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Adjusting to Change: Wine making in the Central West

By Taylor Aiken

Areas of the Central West are renown for being an ideal place to grow and cultivate wine grapes into an iconic drop.

However, Orange and Bathurst, which are popular locations within the Central West to produce cool climate wines, may need to plan ahead to ensure they are prepared for the future.

Weather and climate have played decisive roles throughout human existence — where and how cultures developed, where they migrated and even how some died out.

The most successful early civilizations were those that developed strong agrarian systems based on what crops were most compatible with the climate.

Today, as in the past, climate is clearly one of the most important factors in the success of all agricultural systems including controlling crop productivity and quality, and ultimately driving economic sustainability.

The issue of climate change possesses a slowly emerging threat to the agriculture industry with areas previously suited to a certain crop, changing their natural timeframe.

Between now and 2030 the annual average temperature is expected to rise between 0.2°C and 1.1°C in many of Australia’s grape growing regions.

A warmer future will go hand in hand with a drier season and will become increasingly erratic, throwing up unpredictable and extreme weather conditions.

Under this scenario, the annual Australian wine grape harvest will be earlier, grapes coming into full ripeness during the hottest parts of summer, putting stress on the vines and in turn affecting the finished product, wine.

The complex influences that result in a wine’s unique traits are embodied in the concept of “terroir,” a term that attempts to capture all of the myriad environmental and cultural influences in growing grapes and making wine.

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Snow Barlow, honorary professor of agriculture and food systems at Melbourne University says that vintage dates had been shifting forward at a gradually accelerating rate over the past 30 years.

“You can say what you will about climate change, but the plants don’t lie, they react to what they feel and they are reacting accordingly to the climate”.

In a warmer climate, vintage will most likely be shorter and more compact, which will suit a Chardonnay.

However this will not suit a Cabernet variety, as the heat can increase sugar levels and force acids down, resulting in bitter fruit.

Mark Renzaglia, founder of Renzaglia Wines, grown in O’Connell and on Mount Panorama, site of the famous car race track, says that warmer climate not only posed a timeline change but also posed a risk that affected the quality of the wine produced.

Grapes that ripen quickly risk ‘decoupling’ their sugar and acid content, which means they reach the desired alcohol level before the flavour was developed.

However, Mark does not see this as a dire situation, instead just another challenge that they will have to work around.

Adding that it may even see them being able to develop a more sophisticated white wine and also add to the varieties of wine they can produce.

 

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