The Nurserymen's March Falters
Tonight on the ABC Radio National current affairs program PM, presenter Mark Colvin revealed that the Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia (PGIBSA) will reconsider its agreement to relax the laws limiting the spread of the deadly vine louse, Phylloxera.
The board will meet within the next few weeks.
Concerned McLaren Vale winemaker and vine scientist at DJ's Growers, James Hook, explained that "Phylloxera is kind of a super pest; almost microscopic, you can't see it ... in the last couple of years ... these no-go zones have been classified, 'yes, they're ok zones.' And so now there's a whole ... large spectrum of Victoria that you can ... take material into South Australia from.
"The concern is that we know phylloxera isn't in South Australia because we've got 100 years of knowing that it's not here. We don't have that with Victoria. There's regions that ... make a lot of people very nervous because they're either geographically very close to areas that have Phylloxera or that they're areas that have only really had grapes reasonably recently."
In the last weeks, led by the respected McLaren Vale grower/winemaker, Master of Wine Drew Noon and his wife, Rae, a rapidly-growing band of famous South Australian wine identities has grown increasingly enraged and vocal about the board they expect to be protecting them from Phylloxera.
Every South Australia grapegrower pays an annual levy to the PGIBSA to police the movement of machinery and plant and soil material into South Australia from the Phylloxera-infested states of Victoria and New South Wales.
Growers were aghast to accidentally discover that PGIBSA, influenced by vine nurserymen, had quietly agreed to relax the restrictions on the movement into South Australia of material and machinery from vineyards close to Phylloxera-infected areas.
As DRINKSTER reported last night, whether they like it or not, the vine propagation nurseries stand to make vast amounts of money in the case of Phylloxera spreading to South Australia. To Phylloxera-proof Coonawarra alone would cost that region at least $60 million. This figure is for the purchase of grafted Phylloxera-resistant vine cuttings alone - it does not include the costs of clearing the diseased vineyards or their replanting, or cover the loss of income in the duration.
Very obviously, many hundreds of grapegrowers would go to the wall; given the ravaged look of the industry as whole, it seems possible that the South Australian wine business would never recover.
Since it was smitten by Phylloxera brought in from the USA in 1877, Victoria has never regained its position as Australia's biggest wine producer.
And it has never forgiven South Australia for taking that position from it while Victorian growers spent many decades struggling to regroup and replant.
Of DRINKSTER's Coonawarra estimates, Hook told PM "that's just one region. So you could imagine what the cost would be in an area like the Barossa Valley or the state's largest grape growing area, which is the Riverland - it would be many, many times that; it could be as much as $600 million."
Reporter Tom Nightingale interviewed Victorian vine-grower Kym Ludvigson, Chairman of the Australian Vine Improvement Association (AVIA), an umbrella group of vine propagators and nurserymen whose mission is "to provide the Australian viticultural industry with the highest quality grapevine propagation material available," and whose responsibilites include
* The management of a National Vine Accreditation Scheme – on behalf of Vine Improvement Groups;
* The negotiation and making of agreements with grapevine breeders for the appointment of the Association as the head licensee for the production and marketing of grapevine varieties in Australia; and
* The facilitation of the equitable distribution of high quality propagation grapevine and rootstock material to all producing areas in Australia.
When quizzed on AVIA's confidence about certain source regions in Victoria being Phylloxera-free, Ludvigson said they checked "Every third vine in every fifth row, or every fifth vine in every third row, I'm not absolutely sure on that, so they're very thorough."
AVIA was one of the outfits which "pushed South Australia to change its laws."
Ludvigson said this was "So there's less red tape in moving vines and machinery around Australia; and that it's fair, that everyone has the same level of regulation."
In lieu of any of the wine industry's intricate network of councils, bodies, committees and publications advising their South Australian members what's going down, DRINKSTER will continue to follow these developments closely.
To hear the ABC PM program, and read a part transcript, click here.