Corker of an idea from a champion of screwcaps
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 Since Gaia was planted, the possibility of global cooling (suggested by climatologists in the ’ 70s) has been replaced by the fact of global warming.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.