Wine Conversations by Andrew Caillard

Grapevine Stories - Part 4 - A Step Back Into The Future

Episode Summary

1970s to Today Australian Grape Vine Stories; A step back into the future. The golden period of modern wine was enabled by the dreams and hard work of past generations. While 19th Century vinestock reflects the romance and dramas of the Georgian Victorian ages, new material is required to build on those extraordinary efforts. The pursuit for ideal chardonnay clones led to the arrival of 19th Century Californian vinestock material into Australia. In the meantime, alternative varieties might not be that alternative given their history in Australia. Australia’s colonial vinestock heritage is one of the four corner stones of our modern wine industry.

Episode Notes

Photo courtesy of Leeuwin Estate, Margaret River Western Australia

Episode Transcription

New clones and selections began to become available during the 1970s as strict new guidelines – observing biosecurity - allowed new vinestock material to arrive in Australia. Over the last sixty years there has been an enormous amount of work on grape vines and rootstocks much to the benefit of the wine industry’s success and competitiveness.

But one of the most interesting stories of vinestock transmission is chardonnay – also known as morillon.

It was brought out very early on. James Busby for instance travelled through Burgundy and Champagne in 1830 and he undoubtedly picked up vinestock material in his private collection – it was listed as no,48 pineau blanc sourced from champagne.

According to a detailed reviewe of the collection published in 1833 it was also known as chaudny. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand this as being chardonnay.

It is difficult to exactly follow chardonnay because of the erroneous cataloguing, but 19th Century vinestock material was planted out all over the colonies. John Pascoe Fawkner – offered pineau blanc –  in 1848 and sourced from Camden Nurseries

But in those days Chardonnay was really quite an obscure variety in Australia.

It variously came in during the 19th Century. One consignment of white morillon cuttings was brought in from Ceylon  - today’s Sri Lanka - in 1893 for planting around Bendigo and MIldura.

In New South Wales Chardonnay was planted out in Mudgee and the Hunter Valley, well before Murray Tyrrell introduced his ground-breaking 1971 pinot chardonnay. For instance Leo Buring showed an example of Australian Chardonnay in London in 1893

But the most interesting modern examples are the Gin Gin Clone and Professor Brian Croser’s Tiers Vineyard selection in the Adelaide Hills  – both of which relate to each other from a provenance perspective, although the latter was heat treated and brought in at a later date.

Plant scientists are not a particularly romantic lot and so the names of each were FPS 1 and the heat-treated FPS 2A -  short for Plant Foundation Services.

The Gin Gin Clone which is much more prolific in terms of plantings in Western Australia – has an interesting story which again derives from 19th Century vinestock material – but this time through California and France.

FPS1 was imported into Western Australia by Bill Jamieson of the Western Australia Agricultural Department at the encouragement of Professor Harry Olmo of UC Davis in California who spent some time in Western Australia in the mid 1950s.

These cuttings were planted out near the town of Gin Gin - North of Perth during the late 1950s.

This vine stock material was withdrawn from distribution in America because of virus issues – its propensity of hen and chicken ripening is now regarded as an attribute. But these imported cuttings were known as old farm or old foundation and were removed from the 1930s-planted Armstrong Vineyard at University of California or UC Davis.

These were planted out extensively in California and Western Australia. These pre-prohibition cuttings had been sourced from Wente Vineyard which was planted out by Ernest Wente in 1908. Some more cuttings were also imported form the F Richter Nursery in Montpelier in 1912 just before the first world war.

Although there are some blurred lines, in all likely hood the provenance of Gin Gin goes back to 1882 when Charles Wetmore, President of the Calfornia State Viticultural Commission imported budwood from Meursault in 1882. Personally I find it absolutely fascinating to find the link to Meursault and the similar richness and volume of flavours in the Gin Gin clone Chardonnay wines of Margaret River.

A recent study of the origin of Chardonnay clones in Australia and California which took place in 2018, adds a few extra lines of provenance through” whole-genome shotgun sequence data” and the “clonal marker pipeline”.  Whoever invented these phrases deserves a medal for imagination. But academics and plant scientists will understand this research jargon

Crucially genetic analysis proves that the Western Australian Gin Gin clone, the America OF – Old Farm clone - and the Argentinian Mendoza clone all belong to this shared history. It is lovely because it also reflect shared ambitions and shared heritage. Our wine industry is a global community

Over the last fifty year the importation of vine stock has been prolific although quarantine laws hav made the move to new imported clones and varieties slow going.

The work of Yalumba Nurseries, Chalmers and many others have been remarkable and important as the Australian wine industry seeks to differentiate itself in the world of wine.

The attention – other than improved clones of existing varieties is more recently towards alternative varieties like viognier, tempranillo, Nebbiolo, fiano, cortese and vermentino.

But some of these alternative grape varieties were brought out to Australia much earlier than some may think. Sangiovese, Canalaoio and Aliatico Mamollo were planted by Dr Thomas Fiaschi in the 1880s.

He was a remarkable man and like so many early vignerons  - a doctor - a surgeon infact who worked in theatres of war twice – in Abyssinia with the Italian Army and with the imperial forces at Gallipoli in 1915. He was a highly respected and loved character – but he lost his position at St Vincents Hospital in Sydney – owned by the catholic Church  - fatre it was dicovered that his wife had been a nun and had’t formally divorced her order – ven thought it had happened 26 years earlier.

The story of winemaking in South Australia is especially personal. I feel a great sense of pride for my great grandfather Carew Reynell – He had a huge sense of country, of community and a belief in the future of Australian wine. Although a Turkish bullet felled him down in 1915 his legacy lives on through the Reynell Selection Cabernet Sauvignon.

When I drink a wine made from these wine grapes, I feel a connection with past – and I think this is one of the strong emotions that our oldest vineyards bring to Australia’s fine wine narrative – we are in some way in communion with a greater spirit of place.

A little while ago I started compiling a list of our oldest vineyards in Australia and their dates of planting from the 1840s to the 1940s. These vineyards reflect a promise that we can all survive and prosper – whatever happens in the future. The sun will always rise and those hardy resilient grape vines will continue to reach for the sky.

There’s a neglected vineyard in Yandoit in Central Victoria that was planted in 1863. Some of the vines are growing in the trees. Like going back to the most ancient of times.

It is a reminder that growing grape vines is all about nurture. A vine has to be trained and managed to get the best out of it. Old vines don’t necessarily mean quality fruit and economic pressure sometimes gets in the way of romance. But they still represent a remnant of generations past and evoke a sense of place.

Of course our wine industries around the world are faced with enormous social and environmental challenges. Sustainability and adaptation to the changing climate will mean more research and investment, improved grape vines and rootstocks. Various new techniques and skill sets will be introduced. All of this combined with inclusiveness, ambition and resilience require enlightened thinking and enormous optimism.

I believe that the story of grape vine transmission is one of the key foundations of Australia’s ultra-fine wine ambitions.

Over the last 230 years, the Australian wine industry has forged ahead, at times against insurmountable odds.

When one thinks of our fine Australian wine narrative our reputation is built on four key pillars.

1st – A belief and optimism for the future.

Our colonial forefathers believed that Australia would become the France of the Southern Hemisphere. It was all interconnected with the British Empire, which propelled the economic prosperity and development of the industry from 1788 for over 150 years.

After World War 2 the industry was forced to redefine itself – It adopted new technologies and created new expectations for fine wine. Over the last 70 years Australia has defined itself and has developed a confidence to engage customers in its own way.

Consider some of these things.

Ray Beckwith’s groundbreaking discovery of the relationship between pH and wine stability.

It was the beginning of modern wine as we know it.

The development of Max Schubert’s Grange Hermitage

The introduction of refrigeration and pressure fermenters to improve aromatic complexity in white wines particularly

Hygiene in the winery

Precision viticulture

Research and Development through the Australian Wine Research Institute.

The University of Adelaide/ Roseworthy Agricultural College and Charles Sturt University.

Flying wine makers and a constant movement of Australian winemakers around the world to learn new stuff, develop new skills and bring back new ideas.

In short

We believe in ourselves and our place in fine wine and we want to share it.

2nd – Our Colonial Vinestock Heritage

Australia possesses the largest acreage of century old -planted vines in the world. It represents a living symbol of 19th Century ambition. Much of these plantings have a direct genetic link to James Busby’s famous importation of 1832 or even earlier

Our oldest plantings are believed to go back to the 1840s and 1850s. Most of these plantings are in South Australia – which has never been invaded by phylloxera. But also in the Hunter Valley and Great Western.

The Barossa’s 1840s planted Turkey Flat Shiraz,

1860s planted Henschke Hill of Grace Vineyard

Great Western’s 1868 Best’s Concongella clone Shiraz and nursery block plantings

And The Hunter Valley’s 1867 planted Tyrrell’s Old Hillside (also known as Old Patch) Vineyard are examples

But this heritage also applies to ancient genetic vine stock. As you will all know vineyards are planted with cuttings or rootlings and almost never by seed. Selection and propagation of vines to plant a new vineyard are extraordinarily important.

Between the late 1800s and the 1960s – almost no new material came to Australia – this was good and bad. Strict quarantine regulations isolated Australia yet has protected our oldest vineyards. But new virus free material has also been brought in to add to our vinestock collections.xx

During the late 1960s – some of this 19th Century genetic material was selected and then improved upon. These include particularly MV6 Pinot Noir, Houghton Clone and Reynell Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. Their stories bring an extra richness to Australia’s 18th and 19th Century heritage.

3rd – Generations of effort

The handing down of experience, traditions and collaborations passed through six or even seven generations of Australians has had a profound effect on the story and definition of Australian wine. This includes

The development of wine regions and their individual voice and character have been built through hard work and collaboration.

The improvement in wine technologies and viticulture through continued learning and building on the generations before us.

And of course our alumni of remarkable protagonists from Sir Joseph Banks, James Busby, William Macarthur and Thomas Hardy to the likes of Brian Croser, Trish & Dennis Horgan, Robert Hill Smith, Vanya Cullen and Taras Ochota provide the way points of progress.

And let us also not forget the remarkable scientists including Arthur Perkins, AC Kelly, Ray Beckwith, Tony Jordan and the marvellous teaching alumni like Dr Patrick Iland and Dr Peter Dry who empowered and instilled in me an interest in science and learning

4th – A place we call home.

Winemakers, particularly think of themselves first as Australians and then as custodians of the land and tradition that spans the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries

The idea of Terroir itself is essentially a 19th Century invention – based on modern philosophical thinking, post-revolutionary reconstruction, social organisation and massive advances in technology during the mid-to-late 19th Century and onwards

It is steeped in those truths of gout de pierre, taste of the stone, or gout de terroir where our late 18th Century forefathers believed that the “grape will imbibe earthly particles that give a particular taste.”

But the modern take on Terroir is very much about individual identity, protection of economic value and character of place.

Our Australian interpretation of terroir is shown through the prism of single vineyard wines, varietal definition, environmental conditions and heritage.

Giving back to the land through sustainable practices – like organic or biodynamic practices - is a key factor of the fine wine agenda.

Australia is a massive continent. The climate of the Barossa Valley is different to Coonawarra which is different to Margaret River.

The significant gestures of the winemaker bring another layer of difference. And of course heritage brings a feeling of culture and permanency. Yet every Australian fine wine in some way articulates our place we call home.

So when you drink that next glass of Australian wine – think of how it came to be.

There is something utterly magical about Australia’s storied history

and how all of those small steps through the ages results in something so tangibly delicious.

As Max Schubert – the creator of Grange once said

“We must not be afraid to use our imagination, show strength in our own convictions, and to experiment to gain something extra, different and unique in the world of wine.”

You have been listening to a podcast written and spoken by Master of Wine Andrew Caillard and edited by Christophe Priddle. The story of wine grape vinestock transmission to and around Australia was recorded and produced at Annesley Street Studios for the 13th International Terroir Congress, held in Adelaide in November 2020. This podcast is a fragment of an upcoming History of Australian Wine and we hope that you have enjoyed listening this story.