Research helps identify wine industry’s alternative future

The CSIRO is preparing to release its final report and research findings from a five-year project that will help the Australian wine industry better meet the challenges of a changing climate and environment.

The CSIRO project, titled ‘Enhanced varieties and clones to meet the challenges of climate change and deliver low alcohol wines’, has been part funded by the Australian Grape and Wine Authority.

Led by CSIRO group leader Peter Clingeleffer, the project’s chief aim was to evaluate and phenotype 500 grape varieties in the CSIRO germplasm collection.

The project also selected 10 potential new varieties from the CSIRO’s grape breeding collection – 5 reds and 5 whites – and planted them in 2 commercial wine properties for further vineyard and winemaking assessments.

Over the past 3 years, Mr Clingeleffer said 20 varieties from the germplasm collection have been selected to make wine each year, with a team of researchers also helping assess the colour, flavour and aroma results from the resulting wine.

“The initial phenotyping work looked at everything from timing of budburst through to veraison, harvest dates, fruitfulness, yield, berry composition and canopy size,” Mr Clingeleffer said.

“The aim is to identify varieties that have shorter ripening periods, which will mean less risk against variable weather conditions and less water use.

“We’re also looking for varieties with less vine growth but good yield, which will mean better water efficiencies, as well as fruit composition that delivers optimum organic acids and pH levels but lower sugars for varieties that will help produce lower alcohol wines.”

The last selection of 20 grape varieties have been crushed and the winemaking process is underway, with the final report expected to identify a number of potential new and existing varieties that will be better suited to potential climate change conditions.

“The study has shown the significant potential in adopting a much wider suite of varieties than what is currently being used in Australia, particularly in helping the wine industry better adapt to future climate change trends,” he said.

“There’s a lot of results still to collate, but there’s no doubt that this project is of interest to many in the industry and there will be quite a lot of continued extension work, such as workshops and tastings of the 2013 and 2014 wines to be carried out in the next few  months.

“We’re also working on creating a full and accessible database of the 500 varieties in the CSIRO germplasm collection, offering all the relevant and available phenology and viticulture information for each variety. It will be a significant industry resource once up and running.”

The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) is also working hard to share its experience and knowledge in the area of alternative varieties, through the Grape and Wine Roadshow program, Research to Practice workshops, publications and industry resources.

AWRI Viticultural Consultant Dr Peter Dry said ‘Adapting to Climate Change’ topics continue to be a popular part of the Grape and Wine Roadshows and regional seminar programs.

“There’s little doubt the industry is interested in the topic of emerging grape varieties and their role in helping the Australian wine industry better prepare for and adapt to future climate change challenges,” Dr Dry said.

“We’ve held seminars and workshops on this topic all across Australia, most recently in the South Burnett and Granite Belt regions in Queensland.”

Dr Dry is also about to publish his 20th column on the topic of alternative varieties in the Wine and Viticulture Journal – and there’s still a lot more about new and alternative varieties for future columns.

“There’s still a long way to go though, before industry really starts to take up and champion some of these alternative varieties in the place of existing popular varieties,” he said.

“One of the major challenges is that 90 per cent of Australia’s wine crush is made up of just 15 varieties – yet there’s 140 different varieties currently being made into wine in Australia.

“That emphasis on those 15 varieties has actually grown in the past 10 years. There’s been a sort of retrograde step back to traditional varieties, despite the availability and definitely much broader knowledge around other alternative varieties. Furthermore, some of those traditional varieties are much less suited to the climate than many emerging varieties, particularly in the hot inland regions.”

Still, Dr Dry said, the success and quality of the smaller quantities of several emerging and alternative varieties speak to their great potential.

“There are some stunning wines coming from the Riverland and to a smaller extent the Riverina and Sunraysia from varieties such as Vermentino, Fiano, Petit Manseng, and Verdejo in the whites, as well as Lagrein, Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Saperavi, and Negroamaro in the reds,” he said.

“Also, winemakers in the Adelaide Hills are doing some great things with Gruner Veltliner and Aglianico, and that’s just naming a couple of regions and varieties. There’s quite a few more to get excited about, apart from these few mentioned.”

For more information regarding the Grape and Wine Roadshows run by AWRI, please contact or phone 08 8313 6600.

Vermentino is one of several emerging varieties considered to be more suitable to Australia’s changing climate.
Vermentino is one of several emerging varieties considered to be more suitable to Australia’s changing climate.