Australia: sustainability focus

I attended this panel discussion via Zoom on sustainable wine growing and production in South Australia, also tasting wines from six wineries that are accredited by Sustainable Winegrowing Australia. Moderating the session was Jane Masters MW, a founding member of the Institute of Masters of Wine’s Sustainability Committee.

The six wineries represented here were: Gemtree and Hither & Yon from McLaren Vale, Wakefield from Clare Valley, Torbreck from Barossa, Wynns of Coonawarra and Thistledown Wines, here showing a wine from Riverland. Each has its own environmental measures in place, but Jane Masters stressed that sustainability extends to many aspects apart from vineyards: to best practice in water use, packaging, transport and waste for example.

Melissa Brown of Gemtree is a third generation viticulturist. She explained that she now farms organically and biodynamically, unlike the generations that had gone before. Her initial motivation for this was a personal journey, culminating in a health retreat that “changed her life.” She could see how many of the principles could be applied to wine.

Malcolm Leask of Hither & Yon explained their ‘regenerative’ philosophy. Many measures are in place, including recycling water, and restoring vegetation and ensuring biodiversity. 3,000 trees and shrubs are planted in corridors through the vineyard, to reduce soil erosion and encourage beneficial insects.

Irrigation is a challenge for South Australia: the industry was built on irrigation: the only way grape growing was possible in the hot, dry climate. But persistent drought conditions mean many sustainable innovations have been introduced: wastage of water has to be minimised with new systems that use water as efficiently as possible, including re-using ‘grey’ water.

Interestingly, Clinton Taylor of Wakefield explained that as well as being part of Sustainable Australia, they had signed-up to science-based sustainability targets. That means measuring all aspects of the business, looking at fuel, electricity, fertilisers, packaging and so on, and comitting to meet targets including a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Similar initiatives exist throughout the winemaking world, with sustainability charters in place. Often the most enthusiastic signatories are also looking at organic and biodynamic farming, and making wines in a more ‘hands-off’ style in terms of use of natural treatments and working with wild yeasts. It’s part of a drive to improve an agricultural industry that did not always adhere to the best environmental and sustainable practises, and has gained ground fast in the past few decades.

The Wines

(2023) 100% Fiano from McLaren Vale, two separate pickings on week apart in search of a broader range of fruit characters, fermented in equal parts concrete egg, old oak barrrels and stainless steel tanks. The lees was stirred for around two months before blending. The climate here is similar to that of Sicily and the south of Italy, the variety's home. Fine, soft and leesy pear and lemon. Quite full textured with orange and peach, but plenty of tangy acidity too. No UK stockists at time of review.
(2023) A pale, coppery rosé made from the southern Italian Aglianico, fermented cool in stainless steel. Gentle, ozoney, small red berries on the nose, leading on to a totally dry, really saline palate, the wine verging on the austere for me, with fruit slightly buried beneath that salty acid concentration. Fascinating and unusual, and I can see this working really well with some food rather than as as garden sipper. No UK stockist at time of review.
(2023) There's also 12% Barbera in this Italianate blend, picked relatively early, the wine co-fermented with wild yeasts. It was aged in older oak for three months before bottling. Creamy black berries infuse the nose, hints of spice and chocolate, but a brightness too. The palate has plenty of bite from plum-skin acid and tannin, dry and savoury, the acid forms a very direct core through plummy red fruits. Good length.
(2023) From terra rossa soils and a single vineyard of ancient, dry-grown bush vines planted in 1949. Lovely nose spanning earthier and brighter, creamier red fruit with a little floral lift. The fruit on the palate is super sweet, with a real juicy core of burstingly ripe red and black berries smoothed by creamy oak. The structure starts to impact, a juiciness to the acidity and the tannins very grippy, but fine-grained and peppery too. Great length here.
(2023) Also from terra rossa soils and dry-grown fruit, a wine that spent 14 months in a variety of vessels, new and seasoned French oak vats, barriques and concrete vats. Deep and vivid colour. Pure, creamy black fruit. Svelte and plush, but immediately has some life about it too. The palate here shows a saltiness to the acids, and that really hones the edges of the black fruit, pushing the finish just as much as the tight tannins. A touch of herbal character adds to the very pure, almost minerally finish.
(2023) Grown on red clay over limestone, this was fermented in open American oak barrels, then matured 18 months in the same barrels - which were water bent, rather than charred. Ripe blueberry and mulberry on the nose, a certain lift and fragrance, a creaminess to the fruit and oak treatment. In the mouth that sweetness surges across the palate. A hedonistic style, super-smooth and crammed with spice and cocoa-licked dark fruits, the tannins very chocolaty and dense and acid so smooth it barely ripples the surface. A beautiful wine of its style.

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