What an amazing day it will be at Federation Square in May when we get to engage with a room full of passionate, committed producers who all work with the varieties we brought in. It’s humbling to think that the little potted vines we imported have grown to become a big part of the Australian wine landscape. I can’t wait to wander around the room chatting to all these colleagues from over the years and trying the wines they’ve made from these varieties.
To be honest, when we embarked on the selection and importation of alternative wine grape varieties in 1998, we did not envisage the scale of the eventual uptake by all sections of the wine community in Australia.
We had made many of our selections mostly on the basis of varieties we thought would fit into specific regions in Australia, particularly warm climates with similarities to regions in the Mediterranean where varieties had flourished for hundreds, and in many cases thousands of years.
As we were producing grapes in a warm region (Murray Darling), we wanted to see what our options were for introducing varieties that handled the heat, maintained acidity and generally were able to exist on lesser amounts of rain or irrigation. Many of the varieties selected have succeeded spectacularly in some or all of these aspects.
It was a pretty hard sell in the beginning as we tried to encourage growers and wineries to take a punt and plant these new varieties. We knew it was not going to be easy. People such as Gary Crittenden, Brown Brothers and many Alpine Valleys producers had being doing good work with Italian varieties well before us, making our job a bit easier.
In order to get these varieties out there, and give an insight into their character and wine styles, we had to make small commercial quantities of many obscure and unfamiliar varieties. This allowed us to show growers how they can perform in Australian soil and to present actual wines before the consumers to help promote the selections. This had an enormous positive impact, and was the birth of our own wine brand.
What really made the difference in penetration of these varieties into the industry and consumers alike, was the extra passion injected into the cause by our daughter Kim initially, then Tennille and later Kim’s husband Bart. We are very proud of their achievements, they are a formidable and dedicated team with a common goal to promote diversity and experimentation, educate consumers, make exciting wines, and to assist other producers to make wines that offer a point of difference on the domestic market.
21st Century Vino is their brainchild, but the extension of an idea Jenni and I have always had; to gather all the producers who have bought vines and grapes from us over the years and have a casual meal together, taste each others wines, and chat about how we are all going with growing and making these varieties.
The number of Producers making wines from our initial imports, and imports from many other producers with similar interests, is astounding. Many of the larger producers who showed varying degrees of reluctance to look at these “new” varieties are now very much on board. To think we had a small part in this significant expansion in diversity of Australian wine offerings is very pleasing, to say the least.
Looking forward to seeing you all in May,
*Top image: Bruce & Jenni Chalmers at Chalmers Nurseries, Euston NSW, 2003.
*Bottom image: a baby vine from the first round of multiplication of the imported selections at Chalmers Nurseries, Euston NSW, 2002.