in the birth of the Canberra District wine region. In 1970 CSIRO etymologists Dr Edgar Riek and Ken Helm found they had a mutual interest in wine and started up a wine club. Biochemist Dr John Kirk came along to the first meeting. Within a couple of years the three of them had started their own vineyards, and in so doing, began what is recognised today as one of Australia’s most exciting wine regions. In 1971 John planted in Murrumbateman, founding Clonakilla, while Edgar planted on the shore of Lake George for Lake George Winery. Ken set vines not far from John in a tranquil setting now referred to as Helm’s Valley in 1973. Other wine interested folk followed suit, setting up vineyards, including more scientists, helping the Canberra wine region to blossom. These include Lark Hill Winery’s Sue and John Carpenter who have doctorates in statistics and applied mathematics respectively, Dr Roger Harris, who founded Brindabella Hills Winery, and Lerida Estate’s Jim Lumbers, both CSIRO alumni. With so much collective brain power, the Canberra District really is the thinking person’s wine region. It is a unique history and something that truly sets Canberra apart from any other wine region in Australia, perhaps the world. But as Ken, who still mans the cellar door located in a former 19th century schoolhouse at Helm Wines, says, it has been a both a blessing and a hindrance. “Many other wine regions are started by medicos and barristers with high disposal incomes. Canberra was started by academics, who didn’t have much money, so it was really a bootstrap operation,” he says. “It was one of the difficulties because the district had very good research minds, but not a lot of commercial knowledge. It wasn’t until 1980 that the first qualified winemaker came to the district. We were fascinated – having that academic background we learned to question and think and be innovative. If there was a seminar or short course we went to it, slowly developing techniques of how to get the best out of the area.” Initially, the district had to fight against critics who said it was too cold, or suffered from too many frosts, that the wines were green and that it would never be a premium wine region. The scientist put themselves through wine courses, where most probably knew more than their teachers. The winemaking improved and the wines started to confirm the enormous potential of the region. Ken started turning heads with numerous awards for his Riesling, Edgar earned rave reviews for his Pinot Noir, while John won awards for his Clonakilla Shiraz. His son, Tim, who took over as chief winemaker in 1996, made the wine world stand to attention when his Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier won Wine of the Year Award at the New South Wales Wine Awards.Canberra’s Eden Road Winery did likewise when they won the 2009 Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy for best red in the country with their Shiraz. Nowadays, the Canberra District is regarded as one of the best in the country, confirmed by the fact that 75 per cent of the region’s 40 or so wineries have a four star or more rating by esteemed wine critic James Halliday. The lay of the land It is a curious feature of the Canberra wine region that only one winery, Mount Majura, is actually located within the Australian Capital Territory, the others are located north of the city in NSW. Frank van der Loo, winemaker at Mount Majura, champions Spanish varietals Tempranillo and Graciano alongside the region’s flagships of Riesling and Shiraz . He says their vineyard site was actually chosen by Edgar Riek. “Edgar chose the site from a geology map and was attracted to a patch of limestone on an east-facing slope. It is quite a unique little patch of dirt, and a great site for vines,” says Frank. The rest of the Canberra wine district falls into three sub-regions. The first is just 15 minutes out of Canberra along the Barton Highway at Hall. This area is situated at around 550 metres high and is blessed with gorgeous rolling hills that fall away to a twisting Murrumbidgee River. It is here that Roger and Faye Harris set up Brindabella Hills in 1986. “The main concern in this district is frost, so we looked for a spot with good cold air drainage,” Roger tells me over a glass of Riesling. “The vineyard is actually on a ridge that juts out over the Murrumbidgee Valley and there is a 100-metre drop to the valley floor, so that absorbs the cold area for most frost events.” As well as Shiraz, Cabernet and Riesling (ask Roger for some glorious aged Riesling he is hiding), Brindabella Hills is experimenting with the Italian Sangiovese varietal, which is ideal to sip at their picturesque Tuscan-inspired cellar door that has breath-taking views over the Murrumbidgee.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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