by Dom Sweeney for Gourmet Traveller WINE
The threat of climate change may be a widely debated issue in the political arena but its existence, according to many of Australia’s viticulturists and winemakers, is nothing short of real. With many of our best-known wine regions now experiencing hotter, earlier vintages, the communities behind them are quickly but carefully looking to adopt one or a number of sustainable production approaches to ensure a healthy future with plenty of world-class wine.
Despite our infatuation with – and reputation for – classic bold reds such as shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, it’s the grape varieties native to the Mediterranean that seem to have secured the most promising future in our continually warming climate. While producers such as Pizzini in the King Valley have long been ahead of the curve in their cultivation of Italian varieties, traditionally cooler climate regions such as Bendigo and Heathcote in Central Victoria, where beautiful, medium-weight pinot noir and shiraz have always typically flourished, have experienced dramatic climatic shifts in recent years. The upshot is a fast-growing season and lots of irrigation that often results in jammy wines lacking complexity and finesse. Producers like Sutton Grange are experimenting with varieties more suited to a warming climate – think sangiovese and aglianico from Italy – while others such as the Chalmers family are seeing outstanding results from sun-loving Sicilians like nero d’Avola and vermentino. In McLaren Vale, where the vineyards meet the sea, the warm Mediterranean climate is more than suitable for varieties like grenache that thrive on low amounts of water and high levels of sunshine, with producers such as Coriole, Yangarra and Oliver’s Taranga enjoying great success with these varieties, while wineries like Mount Majura in the Canberra District and First Ridge in Mudgee are crafting phenomenal wines from tempranillo and barbera respectively.
It’s Only Natural
The term ‘natural wine’ has been bandied about a lot in recent years; for some it refers to wine that has had hardly anything done to it, while for others it might just refer to anything in the glass that’s as far removed from convention as physically possible. In reality, natural wine, or minimal intervention wine, should be the result of careful viticulture and thoughtful winemaking, following organic and/or biodynamic principles, with minimal additives – including sulfites (there are over 50 legal wine additives in Australia that don’t require a mention on the label). The producers following these sustainable principles are helping push the boundaries for Australian wine, typically with a stronger focus on vineyard management than the actual winemaking, and an emphasis on planting the right grape variety on the right site. Producers such as Tom Shobbrook of Shobbrook Wines, Anton van Klopper of Lucy Margaux, William Downie and Pat Sullivan are leading lights of Australia’s natural wine movement; they’ve adopted a mindful approach to their craft that is more akin to ‘grape farming’ than commercial winemaking.
Altitude or Latitude
Recent wine drinking trends have seen a surge in popularity for elegant, European-style wines – reds such as pinot noir and nebbiolo, and whites such as marsanne, viognier and crisp, mineral-style chardonnay – which typically require cooler vineyard sites and longer growing seasons. With the heat of climate change now affecting many sites that were once perfect for these wine styles, many producers are looking to plant grapes at higher altitudes, in places like the lofty Adelaide Hills and Tumbarumba, or further south in areas like Southern Tasmania. The results from these regions are increasingly promising, vintage after vintage; with more collective winemaking knowledge than ever before, coupled with an industry continually focusing on the importance of site, soil and climate, Australia’s vinous future is in very safe hands.