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May (No. 496)


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Is industry using the right rootstocks in hot irrigated regions of Australia?

Wayne Farquhar , South Australian Vine Improvement Incorporated

More than 60% of the total Australian crush comes from hot irrigated regions of Australia and the resulting wine represents the backbone of the Australian export market. This sector makes the most use of fruit from vine varieties planted on rootstocks of all wine-producing regions currently in Australia. The questions I would pose are: has the Australian industry historically planted the “right” rootstocks in hot irrigated areas, and is industry planting the best rootstocks now for the future?

The American wine industry thought it had made the correct choice of rootstock with widespread plantings of a hybrid called AXR1 which was a rootstock planted for its previously-thought resistance to phylloxera. History now shows that this was a wrong choice and phylloxera attacked vineyards planted on AXR1. In Napa, estimates for the cost of replanting ran to more than half a billion dollars.

Australian growers and winemakers could imagine the resulting loss of market share for the North American wine industry. How could a country make such an error when the use of rootstocks in phylloxera-infected wine regions such as in Europe has taken place for more than 100 years? Is Australia also ignoring all that Europe has learned about rootstocks in the last century? In my opinion, it would appear so.
When reviewing rootstock cutting statistics sold from the South Australian vine improvement regions (SAVII), the Victorian and Murray Valley Vine Improvement Association (VAMVVIA) and the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area Vine Improvement Society (MIAVIS) between 2000 to 2004 Ramsey and Paulsen were the highest-selling rootstocks.

Overseas are Ramsey and Paulsen the most widely-used rootstocks in hot irrigated areas? The answer is simply “no”. Ramsey and Paulsen are not used for bulk wine production in countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal and regions of France such as Languedoc-Roussillon which supply bulk wines to many of Australia’s export markets.

Media reports and export forecasts are indicating Australia is now recognised as a major supplier of the every day/value-for-money wines, ie., commercial price points. Lower prices being paid for grapes may also impact on the quality of fruit which is directed to the bulk of these commercial price point wines, as growers change vineyard management regimes to increase yields and stabilise the bottom line of their operations.

I believe we are already seeing the implications of reduced quality in fruit from hot irrigated regions, supplying the majority of our bulk wine and commercial price point wines. Readers may have seen or heard of the recent Which? Wine Guide 2005 which reported that corporate Australian icon brand wines in England were regarded as not good value-for-money in the price points that they represented3. For readers not familiar with Which? It is a consumer magazine similar to Choice here in Australia.

My interest in the Which? article is in drawing industry’s attention to the fact that commercial bulk wines made in other countries overseas, also exporting to the UK, such as Spain, Portugal and France, are produced from fruit majority grown on rootstock plantings. These countries are preferring alternative rootstocks to those the Australian industry is using widely in hot irrigated regions. It is highly probable that Australia’s international wine competitors are gaining market advantages because they prefer, and are using, alternative rootstocks to those commonly planted in Australia for production of bulk wine.

South Australian Vine Improvement Incorporated (SAVII) has several rootstock trials under way, and more planned for the future in most regions of South Australia. We wish to assess the performance of rootstock and its impact on wine quality in order that industry might make a more informed choice for future plantings, a choice which could impact on Australia’s competitiveness.

NOTE: The complete article can be found in the May issue of The Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker.

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