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Choosing a popular or alternative variety becoming a key to future growth

By Chloe Szentpeteri

 
There are opportunities for growers wanting to expand into less established winegrape varieties. One of the leading suppliers of clones and rootstocks to the Australian industry discloses what’s hot when it comes to varieties, and reveals what’s best for coping with heat and dry conditions. Chloe Szentpeteri reports.

 
There are three or four rootstocks that account for around 80% of Yalumba Nursery’s market.

But the varietal options for wine grapegrowers to choose from extend to around 80 different rootstock varieties, and between 300 to 350 different clone combinations.

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According to the Barossa Valley vine nursery’s manager and viticulturist, Nick Dry, there’s one variety that’s been trending: Pinot Noir.

The temperamental red variety has recently become the supplier’s biggest seller, knocking Shiraz from its position as the dominant variety for the first time in nearly a decade.

“I think that would be a pretty good reflection of the general industry. That’s pretty major, the fact that Pinot Noir is the most widely planted varietal,” said Dry.

“It’s an indication of what’s happening in the Yarra Valley with phylloxera and replanting, what’s happening in Tasmania. It’s just a general trend toward medium bodied cooler climate red wines, also in places like Gippsland and Macedon. King Valley is seeing a little growth again.”

“Every variety starts out as an emerging variety at some point. Ten years ago we weren’t planting that much Pinot Noir so things change”

 

Dry added that a number of other well-established varieties were seeing stronger demand, perhaps an indication of an expanding industry.

“We’ve still got Shiraz, Cabernet, Chardonnay all starting to trend up again. Based on what we’ve seen it’s all pretty positive in the industry at the moment.

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Alternatives on the move
Dry said that while the nursery’s sales have been heavily skewed toward the mainstream, there have been moves toward some alternative varietals.

“The one that’s jumped up [in 2017] is Prosecco. There’s been some good demand for it, which is probably a fair reflection,” he explained, “[…] although I’m still not sure if that was in the top ten.

“After that, there’s been a bit of Fiano, and then demand is spread out.”

Dry said variations in demand for existing and new grape varieties are nothing new.

“Every variety starts out as an emerging variety at some point. Ten years ago we weren’t planting that much Pinot Noir so things change.

“Sometimes it would be nice to have less complexity in our system but that’s the way it is and we want to make Australian wines more interesting and diverse, and if that means using and trialling emerging varieties then so be it.

“We encourage that by importing all sorts of different varieties and clones, so we understand what we’re getting ourselves into,” he explained.

But he emphasised that talk about newer varieties often doesn’t relate to the reality of what’s happening on the ground.

“It’s like any trend. There’s probably more talk about it than things that really are happening.

“I would say that the amount of words written compared to the volumes supplied don’t really add up, but that’s the way it is and it creates interest; if that drives customers toward the wine industry then that’s good.

“We have to keep it exciting and keep reinventing.”

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Growing difficulty
With changing climatic patterns potentially steering demand toward more robust vine varieties, the lens has been widened on import options suited to Australian conditions.

Dry said while Italian varieties are known to produce larger bunches, they require a lot more work in the vineyard.

“I think that’s why there’s always been a bit of a swing toward the French varieties. They’re easier to manage typically.”

“There are varieties from the southern Rhône that we’ve imported because they’re growing in hotter dryer regions and they’re very Mediterranean. I’d say there’s plenty of opportunity with those varieties.

“Chardonnay is hugely adaptable and that’s why it’s planted all around the world and the same for Cabernet.”

But Dry said there are some Italian varieties that have drawn some positive attention.

“There might be some discussion about the suitability based on environmental conditions and some of the southern Italian varieties like Nero or Grillo or Vermentino are well adapted because of their ability to survive,” he said.

“Fiano is a great example. It can hold on to its leaf in hot conditions but it doesn’t mean they’re easy to grow, just that they’re well adapted and you need to make the distinction between those two things.

“There might be some varieties that are easy to grow but are only adapted to a narrow range of conditions,” he said.

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