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SA winery celebrates evolution as red grape turns white

A blip in nature has spawned a unique white Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety which is being investigated by South Australian vignerons for possible widespread cultivation.

Cleggett Wines in Langhorne Creek has registered international ownership of the varietal, called Shalistin, and says it offers an exciting point of difference for consumers looking for an alternative white.

The Adelaide Hills Vine Improvement Committee is growing a trial batch of the grape after rigorous testing by the CSIRO confirmed it has the same DNA profile as traditional red Cabernet Sauvignon.

“This is evolution in progress,” said chief winegrower Mac Cleggett. “Shalistin has many of the traditional characteristics that make cabernet sauvignon popular, including great ageing potential, but it’s a true white wine with its own unique taste.”

To reach this point has taken 30 years of investigation and hard work. The story behind Shalistin began in 1977 when Mr Cleggett noticed a bunch of bronze-coloured grapes on a single cane of a Cabernet Sauvignon vine.

Realising he was on to something completely new, he used the cane to propagate more vines and all produced the distinctive bronze grapes, which he named Malian.

The next breakthrough came in 1991 when one of the Malian vines produced several bunches of white grapes – and Shalistin was born.

“It’s been a long and exhausting process, but the research by the CSIRO finally confirms our claims – that Shalistin is a true white cabernet sauvignon varietal,” said Cleggett Wines’ managing partner Anne McLennan.

The research found that Malian has less anthocyanins, or pigments, in the grape skin and they have completely disappeared in Shalistin.

“Viticulturally the new varieties are stable and easy to manage,” Mr Cleggett said. “Their skins are thicker than, say Riesling, and they stand up to weather and pest problems very well.

“They are picked around the same time as the Cabernet Sauvignon in our vineyard, which tends to be a little later than Chardonnay and Riesling, depending on the style of wine.”

Mr Cleggett and Ms McLennan established Cleggett Wines in late 2000 to focus on the two varietals, together with more traditional wines, and have made their mark locally and internationally after several years of experimenting.

The White Cabernet Sauvignon Shalistin – a dry, savoury style wine – has been recognised with awards on the show circuit and is being exported to the UK, Ireland and Asia. The first sweet style Shalistin was produced in 2005.

Malian has proved ideal for making light red wine – Bronze Cabernet Sauvignon Malian – and the first vintage of Sparkling Bronze Cabernet Malian was produced in 2005.

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