|On the Grape Trail||Our May-June 2007 Issue|
The recent floods that occurred in Australia’s Hunter Valley are in great contrast to the ongoing decade-long drought affecting interiors of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Even the politicians who dwell in and around the Capital Territory and Canberra are given a daily dose of dry reality. Because of the water restrictions they cannot water their lawns or wash their cars.
Weather patterns in Australia have shifted over the past 40 to 50 years with most rainfall occurring along coastal regions in the East. This has created an urgency for more dams to be constructed closer to where the rain actually falls as opposed to where it used to fall. The latter area’s dams were more inland from the coasts, catching snow melt and mountain and hinterland runoff, which can no longer be relied upon as sources of fresh water.
Prime Minister John Howard has decreed that there may not be any irrigation water for the vast vegetable and fruit crop areas of the Riverland, Murray–Darling and Riverina areas... so, GOODBYE to under $15 Australian wines unless it rains. Brands affected would be Lindemans, Banrock Station, Angove's, McWilliam's, Yellow Tail and many others. The Riverland also supplies much of the wine concentrate that many Canadian home winemakers and U Brews use.
An interesting fact about this area is that it probably would not be as prominent today on the world food and wine stage without the efforts of two Eastern Ontario men; George (born 1848) and William (born 1856) Chaffey grew up in Brockville and Kingston, but when they were young adults they moved with their family to California. The family was involved in an irrigation and fruit-growing project around what are today the cities of Riverside and Ontario, California. George, the engineer, and William, the horticulturist, played a major role in the developments of that region and their reputation spread to Australia where government officials hosted the brothers in Melbourne.
From 1877 until 1884, the Murray River region in northern Victoria suffered from drought much like the drought in the western regions today. The Chaffey brothers set out to develop an irrigation scheme using pumps, some of which are till in working order, that overcame the elevation differences between the Murray River and the surrounding plain. This eventually resulted in the establishment of the towns of Renmark and Mildura where the vegetable and fruit growing industry that exists today is a direct result of their efforts.
In 1884, William planted 60 hectares of vines and established Chateau Mildura, a winery. This was followed by a distillery in 1910. Although the Chaffey’s eventually ran into problems because of a lack of business and political savvy, the development of the region was set on its course and today it is a very important provider of stone fruits, citrus, wine grapes, wheat and wool. Today the Chaffey’s are remembered in Australia through the preservation of many historical sites including homesteads and irrigation installations. The Chaffey name is found on many landmarks including Brockville Wines. Mark Bowring, a great-grandson of William Chaffey, has established a winery just outside Mildura and named it after William and George’s hometown - Brockville.
Mac MacDonald, Ottawa, 18 June 2007
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