Corker of an idea from a cham­pion of screw­caps

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

JEF­FREY Gros­set is liv­ing proof that ac­tions speak louder than words. Qui­etly spo­ken— I have never heard him raise his voice, even when con­fronted by peo­ple, ideas or prac­tices with which he pro­foundly dis­agrees — he can ap­pear dif­fi­dent and shy.

To view him this way is a mis­take: the in­ten­sity of his con­vic­tions is like a fire within, burn­ing qui­etly but un­quench­ably.

Th­ese char­ac­ter­is­tics first showed them­selves pub­licly when he led a cam­paign in the 1980s to limit the use of the word ries­ling to wine made from that grape. He faced im­pla­ca­ble op­po­si­tion from the big com­pa­nies that used the word (no­tably on casks) to de­note a style made from any­thing but ries­ling, ar­gu­ing that rhine ries­ling could be used for true va­ri­etal wines.

Ini­tially he re­ceived no sup­port from the Wine­mak­ers Fed­er­a­tion of Aus­tralia but, through sheer per­sis­tence, fi­nally won the day.

It is thus wholly ap­pro­pri­ate that he should be re­garded here and in Ger­many as Aus­tralia’s great­est maker of ries­ling.

He was the cat­a­lyst for the whole­sale adop­tion of screw­caps by ries­ling mak­ers in South Aus­tralia’s Clare Val­ley in 2000.

Then and now he mea­sures his words care­fully, even when pre­sent­ing the case for screw­caps to the wine­mak­ers of New Zealand. They have since gone even fur­ther than Aus­tralia in em­brac­ing the tech­nol­ogy: only a hand­ful of mak­ers per­sist with the Rus­sian roulette of cork.

Twenty years ago he planted a caber­net-based vine­yard (it also has about 20 per cent to 25 per cent caber­net franc and 5 per cent mer­lot) in a care­fully se­lected cool site in the Clare.

He named it Gaia, which in Greek mythol­ogy means earth mother.

Equally rel­e­vant, it is the name of a the­ory pub­lished by James Love­lock in the 1980s. Love­lock posited that the com­plex­ity of species on Earth gives it the nec­es­sary re­silience to with­stand change: a loss of species means a loss of re­silience.

This led Gros­set to prac­tise sus­tain­able viti­cul­ture through (among other things) min­imis­ing chem­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence. Since Gaia was planted, the pos­si­bil­ity of global cool­ing (sug­gested by cli­ma­tol­o­gists in the ’ 70s) has been re­placed by the fact of global warm­ing.

The only real de­bate is about the causes: how many are man-made, how many are due to nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena, how many are within our ca­pac­ity to con­trol and how many be­yond. Sub­sidiary dis­putes ex­ist about the likely ef­fect of con­tin­u­ing change dur­ing the next 50 to 100 years.

Be that as it may, it has re­in­forced Gros­set’s be­lief in the Gaia prin­ci­ple and brought home its di­rect rel­e­vance, not just to the sus­tain­abil­ity of vine­yards in their present lo­ca­tions and with their present va­ri­eties, but to our whole way of life.

Once again, his deeds are speak­ing louder than his words by an­nounc­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of the Gros­set Gaia Fund.

It has a tar­get of more than $1 mil­lion to be in­vested within three years. The money will be raised by do­nat­ing the en­tire pro­ceeds of the sale of Gaia (net of wine taxes) to the fund.

The fund will in­vest its cap­i­tal in high-qual­ity com­pa­nies with cre­den­tials in en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity. At the end of the three-year pe­riod it is en­vis­aged the fund’s in­come for dis­tri­bu­tion to char­i­ties should reach $100,000 a year.

The aim is to fo­cus on char­i­ties sup­port­ing youth, the arts and the en­vi­ron­ment. Here, too, Gros­set’s re­fusal to ac­cept the sta­tus quo, or one-line fixes, comes to the fore.

‘‘ There are some who so quickly adopt, as their be­lief, ter­roir, bio­dy­nam­ics or or­gan­ics,’’ he ob­serves.

‘‘ I would sug­gest that the pur­suit of greater knowl­edge with an open mind not only crys­tallises thought but can ul­ti­mately be a wise al­ter­na­tive to the whole­sale adop­tion of th­ese la­bels or be­liefs.’’

The decades ahead are cer­tain to con­front Aus­tralian grape grow­ers and wine­mak­ers with un­prece­dented chal­lenges.

What is less cer­tain is the tim­ing and sever­ity of those chal­lenges and their cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect. In this sce­nario, we not only need Gros­set but many more like him if we are to emerge rel­a­tively un­scathed.

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