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Regional Studies
Final Thoughts: A 40 year Adventure in Geology, Soils, Landscapes and Wine.
Part 5 - The New Wine Regions of Australia

Monday, 6th October, 2014  - David Farmer

I concluded Part 4 by stating that below ground influences of soils, bedrock and geology were not important in the development of wine flavours. Yet wine regions are defined by artificial boundaries and only rarely at the local level is geography influential.

Since the remaining causes of flavour, climate-weather and viticulture-wine-making, are not confined by such boundaries it follows that the idea of relating wine to discrete areas is not the best way of understanding flavours.

Wine regions are also associated with the notion of a 'property right' which creates the view that those within have an advantage over those outside.

I find these ideas confusing as surely all regions are gradational with each other. I also ask why we focus so much on individual vineyards as any flavour change occurring when you walk over a boundary cannot be from natural conditions.

A better way of explaining wines comes from understanding the global setting of wine regions as there are patterns which apply to all regions and these continue to the vineyard level. This is the theme which is explored in Part 5 and into Part 6.

Searching for the Sense of Place

When you buy wine it is likely that you take notice of its origin. Thus you are interested in which country made the wine while perhaps seeking more detail such as where the grapes were grown.

Over time it was natural that wine merchants and customers would begin to place different values on wines from different regions which would in turn lead to boundaries being drawn and restrictions placed on those who could use the regional name. The idea that wines have an origin is very powerful and has likely been part of the wine trade for a long time.

When the location is used to suggest the character of wines, such as 'shows typical Bordeaux flavours', this is helpful but it confuses the wider view which would explain the wine as having 'typical low altitude, maritime flavours'.

The problem with relating a wine or style to a region promotes the view that only from this spot can these flavours be produced. This is partly true as all regions are unique but the flavour differences between regions of comparable climate and weather which could be thousands of kilometres apart is small and to this extent it cannot be true.

Of course the thought of relating a wine to a specific site is so strong that some commentators give their highest praise when saying, this wine is true to its sense of place. There is even an extreme version which says that the only wines worth making are those striving to reflect a sense of place.

How valid this approach is needs re-thinking as while giving pride and cohesion to a region it can give the consumer a feeling of security about quality when it is not justified.

Seeking to Understand a Sense of place

No wine region in the world can be exactly the same as another. The thin skin of crust which floats on the dense, black rocks of the earth's interior is endlessly crumpled and then weathered creating infinite variations of landscapes.

The continental land masses down to islands are positioned over the globe in so many ways that landscapes combinations cover all the latitudes from the equator to the poles allowing vines to grow in every climate zone from hot to the most marginal or cold.

Perhaps it was also to make some sense of this variability that the artificial boundaries enclosing wine regions began to be drawn. Of course such boundaries encircle producers making many grades of wines.

Of the great number of boundaries only a handful enclose a cluster of vineyards where the landscape is so clearly defined that it can be said of each vineyard they are of equal importance. The most obvious example is the Grand Cru slope of Chablis.

I find the best way to understand the variability of nature is to view each region as an experiment in how climate and weather interact with viticulture and winemaking to produce flavour and it follows that where the climate and weather are similar so will be the taste of the wines.

We should not be surprised then that commonly grown varieties from many places over the globe take on a similar or international style though such is the diversity of ideas about growing grapes and making wine that differences are also readily created or maintained.

Understanding Vineyard Outliers

In countries with a wine history of great age the likelihood that a new region will spring up is low. Vineyards outside boundaries, or outliers, exist but presumably the lack of any special taste makes them producers of undistinguished wines.

In the new world the outlines of regions creates a problem as there is always an outlier making exceptional wines which is excluded.

The settlement of Australian began as a blank sheet of paper with the vineyards following the settlers so everything began as an outlier. Australia is still in the discovery stage of testing areas and it has been of great interest to watch outliers produce wines of such promise that others moved close-by to create a cluster with later a regional name.

Boundaries are always catching up to reality in new world regions and this will go on for a very long time in large landmasses such as the United States and Argentine.

Watching the potential of New Zealand being discovered has been a delight. Indeed so many premium regions have developed from outliers that I feel the idea of great wines coming from special spots must be placed in doubt.

Developing the New Regions of Australia

The thought that a wine region has a recognisable flavour and a natural limit has widespread appeal. The case study of Australia shows that regions have spread from the centres of settlement and where centres have coalesced they are separated by convenient dividing lines.

Wine flavours are explained in a more logical manner when viewed as a gradation as implied by climate and weather and other natural variables.

This leads to the thought that the popular notion of a wine showing a sense of place is better replaced by thinking of a locale as a place where climate and weather roughly reaches an optimum for that variety though it will rarely be a small area. Another thought is to drop the idea and re-phrase it as a wine showing a sense of purpose as produced in the vineyard and winery.

What is apparent is that a better way exists to explain the flavours of Australian wines by designing a new map of wine regions which is free of artificial barriers.

None of the many features which could be used to develop this map are new as each factor is well known to influence wine flavours and at this point I wish to express my debt to advanced thinkers such as John Gladstones and Dr. Andrew Pirie.

Creating a New Map of Australian Wine Regions

To create the new Australian Wine Regions of I have used the following variables:

1. Latitude

2. The influence of the ocean and distance inland this is likely to extend.

3. The height above mean sea level.

4. Highlighting the Murray Basin down to Murray Bridge.

5. Areas not covered by the other criterion.

While it achieves my aims of removing the current artificial boundaries it does alas create others as to impart information lines must be drawn.

The wine regions of Australia. These areas are termed GI's for Geographical Indicators and enclose vineyards which may then use the GI or name of the region when referring to the wine. There are numerous smaller areas, within the larger regions, not shown on this map.

Let's start with the same blank map of Australia as it was before vineyards were planted.

The lines of latitude are of fundamental importance as flavours change as you go south. Note features such as the may the tilt of Australia places Margaret River in relation to McLaren Vale and Kangaroo Island.

Many regions are close to the Southern Ocean or show ocean influences. The importance of the cooling influence of the ocean is highlighted though the width is exaggerated on this map for illustration. Distances from the coastline to the first vineyards varies from literally at the coast to a few kilometres inland such as found at Margaret River and Robe; to 60-70 kilometres at Frankland River and Mount Barker; to 60-70 kilometres at Coonawarra; to 50 kilometres at the Hunter Valley. The importance of the ocean or maritime factor will vary with each region. Topography is also a critical factor, enhancing or limiting the influence, though essentially this zone represents a merging of the heat of the inland with the cooling influence of the ocean.

The height above mean sea level is critical as the cool climate of high, southern latitudes can be mimicked with a high elevation. I doubt there are critical elevations though the further inland the higher elevation required. Unless the vineyard is in the coastal zone perhaps vineyards need to be above 350-400 metres to offset the inland heat. The top map shows height from 300-600 metres and the lower map above 600 metres.

I separate out the Murray Basin for several reasons. It is a vast area, almost unique in global terms being an experiment in what happens to wine flavours at this latitude, uniform heat, a standard low elevation, no physical barriers between the regions and without a coastal influence. The flavour results in my view are good.

I suspect as long as water is available you can grow vines anywhere so this map highlights the rest. Apart from the high heat and humidity of the tropical north, vast areas could be planted, not that they will.

There are other natural variables which influence wine flavours such as humidity, diurnal temperature, and ripening temperatures. I find these very difficult to portray though some of these influences are partly captured in latitude and altitude.

Of these influences the most important is the temperature during the ripening cycle. This can be measured as heat degree days (HDD) or mean January to July temperatures (MJT) though the favoured measure of Dr. Pirie is growing season temperature (GST). I have not worked out how to map this factor as data points are scare though I will attempt this in the years ahead.

Using this approach has given me insights in understanding all of the worlds wine regions and this and the importance of viticulture and wine-making are the themes discussed in Part 6.

As well I have the view that consumers need a more worldly view about wine and offer advice on how they should use the approach of Part 5 in their buying.

Final Thoughts: A 40 year Adventure in Geology, Soils, Landscapes and Wine.
Part 4 - Terroir Makes Little Sense and is a Term Best Left to the French

Final Thoughts: A 40 year Adventure in Geology, Soils, Landscapes and Wine.
Part 3 - Clues from Other Regions, New Zealand, Argentine and Australia

Final Thoughts: A 40 year Adventure in Geology, Soils, Landscapes and Wine.
Part 2 - Detailed Mapping in Australia Offers Clues on Soils, Rocks and Taste

Final Thoughts: A 40 year Adventure in Geology, Soils, Landscapes and Wine.
Part 1. Understanding the Topic, Terroir and the French Experience.

Introduction: Wine Flavours, Climate, Weather, Soils and Geology

The Story of Canberra Viticulture and Wine

Tuesday, 21st June, 2016

The Federation debate continued the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne with the location of the new capital being of great importance. After reviewing many sites the Australia Capital Territory was selected in 1908 at a mid way point between the two cities and declared on 1st January, 1911. Canberra was named as the location in 1913 and Canberra Day is remembered on the 12th March. more...

The Landscape and Vineyards of the Murray Basin

Wednesday, 29th July, 2015

Few wine commentators wish to understand the significance of the Murray Basin taking the view that the basin is no more than a maker of industrial wines. The average wine buyer cannot afford the wines they like to write about and to make price sensitive wines you need regions like the Murray Basin. After all over 60% of the country's wine comes from the Murray Basin while supplying the 30% packaged as casks. more...

The Landscape and Vineyards of the Murray Basin - Appendix 1

Wednesday, 29th July, 2015

To appreciate the wine story of the Murray Basin it helps to understand how the basin formed, or its geological evolution. Please note this long section has no bearing on wine flavours. Also it is a simplification and re-arrangement of the published information. Three issues are of special interest in considering how the Murray Basin evolved; more...

Wine Flavours, Climate, Weather, Soils and Geology

Sunday, 12th January, 2014

The following six articles are based on a talk I gave to the Field Geologists Club of South Australia, on May 2nd 2013.

I took the opportunity to talk to this group to consolidate my thoughts which are captured in the general term 'terroir' which have been maturing since the late 1990s, a time when I wanted to understand the science behind the role of nature, as distinct from wine-making, in the flavours of wine. more...

Terroir Goes Higher and Higher

Friday, 19th October, 2012

Steadily the vine spreads into new regions across the globe and who knows what taste pleasures await us in the years ahead. The vast sweep of country from Turkey to China looks very inviting. more...

The Vines of the NSW South Coast

Wednesday, 28th March, 2012

The birthplace of Australian wines was naturally the Sydney basin. Urban pressure has swamped the vineyards of Sydney though a few lonely outposts survive, such as Camden Estate Wines at Camden where the first plantings date to 1820. Thus it was to be further north in the Hunter Valley that the early vineyards were to survive. more...

Remarks on the Geology and Wines of McLaren Vale

Monday, 6th February, 2012

In August, 2010, a geological map of the McLaren Vale wine region was published. This is the final version of a preliminary map from 2000. I love maps and to me both are works of art though the full blown 2010 version is a thing of beauty. This map shows in great detail the many geological formations from very young to old which underlie this famous vineyard region. more...

The Landscape and Terroir of Eden Valley

Thursday, 29th September, 2011

Quick Facts
The Eden Valley GI region adjoins the Barossa Valley to the east and is of a similar size.
This region is a hilly upland plateau divided in two by the valley of the North Para River which flows north.
This upland region is about 200 metres higher than the Barossa Valley and vineyards are planted at heights of 400 to 550 metres. more...

Altitude, Argentina and the Riverland

Sunday, 11th September, 2011

Should you be interested in creating a wine empire, The Daily Mail, 17th July, 2011, reports that the Estancia Punta del Agua; a one million acre estate, in San Juan province in western Argentine, is for sale. The estate lies about 150 kilometres NNE, of San Juan which has a wine history back to 1569. more...

A Comment on the Red Soils of Heathcote

Sunday, 1st May, 2011

When commenting about wine regions it's not a simple task to write about the geology and the origin of landscapes and soils. Consider this example of the confusion that one region has managed.

Heathcote, the Victorian region noted for fine shiraz makes great use of the districts red soils in selling and marketing. Some say the best vineyards are located on the red soils, and it's suggested, they produce the best wines. Here are nine recent comments. more...

The Excitement of Te Muna Road

Thursday, 7th April, 2011

Looking back over the last 40 years it is amazing the number of new wine regions that have developed across Australia and New Zealand. From farming land to vineyards and still pioneers are finding small sub-regions that are worth a shot. more...

The Soils of the Barossa Valley

Wednesday, 22nd December, 2010

For a dozen or so years now I have spent many happy days digging holes, chipping rocks, and studying the landscapes of a large number of Australian and New Zealand vineyard regions. The object is to try and understand what role things like soils, rocks, and the shape of the landscape, play in the role of creating wine flavours. This is an area French winemakers are very keen on and goes under the general topic of 'terroir'. more...

How Does Soil and Rocks Influence the Taste of Wine?

Wednesday, 19th May, 2010

My studies have lead me to the conclusion that the chemistry of the soils and rocks in which the vine grows add little if anything to the taste of wine. Wine does not show a taste that can be related back to primary or secondary minerals in the soils and weathered rocks. The soils and rocks do though have an important bearing on how necessary nutrients are taken up by the vines and most specifically how the vine gains access to water. This does affect the taste in a major way. more...

Discussions about Soil, Rocks and Wine with Max Marriott

Monday, 27th July, 2009

I have written a lot about the topic of 'terroir' and was recently asked by Max Marriot, landscape photographer and specialist writer, to offer some thoughts about geology, wine and the like. This was to help with an article he was commissioned to do for the New Zealand Grape Grower. more...

In the Footsteps of Colonel Light

Wednesday, 10th June, 2009

I have spent many a happy day wandering the hills and vales pondering how the Barossa landscape formed. An area of great interest is Rocky Gully that runs down from the eastern edge of the Eden Valley into the Barossa Valley. This gully makes no sense to me as it seems to be much bigger than the tiny stream that drains it could possibly have created. more...

An Expression of Unusual New Zealand Terroir

Wednesday, 1st April, 2009

The Chaytor family were early Marlborough settlers (1830-40?) and had grazing properties that spanned country from north of Blenheim at Spring Creek through to Picton. One of these properties, possibly 'Marshlands', near Spring Creek, is now part of the extensive vineyard, Shepherds Ridge, of 73 hectares. Alas I do not have firsthand experience of the Shepherds Ridge vineyard. Wine reviews have been very favourable with many wines scoring 90 plus. more...

On One Hand Terroir Gets Bigger - On the Other it's Taken Away

Saturday, 6th September, 2008

The concept of 'terroir' or a sense of place that it is said may be reflected in the taste of a wine is now embedded in the psyche of French wine makers and many disciples world-wide. It was not always so as there is little mention of this concept until the 1970's though it can be argued that it encapsulates the idea of single vineyards as represented for example by the 1855 Bordeaux left bank grading. more...

Specific Site or Blending?

Sunday, 22nd June, 2008

If you believe what wine writers everywhere are telling us you would come to the conclusion that the very best wines are always site specific. By this they mean you must be able to see the vineyard which produced the grapes and coupled with this they may discuss how the wine expresses the terroir of the site. more...

Buying Wines That Have a Sense of Place

Friday, 11th April, 2008

Currently a number of wine writers are emphasising that wines with a sense of place taste better, or those that express terroir have the true taste of wine. Indeed I gather they are saying that they can detect a wine with a sense of place from drinking it. more...

An Update on the Unfathomable Idea - Terroir

Wednesday, 3rd October, 2007

The idea that the site, the location and aspect, of the vineyard and its exposure to the elements of climate will affect the taste of the grapes and hence the wine seems so obvious as to be hardly worth debating. Any owner of a vineyard whether it is flat as a tack in the Australian Riverland or clinging to a slope in a cool climate region will tell you that part of the vineyard always produces superior fruit to the rest. The famous region of Burgundy has known for five hundred years that parts of its golden slope produce better wines than the rest. more...

Geology Cannot be Found In Wine

Thursday, 18th September, 2006

An aspect of marketing is to tell the story about the product and to enhance the story it can be a good idea to weave in a myth, a mystery or some 'undefined' extra element. The idea is to create for the consumer an emotional bond with the product that goes beyond the mere utility of the product. more...

Terroir - Can It Possible Shine Through the Background Noise

Tuesday, 4th July, 2006

It seems to make sense that the taste of a wine reflects where it is grown. After all Barossa wines do have different aromas and flavours to Tasmanian wines. The French use the term 'terroir' to describe the differences that refect the sense of place where the grapes are grown. more...

Wine Quality: Does Terroir Matter?

Friday, 14th October, 2005

Olivier Gergaud from the University of Reims and Victor Ginsburgh (pictured) of the Université Libre de Bruxelles deserved better than the couple of smart headlines they attracted when they presented a paper at the UK Royal Economic Society annual conference in Nottingham in March this year. The Sunday Observer declared "French bitter over wine study" and Decanter magazine on its website summarised that "Terroir plays no role". But apart from a reference or two on wine web sites that was the extent of the references that I found on Google for the paper Natural endowments, production technologies and the quality of wines in Bordeaux. Does terroir matter? Yet the Gergaud and Ginsburgh paper is one of the more significant contributions yet made to the debate about the comparative impact of terroir and wine making skills on the wine we drink. A look at the Observer's and Decanter's coverage of the story perhaps provides a clue to the overall paucity of the coverage. more...

Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines

Friday, 14th October, 2005

Any vineyard owner will tell you that certain areas of their vineyard make better tasting grapes than other areas. Why some areas of vineyards and vineyard districts deliver better grapes and hence better wine is the subject of terroir studies. The Europeans and particularly the French are very interested in this topic. They extend the meaning of the word which we can roughly say is the flavour effects that come from the vineyard location to include cultural ideas which unite man with the soil. more...

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