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?
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
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
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
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 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.
impressed me on this visit was the care the winery staff took in
handling the grapes prior to
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
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)
for 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.
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.
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
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
In vino veritas...
March & April, 2009