Australian-first awards recognise Mt Camel Range vineyards

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Out on the Mt Camel Range two vineyards are doing things differently.

The Chalmers and Tellurian vineyards are beating everyone else to the jump when it comes to preparing their vineyards for climate change.

Last week their efforts were recognised nationally after both were included in the Young Gun of Wine’s top 50 vineyards.

Tellurian general manager Daniel Hopkins was delighted to see the vineyard hand-picked as a finalist for the first national vineyard award in Australia.

“There are a lot of wine awards but none for vineyards, so credit to the Young Gun of Wine guys for recognising good vineyard practice,” Mr Hopkins said.

“For us the vineyard is the absolute priority … we’ve recently transitioned to organic. The more naturally the land is managed the more the wine reflects the site.”

Alongside going organic, Tellurian has been doing a few “back to the future” experiments.

“We’ve close-planted a few blocks in a way reminiscent of north-facing plantations 50 to 100 years ago,” Mr Hopkins said.

Increasing planting density is something Chalmers is also doing alongside Tellurian, allowing the vineyards to reduce crop load but increase yields per hectare.

Cutting down the amount of grape bunches on a plant lessens stress and results in better quality grapes.

“We’ve also started using the bush vine format, which hasn’t been used in recent times,” Mr Hopkins said.

“Basically, instead of using the normal trellis we put one stake in the ground and let the plant grow like a bush or small tree.”

The bush vine method has worked well for Tellurian’s Grenache grapes, creating an umbrella canopy to shade the fruit.

“It’s a given that the climate is changing and the grapes need all the help they can get,” Mr Hopkins said.

Over the hill at Chalmers, Troy McInnes is also defending against the sun.

“Those 40-plus degree days late in the afternoon can heat the grapes up so much they start to break down and get jammy from the inside,” Mr McInnes said.

He described grapes like water bottles. When placed in direct sunlight the liquid inside becomes hotter than the air outside.

Chalmers has been combating heat by running its rows east-west, keeping the afternoon sunlight off the fruit zone and escaping sunburn which is common in the range.

The vineyard is also expanding into more heat-tolerant grapes.

“We’re very different to most vineyards, we’ve brought in varieties from Italy which weren’t in Australia before,” Mr McInnes said.

In an area famous for being dominated by red Shiraz, Chalmers is now growing 50 per cent white varieties.

Standouts among the lesser known varieties include Sicily’s historically significant Fiano white grapes and Nero d’Avola reds.

Award judge and viticultural scientist Peter Dry said the recognition of Australia’s finest grape growers was well overdue.

“The significant advances in vineyard management over recent decades is highlighted in these finalists,” Dr Dry said.

“The foundation has been laid for our industry to face, with modest confidence, the many challenges of the future.”

From now until February, the 50 short-listed vineyards will be profiled and promoted before the award’s four trophies are handed out.