Angelo Puglisi, Ballandean Estate, Queensland

Name: Angelo Puglisi

Looking for new challenges has always been a part of my life. In the mid-1960s the challenge was to start a more modern approach to winemaking in Queensland and it has not been a smooth road to the top. The biggest challenge has been to convince the rest of the Australian wine industry that not all of Queensland is hot and tropical. The Granite Belt is 850m above sea level and is prone to severe frost in winter. It is quite common to have 35-45 frosts each year all the way to early October. Budburst starts at the end of September and frost damage is quite common. The summer is not hot and tropical and autumn is warm days and cold nights.

Background to Ballandean Estate's Viognier

It has not been hard to make decisions to plant varieties that are recommended for cool climate areas. What is cool climate anyhow?

I am not a fan of white or red wines from cool climate that are green and taste akin to battery acid. The Granite Belt has warm days and cool to cold nights (always less that 18°C degrees) throughout the summer months. On 16 November 2006 we had snow fall all day and on 17 November a -4°C frost. That freak weather was also felt in the rest of Australia.

Most of the vintage in the Granite Belt happens in March and when we machine harvest we start at 2.30am and finish by 8am. Average temperature at that time of the day is 6-8°C.

Ballandean Estate Wines has two vineyards located six kilometers apart. The vineyard where the winery is has light sandy soils (about 12 inches) over decomposed granite.

The second vineyard is a course orange gravel has a depth of 1m and is very porous. Water delivered by trickle from water storage dams quickly disappears but the roots have the opportunity to find good depth. Both vineyards have Viognier plantings.

In 1994 and 1995 our winemaker at the time worked during vintages in the Rhone Valley in France and came back recommending that we plant Viognier. In 1996, we were able to obtain some cuttings from Yalumba and so we were able to field graft 1ha of Viognier on Ruggeri 140 rootstocks and so commenced our journey with Viognier.

These first grafted vines are on the sandy soil and are now 10 years old. In 1998, we planted a further 2ha this time planted on their own roots and in the orange gravel. The result has been interesting. The grafted vines are not as vigorous as I thought they would be and require careful management of nutrients. This is a common trend in the Granite Belt because of our soil types. I believe having the poorer soil is an advantage because we have the opportunity to control vigour even if the costs are higher. The vines on their own roots in the deeper soil have more vigour but because of their age, we have controlled the crop levels to 4-5t/ha. This year, we have increased to 6t/ha and the results look good.

Viognier is reknowned to be a low yielding variety, however, it does not seem to have that problem in the Granite Belt. Each year so far we have taken more than 30% of the bunches off just after budburst.

The bunches are medium to large and after veraison become full and tight which can be a disadvantage if rain comes just before harvest. As the last few years the rains have not come in large volumes that we used to get in the good old days, the splitting berries have not been a problem. One habit of Viognier that I have noticed is that as the bunches tighten, small clusters break away and just dry out and drop off. Perhaps this is a way for the variety to deal with the problem of overcrowding. I allow the vines to stress a little with minimal watering for the last two or three weeks before harvest. The berries become soft and rubbery and if it does rain there is room for expansion.

Canopy management like all varieties is a major part of quality control. Viognier can become sunburnt easily and careful shoot positioning and leaf management is necessary. All of our vineyards are vertical shoot positioning system and two foliage wires on either side are used to hold up the canopy. Row spacing is 3.5m and vine spacing is 1.5m on a single cordon wire. Drip irrigation is used when required but we are limited by water availability. The Granite Belt does not have underground water and we not have a major river. We rely on water stored in farm dams.

Timing the harvest to coincide with best flavour is a bit of a trick. Constant monitoring is essential as the flavour changes almost daily and reaches its peak for about three days and then falls away quickly. It is critical to harvest within that small time frame and this peak flavour time is mostly 12.5-14°Baume.

The wine can be quite robust and yet fruity giving the impression that the wine will be sweet but the opposite is mostly the result. The wine can be quite tannic with medium acidity. Our winemaker Dylan Rhymer finds it an easy grape to work with and we are happy with the results achieved so far.

The most interesting observation so far has been that when our Viognier wines are judged in classes dedicated to just Viognier Ballandean Estate Wines has scored 4 stars or better. When judged against other fruity aromatic varieties ie Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, it does not score the same. Why is this? Maybe the variety is not recognised fully yet, we wait in hope.

We have produced both barrel aged and unwooded styles and have been successful with both styles. In the 2006 vintage we also used Viognier to blend with Shiraz. The wine is still in oak and so far we are more than pleased with the results.

We offer a toast of Granite Belt Viognier to the viticulturalist who discovered the last remaining 8ha in 1965 in France.

Viognier has risen from close extinction to an exciting variety with a great future in Australia.

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