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12/03/2009

Heat on new vines

By Sarah Garvis, Southern Times Messenger

Heat-tolerant grapevines from southern Europe are being imported to McLaren Vale in a new attempt to help local winemakers overcome climate change and drought.

During last month's 40-degree-Celsius-plus heatwave, local vineyards recorded crop losses of up to 75%, making this the worst harvest in years for many growers.

McLaren Vale Vine Improvement Society (MVVIS) manager Darran McLaaren said approximately 40 new varieties were being imported in conjunction with the SA Vine Improvement Society, from Spain, Italy, France and Portugal.

McLaaren said Sercial from Portugal, Aglianico from Italy and new types of Syrah from France will be released this season, with others in quarantine to be released in two to three years.

"They use less water and are better able to stand up to the heat," he said. "We, as grapegrowers, need to look further into what is grown overseas that may be suitable to our changing climate.

"Varieties that are grown in some dry, warm climates may prove vital for our future." The trial vines will be planted first at Kapunda, before the sticks or cuttings are propogated into pots and distributed to vineyards in McLaren Vale.

McLaaren said this would allow MVVIS to produce greater quantities of the new vines to release to the industry.

MVVIS chairman James Hook said the next few years would present significant financial and operational challenges to grapegrowers and winemakers.

"Climate change and water availability will require serious consideration of new grape varieties and rootstocks," he said.

Hook said Chalk Hill, d'Arenberg and Olivers Taranga were "big innovators in new varieties" in McLaren Vale.

Olivers Taranga winemaker Corina Wright said the winery had a much lower crop this year due to the heat.

"We're getting about 1500kg to the acre whereas we'd normally get 3000kg to the acre," she said.

"We use recycled water, less chemicals and go by touch and feel rather than the calendar, but it certainly doesn't make us immune to the impacts of the heat."

Wright said the winery was trialling heat-tolerant crops, new to Australia, including the Spanish black grape Tempranillo.

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