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Research heats up in cool climate Tasmania

With its maritime climate, long growing and ripening seasons, and mild sunny autumns, Tasmania seems ideally suited to cool climate viticulture.

Yet for all that, the island’s true winegrowing potential is still to be fully realised. Its 220 or so vineyards are for the most part small, family-run affairs, totalling less than 1300 hectares.

Sure, Tasmania boasts a handful of medium-sized players like Tamar Ridge, Kreglinger, and the Hardy Wine Company – producing some of the country’s best sparkling, chardonnay and pinot noir wines – but the industry’s modest levels of private and company investment have nevertheless restrained it to an embryonic phase of development.

It’s hardly surprising then that one of the best pieces of news the State has had over recent years has been a $1m investment in viticultural research.

The core initiative is a program of research projects being undertaken by University of Tasmania research fellows Dr Kathy Evans and Dr Joanna Heazlewood, and a small, dedicated team of Ph.D. and honours students. Their work results from a joint partnership between the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation (GWRDC) and the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research (TIAR).

The GWRDC is a nationally funded statutory authority, set up in July 1991 to improve the efficiency of production, processing, storage, transport and marketing of grapes and wine.

For its part, the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research (TIAR) represents a joint venture between the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment (DPIWE) and the University of Tasmania.

The Institute was established in 1996 to focus agricultural research in the State, and to ensure that such programs meet the needs and priorities of Tasmania’s agricultural industries. Today, it boasts a research and support staff bordering on 200, with programs of scientific investigation spanning industries as diverse as the vegetable and dairy industries, perennial horticulture, food safety, forestry, and soil science.

Each research partner contributes roughly half to the program’s budget, while leadership and logistical support is provided by TIAR. TIAR funding is sourced from the Tasmanian Government, the University, and a mix of various agricultural research and development organisations and industry bodies.

An additional two PhD students have research projects sponsored by a separate partnership between TIAR and forestry giant, Gunns Limited, owners of Tamar Ridge Wines.

In total, these Tasmanian research investigations represent an investment in some of the State’s youngest and brightest scientific talent. Avenues of research range from plant physiology and vine architecture to clonal selections, flowering and fruit set, ripening and fruit maturity, vine health and organic means of disease protection.

By Mark Smith.

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WID 2017