Italian Varieties in Geelong

by Gerrard

Advice about Growing Italian varieties in Geelong.

A Reader asks

I just stumbled onto your site tonight and WOW! Thank you for making this site.

I am a keen home wine maker and I am wondering if there are any wine varieties left in Italy that are not yet being used in Australia? I am keen to start my own little vineyard with something never grown here.

I live in Geelong, Victoria and on clay base ground. I'd like to narrow down the best variety for the local weather types.

Darby answers

Thank you for the compliment.

Firstly, there are literally thousands of wine grape varieties in Italy and probably less than 200 grown in Australia, so you have plenty to choose from. Here's how to narrow your choice down.

  • Obviously do you want to make red or white, sweet or dry?

  • Matching climate with variety, late ripening varieties won't give you usable crops in Geelong

  • Soil type is less important, but your soil needs to be well drained or you may lose your vines in wet years

The best book for matching wine with climate is John Gladstones' Viticulture and Environment. Unfortunately the book is out of print, but you may be able to get a copy from a library. Gladstones latest book Wine Terroir and Climate Change has much useful information.

Your major problem in trying to get a unique-to-Australia variety is that importing new varieties is a long, expensive and sometimes frustrating process, mainly because of quarantine. One winemaker who has done this successfully recently is John Gilbert of By Jingo Wines who has imported the white wine variety Grillo from Sicily.

If you wish to compromise and grow an unusual Italian variety that is already in Australia then I suggest you look at the Chalmers Nursery Website for information about a number of interesting varieties. Chalmers Nursery is no longer in operation but the information is sound. Pay particlar attention to the time of harvest; late harvest varieties are unsuitable for Geelong's climate.

Are you planning a commercial vineyard or perhaps just a few vines to make wine for yourself? You should talk to as many local winegrowers for local experiece, don't take their word as gospel but before you break out of the mould with a new variety it is useful to know the dimensions of the mould.

Good Luck.

Any Vinodiversity readers who wish to give further advice can do so via the comments box below.

Comments for Italian Varieties in Geelong

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Jul 15, 2012
Directly from Italy...
by: Alfredo Tocchini

I cannot don't write down a comment to this post. I'm an Italian (Tuscan) viticulturist and winemaker consultant and, beside the normal job on common varieties, I'm working from more then 15 years on old and unknown varieties selection and development...
I'll try to be brief...

Your question about the right variety (and maybe clone) to chose is, in my personal opinion, only a part of the problem. On trying to give a good interpretation of a variety the first problem is to understand that it is not only matter of plant's genetics but how our soil, clime, vine management and applied winemaking techniques can give us the best possible result (we could also discuss on what is “the best possible result” but it could became another interesting and very long discussion...).

In my experience there are two easy question to answer to:
1- Winemaking goal: which kind of wine would we like to have? Which “stile” would we give to our product? Very “personal” or more close to a common people's taste?
2- The land: kind of soil, exposure and clime conditions.

Having those kind of information we could choose our genetic resource...
We have to don't forget that the success of most common French varieties is due to their stability in all different environments around the world. Other varieties could have very different answer in different climes such as to different applied viticulture systems (f.e.: Sangiovese)

I've the possibility to provide a very wide range of informations and experiences about this topic and it will be my pleasure going forward in this discussion.
On more (because of the old Europe “not clear” situation) I'm thinking about transfer to Australia... if someone of you know an interesting viticulture and/or winemaking project to join I would be happy to evaluate it.

All the best (wine glasses...)

Jul 10, 2012
Marketing New Varieties
by: Graeme Little

Whilst it may seem like a wonderful idea, to plant new variety that has not been grown in Australia, or your region in Geelong, there are some business considerations to that should be taken into account.

1/. Viticulture
Planting an untested variety in a new area has many problems, firstly you cannot ask for advice on vine management, such as trellising, pruning, disease. Although you can copy the management techniques from the region of origin, this does not always work in different regions and micro-climates, so it may be some years before you can produce a productive yield.

2/.Clonal Selection
In all varieties, there are many clonal options, and each performs differently depending on the regions grown. Try and gain as much advice as possible, but it will be a trial and error approach. For instance, many of the first clones of new varieties introduce failed, until more suitable clones were introduced. The first Nebbiolo clones introduced in the mid 1990's failed in most regions.

3/. Winemaking
As the variety is untested, it may take a few years to work out the best winemaking techniques to suit the variety in your region.

4/. Marketing
Unless you or your winery has a high profile name, with a solid sales base, it will be very difficult to introduce a new variety with an unpronounceable name,(usually), to the Australia public.

The above may sound like doom and gloom, but some realism is required and it may take up to 10 years before a new variety shines.

That said, if we all sat back and didn’t trial new ideas or varieties, then our wine industry would be still in the dark ages.

However, many vignerons in Geelong have trialled many new varieties, and the varieties that work are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz, the mainstay varieties of the Region. As in Europe, there are good reasons why certain varieties are planted in some regions and not others, trial and error over centuries. Sometimes the wheel doesn't need re-inventing.

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