White va­ri­eties grow ram­pant as mi­nor reds take plunge

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - James Halliday

IN a week or two I will peer into a murky crys­tal ball and haz­ard a few pre­dic­tions about the 2008 Aus­tralian vin­tage. But the re­lease of the Aus­tralian Bureau of Sta­tis­tics’ 2007 re­port on the wine and grape in­dus­try caused me to look back be­fore turn­ing to the fu­ture.

The 2007 vin­tage was the small­est since 2003 and al­most on a par with 2001. The ton­nages were 1,391,082 (2001), 1,329,596 (2003) and 1,370,690 (2007). The bumper 2004, 2005 and 2006 vin­tages were all about 1.8 mil­lion tonnes.

But the gross fig­ures tell only part of the tale. Go­ing back a lit­tle fur­ther, to 1998, red grapes ac­counted for 38 per cent of the crush (rounded to whole num­bers). That share rose to 42 per cent in 1999, 48 per cent (2000), 56 per cent (2001 and 2002) and 58 per cent (2003 and 2004) be­fore eas­ing to 56 per cent (2005 and 2006).

In 2007, it fell back be­low 49 per cent, a sub­stan­tial change given the long-term trend. You may won­der whether frosts, drought and smoke taint from bush­fires were re­spon­si­ble for a one-off change and whether, when and if grow­ing-sea­son con­di­tions re­turn to some­thing ap­proach­ing nor­mal, the dom­i­nance of red wines will be re­asserted.

Al­though it may come as a sur­prise, to­tal plant­ings in­creased by 4985ha from 2006 to 2007, and plant­ings in bear­ing rose by 5784ha. The in­crease in to­tal plant­ings was shared equally be­tween white and red grapes. It’s not rocket science to re­alise that the yields a hectare were much lower in 2007 than 2006, and that reds were harder hit than whites. The over­all yield fell from 12.5 tonnes a hectare in 2006 to 9.2 tonnes a hectare in 2007, but the drop in red yield was 32 per cent com­pared with 18 per cent for the whites.

That caused me to look at the trendy new va­ri­eties and see what was hap­pen­ing there. I wanted to com­pare 2003 with 2007 but found that one of the key va­ri­eties, pinot gris, did not make its ap­pear­ance in the ABS re­ports un­til 2004, so I had to settle for that.

It will come as no sur­prise to friend and foe of pinot gris that it has been the star per­former in re­cent years. In 2004 there were 329ha of it, of which 207ha were in bear­ing, pro­duc­ing 2094 tonnes of fruit. In 2007, 1362ha were bear­ing from to­tal plant­ings of 2469ha, and pro­duced 12,340 tonnes. Like it or not, there is an aw­ful lot of pinot gris com­ing our way.

Viog­nier has grown from 683ha to­tal and 462ha in bear­ing in 2004, with a yield of 3903 tonnes, to 1369ha to­tal, 1059ha in bear­ing, and 8370 tonnes in 2007. A por­tion is not re­leased as a white wine but is co-fer­mented with shi­raz, which some sug­gest is the best use for a dif­fi­cult variety.

While in no sense a nov­elty, the in­sa­tiable de­mand for sauvi­gnon blanc-semil­lon blends is adding to the pull of each variety as stand-alones and has seen sauvi­gnon blanc rise from 3425ha to­tal, 3033ha bear­ing, 39,774 tonnes, to 5545ha to­tal, 4545ha bear­ing and 36,515 tonnes.

In other words, in ev­ery case there has been a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease, with more to come. What then of san­giovese, neb­bi­olo, petit ver­dot, du­rif, zin­fan­del and tem­pranillo? In the case of the first three it is the op­po­site. San­giovese has de­clined from 511ha to­tal and 486ha bear­ing to 479ha to­tal and 450ha bear­ing; neb­bi­olo from a ten­u­ous 121ha-105ha to an even tinier 90ha-84ha; and petit ver­dot from 1623ha1526ha to 1387ha-1335ha.

The Ital­ian va­ri­eties are more tem­per­a­men­tal and dif­fi­cult to sat­isfy than an opera diva, but petit ver­dot is harder to fathom. Per­haps it is all too pro­mis­cu­ous: it has the high­est yield of all the vi­tis vinifera red va­ri­eties yet pro­duces wines of deep colour and flavour in any grow­ing cir­cum­stances. Its soul­mate, du­rif, has fared bet­ter, but with a mod­est rise from 339ha-313ha to 452ha-439ha.

It’s early days for zin­fan­del, up from 95ha-88ha to 136ha-118ha, which leaves tem­pranillo as the one new variety with en­ergy, ris­ing from 257ha-194ha to 354ha-317ha. It is an early ripen­ing variety, sug­gest­ing it should do best in cool re­gions, but its small plant­ings are so widely spread that mak­ing a call about its long-term po­ten­tial is of lit­tle value.

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