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White wine taste is changing as temperatures in growing areas rise, winemaker says

Fiona Breen, Friday March 15, 2019 - 06:23 EDT
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Chardonnay grapes from vineyards on Tasmania's east coast are retaining their 'crispness', for now. - ABC

Higher temperatures in traditional grape growing regions are changing the flavour of the white wines we are drinking, according to a winemaker.

To maintain the crispness of their white wines, some winemakers have plantings in Tasmania in an effort to maintain their wine's characteristics.

Winemaker Ross Brown from Brown Brothers said wines were getting richer, riper and softer.

"That's not what you want for crisp white wines, you want them to be defined by their acidity," he said.

The biggest challenge he said was to grow white wines on the mainland.

Climate change pushed Brown Brothers to Tasmania

The wine producer wanted to protect the flavours of its cool climate wines like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir, so it set up a vineyard in Tasmania.

"We wanted cooler and wetter conditions for some of our grape varieties and for the future," Mr Brown said.

The company's eighth harvest at its East Coast Tasmania vineyard was now underway and despite , the grapes were looking good.

In the company's hometown of Milawa in North East Victoria, high summer temperatures and dry soils were hard on wine grapes.

"We are having a very hot summer this year, it's a continual battle with heat on the mainland," Mr Brown said.

But even Tasmania is showing signs of warming according to Mr Brown and that change has him and others in Tasmania either thinking about or planting shiraz grapes.

"Some of the shiraz down here is looking pretty good, previously it was seen to be too cool down here for shiraz but some other producers are doing good drops," Mr Brown said.

Higher temperatures mean early ripening

Plant and viticulture scientist Professor Snow Barlow has been collecting climate data from vineyards across mainland Australia.

"When you look at data over five to 10 years it's very clear warming is occurring," Professor Barlow said.

With higher temperatures comes early ripening and shorter vintages where grape varieties are ready for picking at once.

He was not so sure about whether the taste of wine is changing.

"The wine writers and tasters aren't changing their score, so I think there could be change in wine taste but I'm undecided," Professor Barlow said.

Chris Pfeiffer from Victoria's Rutherglen region said high temperatures were changing grape balance and structure rather than taste.

"Ultimately it means the alcohol is higher because the sugar goes up," Mr Pfeiffer said.

"If you are looking for wines with finesse it's harder, but a lot of people love boldness, it's big and smacks you in the face.

"The doomsayers say Rutherglen will be the new Griffith, in terms of weather."

He is hoping that does not happen in his or his daughter's lifetime.

"We can't all fit in to Tassie, they wouldn't have us," Mr Pfeiffer said.

You can't change the temperature

Many vineyard managers are coping with high temperatures by watering more and growing extra leaf canopy.

"Grape growers have made adaptions but it's hard to change the temperature," Professor Barlow said.

In Victoria and Tasmania, a handful of vineyards are not picking because of damage from summer bushfire smoke.

"In the last two days we've had smoke all around us, there seems to be a fair bit of smoke in north east Victoria," Mr Pfeiffer said

The exact extent of any damage is not yet known at this stage.


© ABC 2019

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