Column: On the Grapevine
Following a visit to Australia’s forward-thinking McLaren Vale, Nicholas Corke, of Thos Peatling in Bury St Edmunds, looks at the sustainability of making wine
With the continuous focus on and concerns over climate change, I wondered what the wine industry was doing to play its part - and where were initiatives showing positive results? It was with these thoughts in mind that I was impressed with what was happening in the Australian wine-growing region of McLaren Vale on a visit there earlier this year.
McLaren Vale is only 45 minutes south of Adelaide in South Australia, where world-class wines and great culinary experiences, as well as pristine natural attractions, make it a great place to visit. Indeed, the recent addition of the d’Arenburg Cube on the landscape is almost single-handedly transforming the number of visitors to the region. Taking its inspiration from the Rubik’s cube, it is a great example of how inspiring architecture can be responsible for generating tourism where little existed before, in the same way the Guggenheim Museum did for Bilbao.
But what of the winegrowing? The Sustainable Australia Winegrowing (SAW) programme was developed by McLaren Vale growers in 2010, with the aim of assisting vineyards to continually become more sustainable and reduce environmental impacts. Various assessment areas were drawn up, based on environmental, social and economic sustainability, whereby the grower can focus on not only meeting targets but also continually improving their results over time. So, they would work on areas such as soil health, nutrition and fertiliser, as well as pest and disease management, as well as biodiversity.
One large area of focus is on water management: bearing in mind a winery uses a lot of water, it is quite an achievement that McLaren Vale was the first region in Australia to declare and manage its underground water resource so that it is self-replenishing.
More than 70% of the region’s wine is now produced from SAW vineyards. McLaren Vale also has the highest number of certified organic and biodynamic vineyards in Australia, and one of the lowest usages of sprays and agro-chemicals. The program has been so successful that it has now been adopted in five additional Australian wine regions.
It also happens to be one of the most geographically diverse regions in the world, with many unique geologies which vary in age from 15,000 years to more than 550 million. Yes, that’s 550 million!
And what McLaren wines, you might ask, should you look for? The crown jewel of the vale is Shiraz but, given that this grape is also successful in so much of the country, it is interesting to see the recent emergence of Grenache and Mediterranean grape varieties as something of a speciality for the area. Indeed, we have just taken delivery of five different delightful wines from Hither & Yon, a boutique five-star McLaren Vale winery, never before available in the UK! Their Tempranillo will also shortly be available in Waitrose.
With McLaren Vale also having 30 kilometres of breathtaking coastline, it may be time to visit yourself. And even if you don’t make the admittedly long journey, it is nice to know that a bottle enjoyed from the region is making an active contribution to sustainability, something we would surely all endorse?
Thos Peatling Fine Wines, based in Bury St Edmunds, is an independent wine merchant specializing in importing wines direct from the producer, including Australia and Burgundy. See thospeatling.co.uk for more.