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Improving Western Australian Cabernet

Identifying the best Cabernet Sauvignon clones for Western Australian conditions is the aim of a project being undertaken by the State’s Department of Agriculture and Food.

The department’s premium wine project manager, Glynn Ward, said the research would help the state’s wine industry improve its reds through the selection of better clones for yield, vine health, climatic suitability and wine quality.

Ward said the State’s first Cabernet clones were selected by the department at Houghton’s Swan Valley vineyard in 1968 when the South West wine industry was first taking off. Local winemaker Jack Mann, his son Dorham and viticulturalist Ian Cameron made the selections, which were distributed to winegrape producers in the South West during the late 1960s and 1970s.

Ward said trials also established at Gingin and Frankland included 20 clones from Houghton plus SA126, a highly rated clone from South Australia.

“Until recently it was thought that SA126 was the best choice to produce top wines, but there is thought now that some of the selected clones might be better,” Ward said. “To clarify the matter, both grapes and wine produced from eight of the best clones grown on vines from the Frankland trial, now 35 years old, are being evaluated,” he said.

Last year, a panel of assessors from the department used blind tastings to rate the grapes from different clones at varying sugar levels. Wines made from the grapes in the department’s small-scale winery at Bunbury were also rated by Houghton and 20 top winemakers at Margaret River in December.

Ward said although opinions varied, wines made from the South Australian clone did not rate as well as the best of the locally-selected clones.

“About five clones stood out from the rest, showing a range of characteristics in the wine that should be valuable to the industry.”

He said the department would make wine from the best performing clones over the next two seasons to ensure the results were not caused by particular seasonal conditions. More blind tastings involving winemakers were also planned.

“We should then be able to define the wine qualities produced from the different clones, so the industry can plant with more confidence to produce the style of wine it is seeking, continue to produce prize-winning drops and keep wine lovers coming back for more,” he said.

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