Wine growers talk grapes, China and Melbourne

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Victorian wine growers are welcoming summer with open arms after a difficult year.

Owner of Maygars Hill vineyard Jenny Houghton said Melburnians were leaving lockdown with “smiles on their faces and their wallets wide open”.

“We are overwhelmed with thanks and gratitude,” Mrs Houghton said.

“I don’t count the numbers. You need only one person to come in and buy the reserve to make money.”

The shiraz and cabernet sauvignon which Mrs Houghton produces are award-winning, her 2018 vintage taking out best shiraz and 2019 best cabernet at the Dookie Wine Show last week.

“The grapes are looking stunning, the vines are almost too good,” the Longwood resident said.

“The weather has been great to us, the rain can stop now because the canopy is massive and we need the sunshine on the grapes.”

The perfect growing weather means Mrs Houghton has started going through her 2.5 ha vineyard and cutting runaway growth on the vine.

The small scale of Mrs Houghton’s vineyard means she isn’t too worried about finding workers come harvest in February.

Lake Cooper Estate export manager Tony Li is similarly unperturbed about the late-summer grape harvest.

“For the harvesting we keep the same contractors and they work with our vineyard manager really well,” Mr Li said.

Lake Cooper Estate is a shiraz-dominated 38 ha vineyard steadily being built up by its owner Liping Wang.

Construction of a new winery will begin in a few weeks on the property — the start to a grand vision including a restaurant and full cellar door business.

Mr Li said some people thought the construction of the winery was too risky, but he said it would improve the brand.

“In the long-term it enhances our quality, because the quality is in wine tastings.”

Quality is a big focus for the estate, which exports to China.

“It is better to be a high quality product going into China,” Mr Li said.

“To be honest we have a lot of loyal clients in China because our owner is Chinese, I am also from China.

“Recently we’ve seen the wait in customs grow out to one month but fortunately the taxation hasn’t changed.”

Mr Li said this two days before China imposed a ‘preliminary tariff’ of 107.1 per cent to 212.1 per cent on Australian wines.

During the pandemic, Lake Cooper Estate saw online sales grow in Singapore ahead of the usual US and UK pattern other wineries were seeing.

“In Singapore they are interested in trying wines from all around the world,” Mr Li said.

There is also a “lot of new ideas” being discussed to expand their wine into Korea using WeChat.

Mr Li said the grapes at Lake Cooper Estate were “looking great” and canopy over-growth wasn’t an issue due to a new drainage system in the vineyard.

Before being bought in 2015, Lake Cooper Estate sold bulk grapes to other wineries.

Wine by Sam co-owner Bron Dunwoodie said her winery business in Seymour had already been impacted by the seasonal worker shortage.

“For us it’s been an issue in the cellars,” Ms Dunwoodie said.

“Every year we get experienced internationals in the cellar to help with the crushing of the fruit, mixing and getting the harvest in.”

This year they’ve managed to secure one cellar worker, a woman from Chile who was in Australia as a mango picker.

When it comes to the threat of wine being restricted at China’s ports, Ms Dunwoodie said she wasn’t worried for the business, but for its Chinese buyers.

“We don’t have a huge market into China and everything we send is pre-paid,” she said.

“We shipped just this month so it’s now on the water. I do worry for our customers if they can get it off at the other end.”

Mrs Houghton at Maygars Hill also uses the pre-paid method.

“You do a handshake on the deal but it needs to be pre-paid before it leaves the vineyard,” she said.

As a mainly domestic seller, Mrs Houghton said the biggest impact on her if China was to block or limit wine trade would be the massive amounts of normally exported Australian wine flooding the domestic market.