Climate change, global warming, sustainability, eco-friendly, organic….. Buzzwords that are forcing us to change the way we think about our environment, and also driving innovation. Particularly innovation in winery.

With these types of challenges facing the industry, it’s small wonder that the current crop of Australian wine’s young guns are pushing the boundaries of tradition to produce wines that meet consumer expectations environmentally. And still taste great!

Exploring The Forgotten Grapes – Innovation In Winery

Top of the list is exploring forgotten varieties of grapes. These are varietals that fall outside the big guns. The ones that may be used in blends but haven’t been seen as serious wine producing contenders in their own right.

Hitherto little known here in Australia varieties like Barbero, Dolcetto, Fiano, Grüner, Nebbiolo, Saperavi, Tempranillo, Veltliner and others for example are beginning to find favour with the innovative imaginations of young winemakers. Tempranillo wines in particular are finding favour with consumers. This is a Spanish grape that makes a smooth, easy drinking wine and matches up well with a variety of foods.

Barbera and Fiano are other varietals that, whilst grown extensively overseas in their native Italy, are not traditionally associated with Australian wines. Interesting point – Barbero is a very old Italian grape that has been around a lot longer than other better known varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. Trials of Barbero wine in Manjimup in Western Australia have discovered that it produces a very nice drop of red indeed. It’s also naturally disease resistant.

Innovators are also mixing and matching varieties that may make the traditionalists eyebrows rise but the results speak for themselves.

Sustainability And Innovation In Winery

Terroirs in the grape growing, wine-producing world are changing. Experts believe that as current major wine regions become hotter and drier it could force some of them out of business. As well as drive relocation to areas currently considered unsuitable because they’re too cold.

Global warming will not only make parts of mainland Australia too hot and dry for grapes, it will also cause previously cold areas to warm up enough to become major grape producing regions. The Tamar Valley and other parts of Tasmania are a case in point.

Whilst some of Australia’s majors in the wine industry are already looking to these new areas for future growth, others are looking to change the way they work with what they already have. They’re looking for varietals that don’t need as much water or maintenance. They’re looking at eco-friendly ways to improve soil moisture retention and soil health whilst still retaining the semi-unfertile soils that produce great wines.

Many varieties of grapes do grow well in Australian conditions, even as it gets drier, and many thrive on the under attention they receive. This makes them obvious choices for innovative wine makers who are looking outside the processing square to find ways to make some of these hardier varieties work well.

Minimalist, Naturalist, Organic And Biodynamic Innovation In Winery

Along with finding varietals that cope well with Australia’s increasingly drier, warmer climate, there is also a growing group of innovative wine growers embracing organic, biodynamic and natural produce and production methods.

Biodynamic, Organic And Natural – What’s The Difference?

All three practise the use of non-chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and sustainable husbandry. For this reason the terms are often used interchangeably but they actually aren’t exactly the same. Organic producers use non-chemical, organically produced fertilisers and pesticides. Their vines may also be irrigated as required and organically grown grapes can be subject to the same wine producing processes as other grapes (addition of sulphites and industrial yeasts). So long as these additives and processes remain organically approved, the wine can be considered organic.

Biodynamic producers take things one step further with a holistic, minimalist approach to all facets of production. Biodynamics is the concept that the entire enterprise is self-regenerating and self-sustaining, from soil health to vine maintenance and fruit quality. Husbandry practises are planned to tie in with nature’s cycles, including relying solely on rainfall and atmospheric moisture rather than irrigation. Human interference is reduced to the bare minimum and the result is a pure terroir created by nature and unaltered by humans that truly reflects the origins of the fruit. However, as with organic wines, sulphites and yeasts can be introduced during the processing stages, although typically wild yeasts are preferred over industrial ones.

Natural wines start out with organic or biodynamically produced grapes but the no-interference policy continues into the wine-making processes. Various natural wine grower groups have self-regulated rules about what is and isn’t allowed but they all prohibit the use of anything more than minimal use of sulphites and gross filtration. Some groups completely prohibit sulphites. Natural wine is fermented using the natural microbes present in the grapes to do the work. These microbes go with the wine into the bottle to produce a living product that contains the essence of the environment in which it was grown.

Consumer Expectations Driving Innovation In Winery

Organic, biodynamic and natural wine producers are increasing in number, reflecting not only the philosophies of the wine makers themselves but also the consumer’s growing interest in, and demand for, sustainably produced, chemical free wines. And the wines speak for themselves – 2016 Riedel Young Gun of Wine winner Josephine Perry from Dormilona wines in Margaret River took out the award with a natural wine in a first for both the genre and the region.

Another thing driving innovation in winery is the growing legislation around alcohol content and drink driving laws. Although low alcohol wines are still in their infancy in Australia, there are already innovators looking at ways to produce wines with less alcohol that retain their taste and terroir.

Experimentation Leading Innovation In Winery

Other types of experimental innovations we’re seeing more and more of coming into the industry include

  • Experimentation with less sulphur without necessarily going down the completely natural wine path.
  • Use of wild yeasts instead of industrial yeast
  • Extended lees (sur lie) contact to increase flavour, richness and aroma
  • Extended maceration and cold-soaking, which is allowing the juice to remain in contact with the skins and seed for longer to increase flavour, colour and tannin structure
  • Whole bunch fermentation which adds a whole new level of complexity to the resulting wine
  • Barrel fermentation rather than fermentation in steel or cement tanks and vats – this allows the wine to pick up the woody overtones from the barrels