Kim Chalmers, Chalmers Nurseries, NSW

Kim Chalmers, Chalmers Nurseries, NSW

Name: Kim and Bruce Chalmers

Flavours of the future

In recent times Australian wine industry news has been plagued by doom and gloom with growers losing contracts, an over supply of grapes and subsequently a market flooded with wine, phylloxera outbreaks, raging bushfires, widespread frost and to top it all off, a severe drought affecting almost all vignerons nationally. On Saturday 3 February 2007 a truly positive thing happened, one hundred industry professionals from all over south eastern Australia converged at the Chalmers Nurseries vineyards on the Murray River in south western NSW to attend a Varietal Flavour Tasting - to look at, taste and discuss new possibilities for the future of wine in Australia.

It will be useful to share some background information to how we got started on this path. Around 10 years ago at an ASVO Seminar in Mildura, Phil Reedman, wine buyer for Tesco, the UK supermarket giant, stood up and said Australian wine was becoming boring. He challenged all those present to come up with something new, something exciting, something other than the traditional iconic Australian varieties which have been the mainstream staples for years.

My parents, Bruce and Jenni Chalmers took this on board and through contacts at Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo and Gruppo Matura in Italy, Chalmers Nurseries brought around 70 new clones and varieties of grapevines into the country. Varieties selected from places like the south of Italy and Sardinia, from Central Spain, where the climate and conditions are more similar to the greater area of wine growing regions in Australia. We felt that with the effects of climate change becoming increasingly evident, the future of viticulture in Australia was going to have to adapt - cultivating more drought tolerant varieties would be one key element in that change and has been a major factor in our varietal selections.

These imports provided the backbone of our mother-block plantings and with the addition of other material from various sources around Australia we expanded our collection of grapevine cultivars to encompass fifty-one varieties and over eighty clones. Each vintage we walk through this diverse planting and inspect the fruit of all these vines, it is an amazing and unique experience and one which we have always thought we'd like to share. This vintage we decided that we would offer winemakers, producers, growers and consumers from all over Australia the opportunity to investigate the vines and taste the fruit of this veritable library of grapes with us.

Through the Chalmers Nurseries network, participants of the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show and other industry contacts we managed to gather a crowd of about one hundred attendees which included representatives from the some of the big players such as Fosters, Orlando, Hardys and Yalumba, as well as nurserymen, sommeliers, growers and boutique winemakers who all shared an interest in these new varietals.

With so many different varieties and clones planted side by side and grown in controlled viticultural conditions we had the rare ability to compare their growth habits, yields, bunch structure and fruit flavours. Louisa Rose, recently appointed chief winemaker for Yalumba and advocate of alternative varieties in Australia for years, said 'today's tasting was a great event, it's been an excellent opportunity for me and for the whole Australian industry. I hope it happens every year.' Anthony Murphy, winemaker for Trentham Estate, is no stranger to alternative varieties, having had a long standing relationship with our family, and is the only winemaker in Australia to have made Lambrusco Maestri so far (for which he won a Trophy at the 2006 AAVWS). Even he found some new varieties of interest and is keen to use fruit from our Moscato Giallo, one of our imports and considered the noblest of the Moscato clones of Italy, in his award winning La Familia Moscato.

What we set out to achieve with our importation project was to discover varieties which may be more suitable for growing in our region, and indeed other wine growing areas, but more importantly varieties which consistently produce distinctive, characteristic, drinkable and marketable wines. In my opinion, and from canvassing the tasting event participants, I think the standout white varieties of the day were Fiano from Avellino, Arneis from Piedmont and Vermentino from Sardinia, all Italian varieties, as well as Albarino from Galicia in Spain. In the reds, varieties like Lambrusco Maestri and Lagrein from northern Italy, Sagrantino and Nero D'Avola from southern Italy and Tannat from the basque region of France garnered positive feedback with baume readings over 10 and titratable acidity in the area of 8-10g/L, figures rarely seen in reds from the Murray Darling region.

The day concluded with an excited buzz over a fantastic continental lunch, in keeping with the theme of the day, prepared by Stefano de Pieri and accompanied by wines of the Murray Darling Collection such as Vermentino, Malvasia Istriana, Negro Amaro, Sagrantino and Aglianico to name a few. It was fabulous to see so many people keen to know more about these new varieties and enthusiastic about the prospect of growing and making them in the near future. Let's hope it flows through to greater diversity and more
sustainable viticulture in our vineyards and more liquid options on our shelves and wine lists.

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