“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland)

Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin

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28 May 2012

CRITTER LABELS - TIME TO GET THE AXE OUT

Decanter co-publisher/editor, the fearless Australian Tony Lord, photographed - enjoying a Seppelts Flor Fino Sherry - by the author in Chesser Cellars, Winestate July 1982

Sometime around 1982 Robert Hesketh, then chairman of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, strode into my office with Mark Swann, his partner in a wine broking business, both grinning impishly.  They’d invented the critter label.

They plonked two bottles of what turned out to be eminently forgettable wine on the desk.  Koala Court, a white, bore an image of a giant koala hugging a wine barrel.  The red I think wore a kangaroo leaping over a barrel. It was called Roo’s Leap.  No attempt was made to explain the varieties within.

The big idea was export.  Australia was awash with wine: discounting was rife: you could buy a bottle for a buck. In 1977/78, Australia had exported 11,000 cases to Britain; in 79/80 it hit 48,000 cases.  But in 80/81 it was back down to 33,000. 

For perspective, we sent the Brits the equivalent of 27,588,888 cases in 2011.  Increasingly, this is exported in enormous bladders fitted in shipping containers and then pumped full, to be bottled in the foreign marketplace. In other words, it’s bladderpack quality in bottles.

One of the most discussed wine articles of 1982 was my interview with the ravening Tony Lord, the Australian editor and co-publisher of Decanter. I asked him what the Brits wanted to see on our labels.

“Well, the varietal name,” he said.  “Area definition, and perhaps a little back label information about the product.  It’s getting to the point now with these bloody EEC bureaucrats that by the time you’ve actually got all the crap they want on the label, you’re lucky to be able to fit the producer’s name.  Fundamentally, what they want is attractive labeling, and like every other market, there’s just – well, you take a Wolf Blass label: there’s eye-catching shelf appeal, with the varietal name, and the area information and the vintage. 

“Varietal name and the vintage are the key things at the moment because they imply immediately that this is a quality wine,” he continued. “It doesn’t necessarily follow through in the bottle, but, at the moment, anything that hasn’t got a vintage date or a varietal name in Britain is considered real cheapo junk.”

It’s important to emphasise Blass’s influence on labeling. In the ’seventies, Jim Ingoldby (left) in McLaren Vale had followed the Burgundian example, and pioneered the listing of even the grapegrower on his delicious suite of vineyard-specific reds, but this did not catch on for at least a decade. It was Blass’s robust insistence on variety and region that forced many others to follow.  He’d been influenced in turn by the man who first brought him to Australia: the great Ian Hickinbotham.  

When he was MD of Kaiser Stuhl, Hick (left) even went to the extent of blending big volumes from different vintages, and listing them prominently.  I have a bottle of his Kaiser Stuhl 1954 Claret, which bears a neck tag proudly announcing “Vintage 1954 with 30% 1957”.  

Many modern wines would be better drinks if winemakers were game to try such blending adventures and honest labeling now. 

Another honest man and generous mentor, Colin Gramp, was fastidious in accurate labeling at Orlando, a corporate philosophy long ago diluted by the world’s biggest creek.

Regardless of their true meaning, Blass’s brilliant promotion of trophies and medals gave his wines huge authority in the quality stakes: his rivals were envious, and had no choice but to climb aboard.  This led to the explosion of Australian wine shows, which multiplied exponentially, eventually making the medal practically worthless.

Sorry, but there's not much resolution here: wartime photograph of the young Wolf Blass (with space-age vegetable-oil powered tractor) and his ground crew.

It’s hard to explain how primitive the general attitude was to truth in labeling, and how confounding the whole deal was for the consumer.  In those days, the most popular white in Sydney was called Traminer Riesling, which was usually a sickly-sugary blend of greasy Muscat and battery water Semillon.

It was largely the Blass drive to more honesty that forced the change: to be credible, people had to follow.  When I asked one bright Hunter-based promoter, Richmond Grove’s Mark Cashmore, why he’d changed the name of his blend of Chardonnay and Semillon from Richmond Grove Pinot Riesling to Richmond Grove Semillon Chardonnay he famously explained:

“Pinot Riesling doesn’t mean very much at all. Chardonnay’s not Pinot Chardonnay and I don’t think Riesling in the context of Pinot Riesling means very much. I mean Riesling is Semillon and Pinot is Chardonnay, and we have more Semillon in the wine than Chardonnay, so it should be Semillon Chardonnay.”

It may not quite look like it, but Cashmore was telling the truth. 

Lord also delivered a warning that too many producers still fail miserably to consider.

“The only thing that you don’t want to happen is to go to the Californian extreme where they literally tell you what socks the winemaker was wearing when he made the wine.  I think that’s the sign of a fairly unsophisticated wine-drinking market.”

Typically, when Zar Brooks worked for d’Arenberg in the ’nineties, he ignored this advice as brazenly as possible, and invented the fly spot label, with entire bloody novels filling the back label in fonts that look like microscopic speckle to ordinary eyes.  When I suggested this was pure sophistry, as in a generally fallacious method of reasoning, Brooks promptly had his business card changed to include the title “Chief Sophist”.  He still uses this to considerable effect, while d’Arenberg has gone on to extend the Brooks back label style to incredible lengths, providing a perfect example of unsophisticated actually meaning the opposite of what everybody thinks.  

This brings to mind the recent publishing fad where photographs of the winemaker’s dog seem to have become an indicator of quality.  Nothing new in this, however: the perfectly mad Richard Beckett, writing under the pseudonym Sam Orr in The Nation Review in the early ’seventies used a dog index to rank wine quality.  As in “good enough to drive a brown dog to drink,” “rough enough to kill six black dogs”, or “likely to make a cattle dog lie down and cry.”

David Wynn, son of Sam, founder of Wynn's Coonawarra Estate, with the legendary food critic, John McGrath, and the author at Wynn's epic Mountadam in the early nineties.

When Brian Croser, Karl Seppelt and David Wynn followed Colin Gramp’s Steingarten example and battled intensely to plant vineyards at the highest possible altitude in the ’seventies and ’eighties, ridge wines became the norm.  Every vineyard, it seemed, suddenly lived on a ridge: a claim of greater altitude became a quality indicator.  Everybody had a Something Ridge: but for export, of course, where the claim could never be checked.  Most of these wines really came from Australia’s flattest deserts, or, if you were lucky, the vast flatness of Riverland South (Padthaway), but this never mattered to the marketers.  At about the time I joked with the fine wine dealer David Ridge about his failure to release a Ridge Ridge, another grog-flogger boasted of gracing the cheapo shelves of Blighty with eleven different ridges, simultæneously.

If the truth be known, they were probably all the same wine.

This doesn’t apply, of course, to McLaren Vale’s respected DogRidge, one of the first brands to adopt the irreverent post-modern attitude to punctuation when it fused the two buzzwords and kept the cap R.  DogRidge at least has exemplary red – check out their Grenache –AND a hill, where I witnessed d’Arenberg wine-and-wordsmith Nick James-Martin perform a deadly flying tackle on an actual dog which had run off with some poor kiddy’s teddy. 

I’m sure this smœrgasbœrd of evocations will find its way onto a bottle of d’Arenberg eventually. 

Chester Osborn, hair of  d'Arenberg, left, dressing up with a coupla mates - critter label evolving? Three Blind Mites?

Which brings me to the post-modern fad using numbers or even digits in branding.  This one’s really friggin’ annoying.  It was that prime sophist, Toby Ralph, who first thought of this when he was aiming for a lucrative consultancy at Tolley Stott and Tolley in about 1980.  “I’ve thought of a great name,” he whispered at dinner.  “Eleven Shadows.”  While I think that failed to eventuate, and TST vanished, soon we had these weird number brands all over the place.  Open the Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory and you’ll smack straight into 201, Two Dorks, Two Figs, Two Furlongs, 5th Chapter Estate, Five Oaks, 572 Richmond Road, 181 Wines, Three Willows, Three Wishes, 3WITCHES, III Associates, 5 Blind Mice, 919 Wines, First Drop, Five Geese, Quattro Mano, Ten Miles East, Ten Minutes By Tractor, Two Hands, 3 Oceans, 3 Drops, Estate 807, Fifth Estate, Seven Ochres, Vineyard 28, et cetera, ad infinitum

While this doesn’t give real places like Severn Brae or Leven Valley much of a chance, it leaves me dumbstruck wondering how in the names of Bacchus and Pan they imagine anybody’ll find 201 or 572 or 3 or whatever in a directory.  But there you go. We can’t all be in MENSA.

As the French are now feverishly copying our critter labels, it’s the perfect time to dump them. The American market which slurped them up this last decade is quite wisely beginning to regard them with disinterest verging on revulsion, as it develops a distinct interest in better, more expensive wines.  Which quality eludes many of the critter wine creators, just as it seemed beyond the reach of the ridge raiders before them. 

Since their sales are, shall we say, not quite so fluid as they had been, I would have asked [yellowtail] to discuss this, but where would you look for that number?  Under “brackets”?

Wikipedia, just by the way, lists 78 different types of fish called yellowtail, but no kangaroos.

 
TWO COMMENTS WHICH CAME BY E:

(1) Whitey, the 11 Ridges were all the same wine - but were not my creation. The English wholesalers thought them up. (Name withheld to protect the innocent.)

(2) Philip, I very much enjoyed your article “Time to dump the critters’

Having designed [yellow tail] and been on the receiving end of a number of awards for it, Just Add Wine went on to be sought out worldwide by those “me too” producers seeking their own future [yellow tail] on what became a veritable tsunami of critter label requests at that time.

But back at the outset, in a perfect sliding doors moment in time at the Sydney Qantas Club, Casella’s very talented John Souter, then International Brand Manager had the good sense to spot something different.

Combined with some talented winemaking matched to good market research, some intel, quality marketing skills and a lot of investment, the Casella’s turned a kangaroo label, albeit somewhat more sophisticated in styling than just a picture of a kangaroo leaping over a barrel, into a phenomenal success story.

And the rest as they say, is history, and well deserved to them all too!

And yes, then came the run on numbers, but at least some offered creative opportunity, other requests just left us scratching our heads!

All the best to you and keep up the great articles.

Lorenzo Zanini

26 May 2012

PRO-PHYLLOXERA LOBBY WILL FALL APART

Master viticulturer Ian Hollick with the precious Terra rosa and limestone/calcrete profile of Coonawarra ... the dreaded Phylloxera doesn't like sand much, but it would revel in this plum layer cake if it were to cross the Victorian border. Like most of Coonawarra, the Hollick vineyards are not on rootstock, and so are highly vulnerable while giving better flavour. The Hollick winemaker, Matt Caldersmith, is "aghast" at the Phylloxera Board's mismanagement and diluting of the rigid regulations which have kept South Australia free of Phylloxera for a century.  Well, so far, anyway. Touch wood.

Vine Pox Invasion Hits Crossfire
Sweaty Board Rethinks Monday
Buggers Nearly Got Away With It  
by PHILIP WHITE

This last week, DRINKSTER's been up to its gullet trying to digest the terrible mess which industry and government have together made of South Australia's previously brilliant Phylloxera laws, and the Board which properly and successfully policed them for a century.  It's now quite obvious that various vested interests are quietly softening the  regulations to suit their desperate new parsimony.  As Dudley Brown remarked on an earlier blog, it's as if the Phylloxera louse has hired its own lobbyist! But good sense must prevail here: we're not only gonna win this, but now we expect resignations.  

Here's a transcription of a discussion which went to air on Adelaide's local ABC891 with announcer Ian Henschke, followed by some further explanations and disgust. It's real long, but it has to be. Chew it up, and get ready to storm the ramparts if they don't reverse the decision. We can win this. Sharpen up the axes.


IAN HENSCHKE:  One of the things you wouldn’t want to discover in South Australia is Phylloxera, because it hasn’t been here. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a disease of grape vines, and er well, it could cause hundreds of millions of dollars of damage according to Philip White the wine writer.  Philip White, why are we worried about it now, seeing that we’ve been free of it for the best part of a century or more?

PHILIP WHITE: Well, we’ve had a really effective sort of self-policing body called the Phylloxera Board, to which all [South Australia] grape-growers have contributed a levy on their tonnes for a hundred years.  And Phylloxera is in Victoria and New South Wales in various places.  Since the wine industry boom of the last fifteen years it started to move in Victoria and it’s sprung up in many – I think there’s been six, seven maybe, outbreaks in different parts of Victoria in the last ten years (1).

Now what’s happened on top of that in the very complex and intricate network of committees and acronyms and stuff which the wine industry seems to thrive on, there’s been a move to actually alleviate or, or decrease some of the very rigid restrictions that we’ve had on the movement of machinery across the border; plant material, like cuttings, and soil (2).

What’s happened is, in a sort of almost secretive way - because nobody was really aware of it, or talked to about it - they’ve lifted some of these restrictions, to make it easier to move (3). 

Which is putting the fear of death into the wine industry here (4), because we have these ancient pre-Phylloxera vineyards that no-one else in the world has – or maybe Chile and Argentina have some – but there’s hardly anywhere on Earth which has these incredible old vineyards like your cousins have in Hill of Grace.

So while you can plant grafted anti-Phylloxera rootstocks and then put your Cabernet on the top of it, that just makes us the same as the rest of the world if we do that.  So people are really really worried.

HENSCHKE (below): Well it seems as if this is going on – and I know you’ve written a blog on this – if this is going on as you say I imagine there’d be absolute fear out there in the grape-growing community.

Let’s go to Matt Caldersmith, chief winemaker at Hollick Wines down in the Penola-Coonawarra region.  You’re not that far from the border, Matt Caldersmith.  Are you worried that you could see Phylloxera coming across the border if we’ve relaxed the rules?

MATT CALDERSMITH:  Yeah, definitely Ian.  It’s a major concern for us, as I think Philip was saying.  We’ve been free of Phylloxera pretty much since inception, and because of that we’ve probably been a little bit lazy with protection, and I can’t speak for all of Coonawarra, but I know that all of Hollick’s plantings are on their own roots, so they’re planted with vines that aren’t grafted onto Phylloxera-resistant stock.

HENSCHKE: So how much damage would it cause, if for example a bit of machinery or some soil came in that carried Phylloxera - because I understand that this particular organism, I think it’s a little tiny insect, isn’t it, it’s so small you can’t even see it – if that got into your vineyard, how much would it cost, for example, if it broke out in the Coonawarra region?

 CALDERSMITH (right): Well there’s been numbers bandied about, you now, in the millions, but the major issue is, and you’re correct, it’s like an aphid:  it’s very small and it lives in the ground and it chokes the roots and stops the water and nutrients from getting to the vine. 

So what happens is you lose production.  The vines generally slowly die and shut down, so you have to replace the vines. 

Now the costs being bandied about really only account for the purchase of the vines.  To replace the vines you’ve got to pull out all the infrastructure: all the water; all the posts, and then go through and replant.

On top of that you’ve got a to wait a good four years before you get any decent crops from the vines –

HENSCHKE: Well that’s extraordinary. If you ended up, say, even wiping out ten per cent of an industry that’s worth two billion and you had to wait four years, you’d be losing a billion dollars.  The figures would be up around that, not allowing for the cost of the labor of replanting all the vineyards.

CALDERSMITH: Oh, it’s potentially devastating.  That’s why we’re aghast at what’s going on.

HENSCHKE: Well let’s go to Louisa Rose now the co-chair of the South Australian Wine Industry Council.  Louisa Rose, how did this come about, that the rules are being relaxed at a time when obviously the wine industry’s got enough problems on its hands with oversupply and low international prices through the high rate of the [Australian]  dollar?

LOUISA ROSE (below):  Hi Ian.  Well look I have to say I don’t know how, particularly how it came about. I’m not up to speed with exactly the history of this.  I know that really it’s the Phylloxera Board that has been you know has been looking at looking at this and it’s my understanding that they went through, you know, a process of trying to – you know, as all government agencies have done – to try to reduce red tape, and this is something that came about after some consultation … and and it has been to my knowledge, you know, available for public sort of scrutiny. 

What I, what I can say, though, is I that know that the Phylloxera Board – and there wasn’t anybody available to speak to you today: I’m afraid they’re they’re travelling but they are meeting on Monday to review the information they’ve been collecting over the past months –

HENSCHKE: And to review the decision?  Is that one of the things they’ll be doing as well?  Because if people like Matt Caldersmith are that upset about it then you would imagine that they would – I mean I understand that the Board is actually funded by grapegrowers’ levys isn’t it?

ROSE:  Yeah.  Absolutely.  And I mean I think that the Phylloxera Board is the grape is the grape industry’s board. So they’re certainly not trying to make decisions that are in any way you know trying to harm the South Australian wine industry.

And since this has this has come up, in the last couple of weeks, that it’s been you know come through the media and Philip’s blog, and they have been consulting very widely with grape growers in the industry, and with the industry regional bodies (5), and they all their work and the information they’ve collected over the past few weeks, and months, I might say, as part of their ongoing work, you know, it’s going to be tabled at the meeting on Monday and they will they will review that as well as the recommend as the recommendations that you were referring to, and then they’ll report back to the Minister with their, their recommendation.

So that’s what I know about the Phylloxera Board and how that’s how they’re they’re addressing this particular issue.  And they can’t really comment I suppose until after they’ve reviewed that.

HENSCHKE.  Okay. So even if they were available they may not have been available.

ROSE:  Well I think it’s a Board thing so it would only have been individuals that could sort of take individual comments so –

The insidious, tireless, indestructible Phylloxera killing vines at Mitchelton, in Victoria's Goulburn Valley.  All the water from here drains into the Murray.  Sorry about the miserable low res - there's a shocking dearth of proper photographs of this sicko micro varmint and the damage it wreaks, even on the Phylloxera Board Goebbels sheets.  They don't like us taking photographs much. It's obviously a bad look!

HENSCHKE: Well Louisa Rose on behalf of the South Australian Wine Industry Council, you’d represent quite a lot of growers, and a large section of the industry.  Do you think then that we should be as strict as ever on this particular, well, creature, this this microbe that could effectively give the State a massive walloping economically?

ROSE:  Oh absolutely and I don’t think anybody, anybody that’s involved in the South Australian wine industry would have any would have any other opinion, other than that we have to be absolutely vigilant on it.

And as I say, I’m not exactly sure of the history of this particular issue but what I do know is that the Phylloxera Board are absolutely on it.

I’m just wondering Ian if you’d if you’d like a little bit of a rundown on the Board itself?

HENSCHKE:  Well I mean my understanding is that the Board is funded by the grapegrowers.  But we’ve seen, for example, we’ve seen the apple, the apple industry being told that because of free trade between countries that they have to allow certain types of apples into the country, and certain types of plants into the country that might put them at risk.  Is this part of the whole free trade thing between states?

ROSE: No. I don’t - that’s not, that’s not my belief.  That’s not that’s not my belief at all. It is quite important because I think the wine industry is actually incredibly in South Australia it’s incredibly proud of having the Phylloxera Board because it’s been around for over a hundred years.  It was established in, I think it was in 1899, with an absolute mission to promote this healthy, free Phylloxera state.

Almost microscopic Phylloxera devouring a hairline vine root.

It was recognized very early, very early in South Australia history that we didn’t have Phylloxera while it while it had come into other states, such as Victoria and New South Wales, so, for over a hundred years, you know, as the industry, and with a lot of government support we’ve been absolutely fighting this, this little aphid, and it is, it’s an aphid as Matt said, so, so you know to keep it out of the of the state.

So it’s, it is an industry board, or an industry-funded board, and it’s governed by legislation, so it’s there not just at the whim of the industry but absolutely embedded in, you know, you know, in the state.

HENSCHKE: Look er –

ROSE: - and it and it does a couple of things and I just want to - if you’ve got time I’d like to share this because I think as a you know, I always, I talk about this all over the world and how exciting it is because it’s something that nowhere else in the world and nowhere else in Australia has.

They do aerial surveillance of every vineyard, oh, every three years.  So they go along, and they take these aerial images, and they compare them with the same image from three years ago, and any changes in the vigour, which can be measured by infra-red and check things like that, they then go out and they ground-proof.  I’ve heard examples of them going to a vineyard and saying “Look, we’re from the Phylloxera Board and we’ve, we’ve um recognized that there’s a little bit of a change in the vigour in your vineyard,” and they’ve gone in and found that there’s a vine that’s been pulled out. (6)

You know, it’s that sensitive.

HENSCHKE: Okay. Well I mean –

ROSE: - they’re they’re looking at this you know every year.

And they also do, as we were already talking about, you know, you know, look after the Phylloxera Act and the laws and the regulations about bringing things in and quarantine and all of that.

HENSCHKE: Alright.  Look, thanks for explaining that Louisa Rose, co-chair of the South Australian Wine Industry Council.  Just quickly back to Philip White then.  Philip White, want do you think the end result of this will be then?  Because clearly there seems to be almost two agendas running here.  One, we want the place to be completely disease-free, and you’ve got aerial surveillance but at the same time you’re relaxing some of the rulings in terms of transport of machinery and soil.

WHITE: Yeah well I beg to disagree with Louisa, with respect.  This is an indication of, or perfect example of the industry not working together.

It was the Victorian nurserymen who’ve lobbied this change, using free trade as an excuse.  They somehow tried to involve the Australian Constitution. (7)

Now, the reality is that in spite of all this incredible technology, in the last decade, there’s been outbreaks of Phylloxera in all these places in Victoria, and there are actually people in South Australia who are suspicious that the damn thing might already be here.

Now I don’t begin to hope that that occurs, or that it’s true.  But the really difficult bit to face is that these nurserymen stand to make hundreds of millions of dollars selling rootstocks if Phylloxera does spread (8).

So I’m not suggesting that they’re doing it deliberately for that purpose, but if Phylloxera were to appear in South Australia, all the arrows would point to these lobbyists from the state where Phylloxera exists, who’ve managed to bully our board into softening its restrictions.

HENSCHKE: Well look Philip White, we’ll be interested talking to the Phylloxera Board after it has its meeting and I imagine that in the meantime there’ll be a lot of lobbying going in the other direction, now that the lobbyists in one way seem to have got their way, I think things’ll go back the other way.  Thanks for your time this morning.

WHITE:  Thank you.  The wires are buzzin!

And furthermore:

Whether we did it before or not, we might as well get this over with now:
Declaration of potential vested interests:

Ian Henschke has a small vineyard in the Adelaide Hills and is related to the Henschkes of Keyneton. He's the announcer of Adelaide's ABC Mornings show.
Matt Caldersmith works for the Hollick family, making wine in Coonawarra.
Louisa Rose is chief winemaker at Yalumba, which owns South Australia’s biggest vine nursery.  This Yalumba Vine Nursery, possibly the second-biggest in Australia, is managed  by Robin Nettelbeck, chief viticulturer for Yalumba. Nettelbeck also happens to be the Chairman of the Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia.
Philip White loves drinking good wine.    


Yalumba's Oxford Landing Estate Manager, Ashley Ratcliff, pointing, and Robin Nettelbeck, manager of the Yalumba Vine Nursery, South Australia's biggest and perhaps Australia's second-biggest. As a Phylloxera-resistant rootstock vendor, Yalumba Nursery is an almighty money-spinner, while Nettelbeck, renowned for his   Macchiavellian management manoeuvrings. also happens to be the chairman of the Phylloxera Board. Don't laugh.  Sensibly hatted is PIRSA viticulture man Mike McCarthy from the South Australia Research and Development Institute. So where's Disco Rob when you need some bright action?


Current members of the Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia:

Robin Nettelbeck, Chairman
Pete Balnaves, Deputy Chair
Geoff Raven
Ashley Chabrel
Ashley Keegan
Cassandra Collins
Elise Heyes
Narelle Borgmeyer
Raegan Noon

Most of these people are unknown to me.  Please let me know any details which may be helpful in further research: leave a message below, or send to whiteswine@hotmail.com

FOOTNOTES:

(1)  “Around Australia phylloxera is clearly being mobilised. Previously confined to North Eastern Victoria Phylloxera is on the march ... Phylloxera was first detected in Australia in 1877, in Geelong, and was responsible for the near destruction of the Victorian wine industry in the 1880s. Until fairly recently it was confined to small areas in central Victoria (Nagambie, Upton, Mooroopna) and northeast Victoria (Rutherglen, King Valley), in southeast New South Wales (Corowa) and in Camden and Cumberland near Sydney. However, there have been several detections in central Victoria in the past 10 years (Buckland Valley 2003, Ovens Valley 2003, Murchison 2006, Yarra Valley 2006, Mansfield 2010).” James Hook

(2)  The Australian wine industry is not what it was.  Desperate problems with irrigation water supply, floods, totally unpredictable weather patterns, the Australian dollar going back up to where it obviously should be, and an international oversupply of grapes has played havoc with the balance sheets, particularly of the big companies, whether public or private.  This has forced many to regroup their corporate philosophies, and in the lunge to remain viable, quite dramatically restructure their businesses.  At the risk of compromising flavour and quality, this includes the prophylactic planting of vineyards on Phylloxera-resistant rootstock, to avoid more trouble. It has also forced centralization of processing like never before, a desperate drive to automation, and the sale of the many satellite, or regional wineries where grapes were traditionally vinified closer to their source.  So large winemakers with Victorian vineyards, or which buy Victorian or New South Wales fruit, have an obvious desire to limit unnecessary restrictions on the efficient transport of grapes, to begin with.  As these giants can usually afford to graft nearly everything to rootstock, as they frequently own giant vine propagation nurseries, they do not suffer from Phylloxera damage; they suffer only from the inconvenience of the restrictive Phylloxera Board regulations.  Jacob’s Creek (Pernod Ricard), Wolf Blass (Treasury) and Yalumba (S. Smith & Sons) are examples.  Richard Hamilton (grape boss at Fosters, owner of Wolf Blass) was chair of the Phylloxera Board previous to Robin Nettelbeck (Yalumba). 

(3)  Since 2009, the Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia (PGIBSA) seems to have lost much of its power to the bureaucrats of Primary Industries and Resources South Australia (PIRSA), whose Minister they answer to.  In that year, however, when the current act was passed, the initial ruling to monitor imports of grapes and grape products into South Australia by transport manifests was soon dropped as there were too many manifests.

(4)  “If the South Australian Wine Industry is serious about preventing a Phylloxera outbreak then shouldn’t ALL interstate transfer of grapes or vineyard machinery be banned? We should be increasing the measures of protection not decreasing them.  I am very concerned about the relaxed attitude that seems to be descending on this matter. I am unsure what I can do as an individual but I offer my support to you wholeheartedly.”  Justin Lane, Alpha Box & Dice

“The national body, the National Phylloxera Technical Reference Group has changed the classification of the Heathcote region which will allow importation of grapes and grape material from there. However we have seen the spread of Phylloxera to new areas in Victoria over recent times and, as it takes up to 10 years for Phylloxera to be apparent in vine decline, Phylloxera may already be in these areas which will be allowed to send grapes to the Barossa for prcessing ... The Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia has the brief to ensure that prococals exist to pretect South Australia from the pest. However a number of members of the South Australian board and also members of the National Board making the changes. The South Australian Board is funded by a levy on growers but how can we expect them to protect us if the are members of the group putting us at risk ... The Chairman of the national body, who is also a member of the SA Board, was quoted as saying that the protection for South Australia has been strengthened and that all people importing grape material need to register with the State Government and will need to comply with the standards ... There is sure to be a lot more to be said about this situation. It is a very very serious matter.” Anon., Barossa

“The weakening of the state's phylloxera protection measures are even worse than first thought, and as highlighted by Whitey, Wayne Farquhar and Drew Noon it should be ringing alarm bells for all old-vine growers throughout South Australia (and all wine lovers who value these drops made from pre-Phylloxera age vines). It's the sort of thing that deserves a full-on protest outside parliament, it's that serious ... How the hell can the powers that be significantly weaken the rules protecting our grape and wine industry from Phylloxera without consulting or informing the state’s primary stakeholders in this area, the grape growers and wine producers? Are these idiots completely unaware of the history of the recent movement of this destructive pest into the Yarra Valley in 2006, or are their heads too far up their own arses to care? … Once this threat appears in this state that's it, it can't be treated, it cannot be cured, it will very probably destroy our oldest vines first and take away the one truly unique thing we can promote on a world scale - a large resource of old vines on their own natural rootstock (as opposed to American rootstock that has to be grafted to in Phylloxera afflicted regions). A small example of what we stand to lose - Hill of Grace, Mt Edelstone, Kay Bros Block 6, Penfolds Block 42, Wendouree, etc, not to mention the many old vineyards that haven't had their name on a label but have been equally important in making our top wines and establishing our reputation here and overseas - imagine if the lot were gone? The recent efforts to increase the value of what we sell overseas based on terroir and uniqueness can be flushed down the toilet, and we're back left competing with the likes of Chile and Argentina in the race for the bottom, wall-to-wall bulk booze to line the grocers' shelves labelled as "sunshine in a bottle" with a critter label and a $2 price tag. Game over ... A couple of years ago I remember talking with Franco D'Anna and being shocked when he said they were grafting all of their vines on to American rootstock, and his comments that it's only a matter of time before everyone in the Yarra Valley had to do the same because it was in Fosters (now Treasury's) vineyards and eventually it will be everywhere. Perhaps that's something Gail Gago should have thought of before defending the slackening of these protections, if Phylloxera makes its way into South Australia it will eventually strike her husband's most valuable Penfolds vineyards, no matter what security measures they take." Ian Hickman

"This fight is never over it seems. But we can never stop trying. Ever. South Australian wineries never talk about the fact that the wines you taste are some of the only vineyards in the world that taste as they should - from own rooted vines. My little (4 acres) own rooted Primitivo / Zinfandel block is a wonder to winemakers from the arguable ‘home’ of zin - California. If we lose this uniqueness, we lose all. And we don't even talk about how amazing this is. We just accept it. We can't accept our good fortune and hard work of 113 years - we must honor this bequest and fight for it." Dudley Brown, Inkwell Vineyard

"At recent Phylloxera meetings held in South Australia by the PGIBSA, Dr. Kevin Powell Australia’s top researcher into Phylloxera said that the Phylloxera outbreak in the Fosters Vineyard in the Yarra Valley probably occurred in 2001 and was only visible in 2006 a total of 5 years from infestation to detection. Under current protocols a PRZ can gain full PEZ status only after 3 years of surveys to detect Phylloxera, and new emerging regions after only one year, yet Dr Kevin Powell is indicating minimum of 5 years or longer which would also depend upon the soil type, moisture and temperature ... So Phylloxera could have potentially crossed from neighboring effected areas into Heathcote/Bendigo regions and not have been detected yet, and while they have PEZ status under the slackened measures heavy equipment and grapes could travel into South Australia without compulsory inspection and cleaning at the border. For all we know, with the complete lack of checks it may already be here and is biding its time to announce its presence in another five years. Anyone in the wine industry and wine lovers in general should be outraged and horrified by these decisions by the Phylloxera board?” Wayne B Farquhar (upper left, with family), Barossa vine nurseryman at Elite Nursery, owner Frill Hill Vineyards - Home to 145 year old Grenache and 118 year old Riesling


“BIG thumbs up on this one. You definitely have our support- in our view the enormous risk to SA’s own rooted vines far outweighs the desire for ‘easier’ equipment/grape movement.  We see our old vines as one of our most precious assets. Please let me know if there is anything that I/we can do to assist. Corrina Wright, winemaker, Oliver’s Taranga (170 years of family grapegrowing in McLaren Vale)

Corrina Wright, left with sister Briony Oliver and father Don: this family's been growing grapes on the same McLaren Vale land for 170 years - photo Philip White.

“We applaud Victoria’s efforts to survey its wine regions for phylloxera but we cannot accept the claims that these new interstate areas are phylloxera free ... As noted Phylloxera is a tricky problem that can take several years to be detected ... The surveys provide a guide only and are not a guarantee. Opening our border to free trade with these regions is not worth the risk with South Australia’s old vines.” Glen Harminson, Angaston Vineyards

“We all know phylloxera would devastate our old vineyards and probably a lot of livelihoods along the way if it got into SA ... I think we are being somewhat polite about the whole thing and have taken our (SA Industry and quite obviously Vic. - All inclusive) foot off the pedal for the last 10 years ... In more recent times lobbying from SA has been ineffective which has resulted in us getting to where we are now, This strongly points towards the Phylloxera Board which seems to be wanting to please all parties ... This will be the downfall of our current Phylloxera free status … I think we need to have a strong, well distributed and understood message in our own region(s) to give us more strength.”  Michael Paxton, Paxton Wines
 

(5)  The Phylloxera Board is required to have Regional Committees (Phylloxera Act Section 15.1), but they have shut these down.  DRINKSTER cannot understand how how they managed this.  If these committees still existed, growers wouldn’t have to be learning about threats to their livelihood on this blog, which is still the only journal in the country to be running this treacherous story. This battle will be won only when healthy communication via regional committees is re-established, and the South Australian regulations dependably and fiercely protect this state from imported grapes, machinery and other phylloxera risk vectors.  (Remember 2009 when it all got swept under the carpet).

(6) While the precision of aerial surveillance is admirable, it obviously cannot detect Phylloxera in vineyards grafted to Phylloxera-resistant rootstock – vineyards of the type developed on a vast scale by the big wineries who can afford such luxury and compromised flavour, and whom are the most likely to be shipping whole fruit and plant material across borders.  Vineyards in very good country adjacent to places where Phylloxera is extant are obvious choices for rootstock viticulture. Aerial surveillance can only detect Phylloxera once it has infected vineyards on their own roots. Once that’s happened, the grower has no choice but to uproot the vineyard and replant it with grafted rootstocks which must be bought from a big nursery. The Phylloxera never goes away.

Kym Ludvigsen, right, picks up his Distinguished Services Award from Wines of Victoria ... his 2010 piece below, published in the Australian and New Zealand Grapegrower and Winemaker may be a clue to why they admire him!

(7) “In recent years, Victoria has made huge leaps in managing Phylloxera … The Victorian wine industry worked for years to convince the Victorian government of the advantages that would flow … The discussion was successful because it was based on realistic aims and sound business sense, including issues linked to market access, the movement of machinery, nursery materials, grapes, grape products, and elimination of conditions that resulted in restriction of trade between the states … [South Australian restrictions] are particularly galling issues for grapegrowers and wine industry contractors from Victoria, who see business opportunities in other states but are unable to easily access them … this is an intolerable situation requiring attention by the national and state governments … One wonders if South Australia doesn’t trust the Victorian government officials and certification processes … It is becoming increasingly plain that South Australia is acting to protect its grape industry and is denying market access to contractors, second-hand machinery dealers, nurseries, wineries and grape growers from other states ... there is no logic in their actions.”  Kym Ludvigsen, Ludvigsen Viticulture Services, Grampians, Victoria, chair, Australian Vine Improvement Association (vine nurserymen's lobby), Treasurer, Grampians Winemakers Inc; Victorian Regional Grape Supply Manager, Southcorp, 1994-02, writing in The Australian and New Zealand Grapegrower and Winemaker, October 2010.

(8) Grape vines grafted to Phylloxera-resistant rootstocks cost about $5.50 per cutting to purchase from a nursery.  Vines are commonly planted at about 2,000 cuttings per hectare.

22 May 2012

ARABANA - ODE TO THE MARREE PUB

 .

The Marree Hotel

 

If Australia has a ship of state,
it must be the Marree Hotel.
With her green and gold VB ensign at the top mast,
and her stack all black and white for Port,
she sails silently across the empty stone ocean of old Aussie,
wearing the vast brute down speck by speck.
 

In her hold are hard, quiet sailors:
shoulders to the slow bar.
Four-wheel-drive tenders nudge her rubbing strakes,
discharging envoys from Oodnadatta and beyond,
messengers adrift without city.
 

About her, like ladies in waiting,
sit E. G. Kruse's mail Blitz,
sinking into the desert,
and the engines of a train long left without rails.
 

You could think the only politics are the whoosh of space
and the soft weep of power lines loosening,
bored against the blue.

 
 

Philip White




This was written upon visiting Marree with ABC radio colleagues Phillip Satchell and Ian Doyle nearly fifteen years ago, when we were trying to draw big city attention to the work of the Flying Doctor service.  E. G. Kruse for decades delivered the mail in his Blitz truck; VB is Victoria Bitter beer; Port is an Adelaide Aussie Rules footy team.  The original owners of this country, the Arabana people, were just beginning their long, eternally patient  struggle toward staking their rightful native title claim, a move then considered audacious, even insulting to the whites.  There was much brittle friction in the air in the pub that day, but little discussion.  So it's a great feeling to hear that today the Arabana, who have lived on these hard grounds for many millenia, have finally signed the deal, and swapped their rights to the town of Marree (pop. 70)  for some 70,000 sq km of what looks like mere desert to the white man. Apart from Lake Eyre, of course, which many whites like to visit or fly over when it contains water - even sail upon: there is a local yacht club. I understand there's a very different atmosphere in the front bar of the pub tonight, not to mention the huge party the Arabana are having out on the lake's shore!  I've been drinking to their success as I write, and wish them the very very best in the forthcoming millenia.  No outback voyage is complete without a night or two here. You can make contact with folks of all hues, and if you're polite, get shown around the nether regions by somebody who understands.






Flag: The Spirit of Ballarat, used with kind permission of the artist, Peter Clarke.

PHYLLOXERA: SOME GOOD SENSE AT LAST

James Hook at work crushing his Lazy Ballerina Adelaide Hills Pinot

The Nurserymen's March Falters
Phylloxera Board To Reconsider
Hook Talks Sense On Radio Nash
by PHILIP WHITE

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.











20 May 2012

PHYLLOXERA MUSTA HIRED A LOBBYIST

Dark clouds: Dudley Brown, proprietor of Inkwell Wines in McLaren Vale, can't help thinking that the killer vine bug, Phylloxera, must have hired itself a lobbyist.  "Imagine what would happen to the vineyards around here if it arrived," he demands. "The one thing we have which is totally unique in the world -  old vines on their own roots, and the special flavours they offer - would be gone.  Just gone." Dudley is a former President of the McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism Association.

More Questions Than Answers
Who Wants Old Laws Softened
What Do They Stand To Gain?
by PHILIP WHITE


“I too thought we had nailed this back in 2009 but the attempts to change this stuff are as persistent as the louse itself - who knew Phylloxera had its own lobbying group?” asked McLaren Vale grapegrower and activist, Dudley Brown. 

He referred to Wednesday’s Legislative Council interchange between Robert Brokenshire MLC and Minister Gail Gago, whose portfolios include Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Forests, Regional Development, Tourism, and the Status of Women.

Brokenshire lives on the edge of McLaren Vale, and knows well, and constantly mixes with  the winemakers there.  He speaks fluent wine.  Minister Gago is married to Peter Gago, the chief winemaker of Penfolds, who has just won the international Winemakers' Winemaker Award from the august international Masters of Wine.  This is the highest award available to winemakers.  These people are not new to wine topics. 

For over a century South Australia has been free of the dreaded micro root louse that killed the vineyards of France and Victoria in the 1800s, and burst out again various times during this last decade in Victoria; perhaps most infamously in a Fosters vineyard in the Yarra Valley.  The sole reason the plague has not crossed into South Australia is the extremely rigid restriction on the movement of machinery, dirt and plant material from places where phylloxera lives to places where it doesn’t. 

“Around Australia phylloxera is clearly being mobilized,” McLaren Vale vine scientist James Hook explained  during the 2009 scare. “Previously confined to North Eastern Victoria Phylloxera is on the march ... Phylloxera was first detected in Australia in 1877, in Geelong, and was responsible for the near destruction of the Victorian wine industry in the 1880s. Until fairly recently it was confined to small areas in central Victoria (Nagambie, Upton, Mooroopna) and northeast Victoria (Rutherglen, King Valley), in southeast New South Wales (Corowa) and in Camden and Cumberland near Sydney. However, there have been several detections in central Victoria in the past 10 years (Buckland Valley 2003, Ovens Valley 2003, Murchison 2006, Yarra Valley 2006, and Mansfield 2010).”

While I'm waiting to take a photograph of James Hook, take a look at this photograph he took.  This is Mitch from Calgary, tenderly poking some goodness into James' Lazy Ballerina red. photo James Hook

There’s the key.  The dreaded louse barely moved for a century, thanks to the rigid restrictions on moving plant material, soil, grapes and machinery.  These were largely imposed by South Australian winemakers through their Phylloxera Board.  Every South Australian grapegrower pays a levy to fund this policing body. 

But in the very years in which the industry made its biggest, most risky and hurried national expansions, Phylloxera suddenly appeared in five very popular interstate vignobles, where it will probably thrive forever.

Nevertheless, somebody away back in a smoke-free room somewhere has managed to have the restrictions eased, so it’s now possible to more easily move stuff from near where Phylloxera lives, if not from precisely smack bang in the middle of the infection.  Pardon my ambiguity in place of rigorous delineation, but it is in this no man's land where the threat is feared to lie.  South Australian grapegrowers with ancient pre-phylloxera clones still growing on their own roots are waiting for their government to prove to them that there is no Phylloxera in the dubious border country, and that the relaxation of the restrictions on the movement of machinery, for example, is no threat to their livelihood.


Having never been consulted about the proposed changes, and certainly not advised of them until Drew and Rae Noon began asking questions and DRINKSTER broke the story a month back, South Australian winemakers and grapegrowers are aghast to discover this, and think the science applied to justify the change is dodgy and highly suspicious, as Phylloxera can be extant in the ground for years without being detected.

Brokenshire posed a question that many South Australians are very keen to see answered.  He wanted to know whether anybody in government had protested about the wine industry’s relaxation of its own Phylloxera control regulations, and whether the Minister would reverse the decision “as, for instance, her predecessor did in relation to the proposed overnight closures of fruit fly inspection stations in the Riverland?”


If Phylloxera does move, the vast vineyards of the South Australian Riverland will probably be the first to go.  Apart from Coonawarra, they are the closest to Victoria's Phylloxera country.  The state's vast volumes of cheap wine come from the Riverland; its most expensive wine - Penfolds Bin 620 - comes from Coonawarra.

You can read the entire parliamentary interchange on DRINKSTER.  Both pollies have a reasonable grasp of the face of the situation.  While Minister Gago was handed the Agriculture portfolio and several others only recently (upon Jay Weatherill's ascendancy to the Premiership), the President of the chamber called her response “very thorough.”

“My understanding is that the protocol that was put together did a full risk assessment and has put in place the protocols that are necessary to continue to protect the Phylloxera spread,” Minister Gago concluded. “The changes that the honourable member alludes to are those involving equipment between zones that are Phylloxera free.



  
“The Phylloxera board itself, the industry itself, decided that that was a reasonable thing so long as the equipment was certified to have not been in a Phylloxera area. The industry itself has established these standards. The industry itself has looked at these protocols and approved them. South Australia's Phylloxera board, our own South Australian industry, has approved of this and said that these are suitable protocols to continue the protection of our viticulture interests.”
 

Dudley Brown disagrees about the alleged consultation: “There has not been any meaningful consultation with ‘the industry’ as a whole,” he said “but clearly someone in ‘the industry’ has an outsized role in this matter. I would be keen to know who exactly. All [South Australian] growers are levy payers [to the Phylloxera Board] - all deserve a voice in any meaningful change, not just the few who are inconvenienced by regulations that protect us all.”

“I can only reiterate that it was the Phylloxera board that approved these protocols,” Gago told the House. “They are significant leaders within the industry, so it is a protocol that is basically developed by the industry and endorsed by the industry. I think it would be incredibly foolish as a minister (even though my husband is a winemaker, I do not think that gives me the authority) to overturn an industry decision that has been considered as thoroughly as this decision has.”
 

But thoroughly considered by whom?  And on what account?  For what reasons?  This writer has spent years attempting to unravel the arcane tangle of committees, bodies, councils, cadres and infernal intrigue that between them moved to relax these vital regulations.

As Brown reminded me, we entered this battle in 2009, when moves to relax the protocols came to notice by sheer chance.  Wayne Farquar, a passionate and highly-respected Barossa vine propagator who owns Elite Nursery, not to mention priceless ancient vineyards of pre-Phylloxera stock – the very sort that Phylloxera will destroy when it crosses the border from Victoria – then wrote a critical letter of concern to the Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia (PGIBSA).  This letter, which asked questions about due diligence, and showed deep concern about the relaxation of restrictions, was acknowledged, but never answered, although the acknowledgment note promised an answer would be forthcoming.  Uh-huh.


“For some reason they invited me to a meeting,” Farquar said last week of his 2009 discovery. “That’s when I realised they were trying to relax the regulations.  It was just by chance that I found out ...  

"And now, look Rae Noon’s on the board and she only found out by accident that they were at it again ... It’s all by accident, so you can’t possibly say there’s been real consultation.  

"The Minister has to discover that it’s not really the industry doing this - it’s individuals, and it’s very hard to find out just who they are.”

Phylloxera management in a zone where Phylloxera lives.  The buyer is supposed to ask which parts of the country the grapes can be transported to without breaking the law. South Australia doesn't even rate a mention.

Drew Noon wonders who could possibly profit from a phylloxera outbreak.  This query offers not so clear an answer as his subsequent query.

"Who doesn’t?  South Australian growers (especially those with old vines on their own roots) who are rarely or never involved with moving grapes or machinery from interstate and have everything to lose from a Phylloxera outbreak?  What level of risk is acceptable to these SA growers who have everything to lose here?"

 Every time a Phylloxera outbreak occurs, the vines must be removed and destroyed.  Then you engage a nursery to propagate non-grape-bearing American vine rootstocks which are Phylloxera-resistant, and then employ specialists to graft grape-bearing varieties onto those rootstocks.  Then you start your vineyard again, enduring the inconvenience of steam-cleaning machinery, and vegetable material, every time you leave the area.

Like, you gotta disinfect your truck every time you drive to the shop. 

Or you should.

 
Phylloxera would just love the precious Terra Rosa, limestone, and calcrete of Coonawarra ... photo Milton Wordley 


If Phylloxera were to move from the Victorian regions where it thrives, say to Coonawarra, a few hours' drive away, the vignerons would have to re-plant the region, only five per cent of which is already planted on Phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. 

A cutting grafted to Phylloxera-resistant rootstock, ready to plant, costs about $5.50.  

Coonawarra has around 5,427 hectares of vineyard that would require replanting.  

Presuming an average vine intensity of 2,000 per hectare, that’s about a $60 million gross income for the vine nurseries, without considering the cost of vineyard labour or machinery.

Or the loss of production the growers would face during the many years the changeover would require.

And that’s just Coonawarra.  South Australia has 72,000 hectares of vines.

So there’s a lot at stake for the losers, and a lot of money to be made by the winners when the little louse hits the road.  


When Phylloxera crosses our border, a great deal of forensic energy will no doubt go into locating the people who made it all possible.



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