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30/09/2008

Rutherglen Wine Show Seminar warns industry on alcohol

By Jeni Port

If Australian winemakers are expecting the alcohol issue to simply go away, they are about to be disappointed, says Jeni Port who was a special guest at last week’s annual Rutherglen Wine Show and its ‘Alcohol, Alcohol, Alcohol’ seminar.

The annual seminar has warned the industry to be prepared for even closer attention to alcohol in wines from the government, wine writers, wine judges and consumers.

However, graphic "grim reaper" style advertisements due to be launched by the Federal Government in November and calls for wine labels to contain warnings and tobacco style photos were not necessarily the answer according to Mike Macavoy of DrinkWise, a government advisory group funded by the government and alcohol industry.

"These measures don't relate to the average drinker," said Macavoy. "People say, 'that's not me'."

Instead, Macavoy has called for long-term social change.

"You need to take people on a journey," he said. "It took 10 years before seat belts were accepted. It took 10 years before the drink driving message got through." He added that he hoped the government would pursue a similar 10 year plan on alcohol education.

Rising alcohols and the release of high alcohol wines of 15 and 16 per cent alcohol could also continue under a scenario outlined by noted climate change researcher, Pro-fessor Snow Barlow, head of the School of Agriculture and Food Systems at the Univer-sity of Melbourne. "We know vintage over the past 20 years seems to be coming forward by half a day to one day a year," he explained.

"Unless you change varieties or hold phenology you are probably going to ripen grapes at higher temperatures than you do now."

A winemaker survey released at the seminar revealed that of the 84 Australian winemakers surveyed 47 winemakers had seen their alcohols rising in the past decade. The survey found two significant reasons for the rise: a wish to avoid thin, green herbaceous characters of the past and a greater understanding of the role of ripeness.

Importantly, the survey revealed that while rising alcohols had been rewarded by wine writers, wine judges and consumers in the past, the mood was changing. Increasingly, Australian wines were being criticised by influential American and British wine writers as 'caricatures' and 'fruit-flavoured syrups.'

A number of speakers detailed ways for winemakers to reduce alcohol levels in the vineyard and winery. These included delaying flowering through pruning and avoiding stress in the vineyard. Or, as David Wollan of Wine Network reported, more and more are simply looking to reverse osmosis with perstraction to adjust their alcohol levels. Wollan noted that Wine Network now has more than 100 Australian clients who use the technology.

"Hundreds of millions of litres of Australian wine is alcohol-reduced," he said. "It is very extensively used."

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