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ON THE GRAPE TRAIL
Mac's News from Australia, Spring 2009...

...Hot, Hot... and Hotter...

Jacobs Creek vines, Barossa Valley 2009

Australia is doing well economically despite the world’s financial crisis.  The pundits say this is because of good government regulation and sound management of the banks.  Sounds like Canada?Adelaide street festival 2009  Well, real estate is overpriced and there are lots of empty large houses and vacation homes on the market here which benefit visitors who wish to stay long term.  House or apartment rentals are good deals in this land of reversed seasons.
 
The 2009 grape harvest is expected to be down a bit from last year as a direct result of reduced acreage, heat and fire/smoke damage.  The actual area in Victoria affected by the bush fires is a small 5% of the acreage and most of that occurred in the Yarra Valley.  What has yet to be Walking with the 'roosassessed is the damage caused by smoke taint in the grapes. With respect to quality, some early grapes have been picked under ideal conditions while some regions suffered from high heat prior to picking. Given the large geographical area involved, results will be variable.
 
Grape prices, especially in the interior regions, are taking a noticeable hit.  Chardonnay is fetching less than $140 a ton (all figures in Canadian dollars).  The last time I checked, Chardonnay was selling for about $1,200 a ton or more in Niagara. I saw quite a few derelict vineyards while driving along the Murray River between Banrock Station and Mildura.  At $140 a ton, growers can't purchase enough water to keep their vines alive.
 
New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon blanc, due to oversupply, is getting just over $1,000 a ton (average).  In Australia, one can buy decent Marlborough SauvignonKoala habitat blanc for $7 to $10 a bottle. Want other price comparisons? You can get a deal on McWilliams Hanwood Chardonnay for for $5 to $6 per bottle with Rosemount Diamond Labels and Peter Lehman Labels for retailing for under $10. On the reverse angle, Canadian Ice Wines sell here for about $100 a half bottle!!

Thanks to Mark Cosgrove of Churchill Cellars in Ottawa, I was given a personal tour and tasting at d'Arenberg Winery in McLaren Vale, South d'Arenberg tank top viewAustralia. d'Arenberg probably has access to more old vine Shiraz, Grenache, Mouvredre  and other old vines than any other winery in the region.  This well known winery turns out a top quality product at a fair price.

What impressed me on this visit was the care the winery staff took in handling the grapes prior to d'Arenberg basket pressescrushing and during the process.  Crushing and destemming contact surfaces are coated with rubber to prevent severe mashing of the grapes.  The berries come through more intact with less severe breakup of the vegetal stem component, which can impart some bitter tannins and off flavours to the wine.  Those who have purchased BrehmVineyard musts over the past two years will have noticed the same result.  The more progressive wine makers in the business are all handling grapes more gently at the beginning stages of the winemaking process.
 
On this trip, we have dodged Jacobs Creek walking trailmost of the bad weather which sometimes plagues the continent at this time of year and conditions have been ideal… however the past two days have been different however - torrential rains and floods occurring all along the coast.  Up to 700 mm of rain fell in one locality in a 24 hour period.  The heavy rain is lashed by high winds that drive the rain down and horizontal.  No landscape can absorb that kind of downpour so floods result where almost dry creek beds previously existed.  The rain unfortunately doesn't penetrate very far inland where it is most needed.   Dams around South Eastern Queensland are still below 50% capacity.

In closing we end on a sobering note.  Australia definitely has a “drinking culture” that recently has government here taking steps to counter alcohol abuse.  Although the laws are generally more relaxed than in Canada and alcohol is much more available, the blood alcohol level (BAC) Canadian Safety Council logofor impaired driving is 0.05mg/100ml as opposed to 0.08mg/100ml in many areas in North America.  The tendency to binge drinking has officials looking at raising taxes on alcoholic products especially the pop-flavoured types called “alcopops”. There would be base prices established for all products… just like at the LCBO.

Hotel-Pubs that regularly require police presence are put on a public “shame list” which all the newspapers and TV stations pick up and broadcast. Rockford Winery, Barossa Valley

The tendency to binge drinking and all night partying has police picking off over-extended imbibers at check points early in the morning while people head to work; the number of impaired drivers that are caught this way is phenomenal.

Governments everywhere tend to counter alcohol abuse by raising taxes and limiting availability however those same governments direct only a pittance of the billions they make from alcohol sales to abuse prevention and rehabilitation.  They are not credible when they address such major problems with knee jerk and self serving responses.  It’s enough to drive you to drink.

This year’s visit south of the equator has provided yet another good sampling of the state of the viticulture and wine production industry in both Seppeltsfield Winery port barrelsNew Zealand and Australia and provided a hint of what we should soon see on the shelves in our local LCBO or SAQ retail outlets. I’m now looking forward to our own North American Harvest 2009… and trust you are, too.

Next report….  Harvest 2009

Mac lunching at Allan Scott Winery

In vino veritas...

Mac MacDonald
March & April, 2009

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