“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)





09 May 2011


Hard-core Vineyard Researchers Could Learn From Gum Guardian: Do Science On Glenthorne Farm!

Having seen enough vineyards rotting away this vintage, your correspondent was delighted this last week to attend what is Australia’s leading arboretum of eucalypts at Currency Creek.

This amazing plantation is largely the work of one obsessed man, Dean Nicolle Ph. D.; B. Sc. (Hons) Botany; B App Sc. (Natural resources Management). By the age of eight Dean (above) knew he would be dedicating his life to botany, by his sixteenth year he knew his focus would be the eucalypts, and was hard at work collecting and propagating seeds for his collection. He plants four trees from each source tree, and preserves other seedlings which are stored in scientific repositories elsewhere.

He now runs an arboretum of over 900 species and sub-species, totaling some 9000 plants. He talks of individual source trees in the Kimberly, the Simpson Desert or Cape York with the sort of familiarity most of us show our nephews and nieces. With other scientists, he is constantly running essential trials and experiments, and showed us an amazing study in progress examining the carbon-storing capacities of different types of eucalypt. To scientifically test the effect of bushfire on the different types, he even burnt a large part of his original plantings to a cinder, with the help of the local fireys.

It is alarming to realize that the knowledge of our most common indigenous tree rests so much in the zeal of one man, who has tirelessly done most of this off his own bat, working as a consultant to raise the funds to keep the whole complex exercise alive. To visit this quiet corner of the Fleurieu is a humbling, confounding experience.

Which brings me to Glenthorne Farm, the 206ha research station on O’Halloran Hill. In the late ’nineties, the late Greg Trott and I fought for some years to have this saved from sub-division and established as a research vineyard and winemaking site as part of the campus of the University of Adelaide. With some acute wheeling and dealing, and the assistance of Senator Robert Hill, Minister for Environment, and Di Laidlaw, local Minister for Planning, we eventually convinced the CSIRO to dramatically drop the fee it expected. The State government bought the land and a deed was drawn to have it transferred to the University for a dollar.

This deed was very specific. Amongst its Recitals are the following:

B. For many years the CSIRO has used the land for purposes of agriculture and as an agricultural research facility.

D. The CSIRO has only agreed to sell the Land on the proviso that the Land will be preserved and conserved for agriculture and other related activities and will not be used for urban development.

E. The University, as the person nominated by the State, has agreed to purchase the Land from the CSIRO, to preserve and conserve the Land for other related activities and not use, develop or permit the Land to be used or developed for urban development.

Furthermore, the Obligations of the University included the following very specific clauses:

4.1 The University covenants with the Minister that it will, subject to obtaining all necessary statutory approvals, do all reasonably necessary things to ensure that the Land is

4.1.1 preserved, conserved and used for Agriculture, Horticulture, Oenology, Viticulture, Buffer Zones and as Community Recreation Area, and

4.1.2 is available for Project Research Activities, University Research Activities, Education Activities and operating a Wine Making Facility.

4.2 The University covenants with the Minister that it will not at any time hereafter:

4.2.1 use or permit the Land to be used other than as provided for in subclause 4.1 unless such other use is approved in writing by a Minister acting as agent of the Crown,

4.2.2 undertake or permit Development or seek to undertake Development of the Land for uses other than those specified in subclause 4.1 unless such other use or Development (excluding Urban Development which will not be approved) is approved in writing by a Minister acting as agent of the Crown.

4.4 The University covenants with the Minister that it will not at any time hereafter sell, transfer or otherwise dispose of the whole or any portion of the Land unless it shall first procure from the purchaser or transferee a binding undertaking either to be bound by this Deed or to enter into a Deed with the Minister on the same terms as are contained in this Deed.

The University spent almost two years considering this deed before affixing its seal; Trott eventually set up a joint venture with BRL-Hardy, which would buy fruit from the first commercial-scale vineyard there, providing some of the funding for the further development of the facility according to the deed. The transfer eventually went through smoothly, and in the University newspaper, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mary O’Kane promoted the deal as a sensible triumph for the future of viticultural research in Australia.

“The partnership agreement between the University and BRL Hardy—two of the icons of the South Australian wine industry—will strengthen South Australia’s position as an international leader in wine research and education,” she said.

“This is a strategic, long-term investment based on sound financial principles and an assessment of the future needs of the Australian wine industry.

“In addition to state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment at the Waite campus, the University will now have access to a large commercial vineyard managed by one of the world’s fastest-growing wine companies. This will be a tremendous advantage in ensuring that the University and the South Australian wine industry stay at the forefront of viticulture and oenology research and education.”

Professor O’Kane said most of the land would be put under vines and some research facilities would also be located on the site. The commercial vineyard would contribute further money for research at the University.

“We expect that the vineyard will begin to generate income for research from the third vintage,” Professor O’Kane said. “We have entered into a long-term contract with BRL Hardy for the management of the vineyard and sale of the fruit, more than 50% of which will be available to other winemakers.”

Through hopeless mis-management, and perhaps some nefarious long-term scheming, none of this occurred, and after nearly a decade the University attempted to sub-divide enough of the land to build a thousand houses. BRL-Hardy was absorbed by the giant Constellation Wines of upstate New York, which has now sold everything at bargain basement rates, dumping $1.6 billion, and virtually left Australia. Your correspondent nevertheless spent over a year lobbying to ensure the University kept its side of the very generous deal, and eventually then Planning Minister Paul Holloway ruled that the University should conform to the agreements it made in the deed.

Two short years later, now with Robert Hill as chancellor, the University is again angling to wriggle out of the deed and grab some cash, so the writer is dumbly preparing for another battle, the third, to see this land used to avoid some of the destruction and mismanagement we have seen in Australian viticulture in the last few years.

There are countless trials and tests which urgently need to proceed in the world of viticulture in this time of extreme climate, global warming, and ever-changing wine trends. There are thousands of grape varieties never even trialed in Australia. We need urgently to source better flavours, and more drought and disease resistant grape sorts. There is a desperate need to research better irrigation practices and recycling of water, and scientific tests of organic and bio-dynamic procedures must be commenced to keep international shelf space as the whole world of gastronomy moves toward more wholesome, eco-friendly farming and manufacture.

To think that all the billions invested in the wine industry sit there awaiting their Dean Nicolle leaves me angered and frustrated. With the disappearance of Constellation, and the possible fragmentation of Fosters wine group, now called Treasury, McLaren Vale suddenly has no big winery presence to rekindle that sensible JV arrangement and get on with it.

But now Angoves, the giant Riverland winery more aware than most of the troubles of irrigated viticulture is moving into McLaren Vale with a new cellar door and vineyards, perhaps it’ll take one of the last great wine families to rekindle some sense and some hard, cold science. Any company that saves precious southern vineyard and farming land from ghetto rash would rise immediately to hero status. Internationally.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Philip

Read your article today – it is important to find out where the to-be-legislated urban growth boundary is proposed as a matter of urgency, to request a wider debate on its protection, under what circumstances it might be reviewed in the future (a referendum would be a start) and how soon it will be in place.

I think Minister Rau has attempted to respond by back-zoning land earmarked for housing to Rural in order to retain the vista of the Willunga Basin and in doing so he acknowledges the value of landscape in protecting an area for tourism. Would the Libs have indicated the same willingness????

The next step would be for the State to acknowledge the point you make about fertile and watered land as a long term resource for food and wine production. Can’t we manage growth more sustainably? He has the potential to make changes. Other opportunities lie in developing housing to use water resources sustainably in a dual reticulation scheme that uses non contact water for non contact uses, mandating the need for energy efficient design incorporating solar panels across roofing, passive heating and cooling, etc etc. And making sure all developers have to do it, even if the price of housing increases for when one looks at generational affordability, it will cost more in the longer term
Also, have just viewed a documentary which is lined up for a screening on NSW planning at Mount Barker on the 7th June, 7.15 pm at the Wallis Cinema. Titled ‘State of Siege’ it really highlights the importance of proper consultation with communities over growth strategies. If we are going to protect rural land as well as accommodate a growth in population, infill development has to be worked through with the involvement of communities in design choices and by reducing reliance on cars.

Hope you can make it to the screening. It is quite explosive.