Evolving Durif at Morris Wines

Name: David Morris

By Sonya Logan

Renowned as one of the nation's top fortified producers, Morris Wines, of Victoria's Rutherglen wine region, is credited with the birth of Durif in Australia in 1954 when winemaker Mick Morris pioneered the variety as a dry red table wine.

Then labelled as Claret, it was probably not the first Australian dry red to be made from Durif, but it was the first to be released following the era in which fortifieds dominated the nation's wine production and consumption from the early to mid 1900s.

Prior to 1954, Morris Wines had used Durif exclusively to produce fortified wine for at least 30 years, even though the man responsible for introducing the variety to Australia in 1908, Victorian Government viticulturist François de Castella, had recommended it for dry red production. But given the demand for dry reds in Australia's biggest export market, the UK, had fallen by the 1920s in favour of fortified wines, Morris Wines' use of Durif to make these styles is not surprising.

It is not certain when Morris Wines first planted Durif, but 2ha of the variety planted in 1920 are still in production today. However, current winemaker and son of Mick, David Morris, said earlier plantings may have occurred but subsequently failed. Given the devasation that phylloxera caused to Victoria's vineyards at the turn of the century, it was recommended that all new plantings be on rootstocks. However, David said many growers were suspicious of rootstocks.

'There were theories going around that vineyards redeveloped using rootstocks would fail,' David explained. 'For that reason, a lot of people didn't plant on rootstocks but preferred to fumigate their soil instead, which had little success. We did a lot of replanting on fumigated soil, so it's possible that we planted Durif prior to 1920 but it fell over.'

With the release of its first varietally-labelled Durif in 1964, Morris Wines decided to plant more of the variety to supply the demand for the wine, adding just over 8ha in 1972-73. In early 1988, the winery began producing a Sparkling red style wine and opted to combine Durif with Shiraz for the base wine for the extra richness it delivered. More plantings of Durif followed between 1990 and 1998 when a further 10ha were established over four stages. This brought Morris Wines' Durif plantings to 20ha, which today are supplemented with fruit from six growers, all from the Rutherglen area.

The full article and the Durif Varietal Report can be found in the May/June issue of Australian Viticulture. To subscribe visit https://www.winebiz.com.au/ausvit/subscribe/ or phone +61 8 8292 0888.

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