Riverland Wine has formed a partnership with the University of Adelaide and is seeking funding to develop an ‘optimisation’ project it believes will be of national significance.
The aim is to bring together all the individual findings of vineyard research (some perhaps seemingly insignificant in isolation), slice and dice them in the context of Riverland conditions, aims and expectations, and develop a management template that is based on both science and good management.
One of the key players is Chris Bennett, who as well as co-ordinating the Wine Australia-funded Regional Program in the Riverland, works as a consultant to the almond industry, which is currently going gangbusters.
‘The almond industry did a seven-year trial using optimisation techniques developed over many years in Israel, starting with apples, then stonefruit,’ he said. ‘We took the stonefruit specifics and modified them for almonds – which are stonefruit botanically.
‘It is a very different way of looking at management and we had to refine it and prove it in Australian conditions, but it has revolutionised the industry, making it extremely efficient and profitable. The Australian industry is now the most productive in the world.
‘When we started, the holy grail for almond production around the world was 2.4 tonnes of kernel per hectare. We came out after three years producing 3.5, 4, 5 tonnes – up to 6.7. Now if you get 2.5 tonne you are extremely disappointed.’
Bennett stresses that optimisation isn’t just about volume; in fact it needn’t be at all.
‘Optimisation has the potential to make a huge difference in terms of productivity and the control growers have in terms of volumes, quality and mitigating seasonal variation, among others. There is much growers can do to manipulate the vines to produce the product required. Importantly, due to the efficiencies developed, it is also extremely environmentally sound.
‘A lot of the knowledge from the almond industry’s experience is not crop specific. We’re looking to introduce that and prove it up, refine it, for winegrapes, particularly in warm climate regions.
‘In the end we want to help make growers much better managers, much more aware of their crop and much more in control. As an organisation we are looking to take a more active, strategic position in terms of sector development.’
Optimisation has a strong supporter in Riverland Wine’s CEO Chris Byrne, who kept a close eye on what the almond industry was up to when the two shared offices in Berri.
The University of Adelaide is equally keen, as it sees the potential to bring together researchers from different disciplines and different institutions to work together in ways that are different to the norm. Riverland Wine has developed a strong collaborative alliance with the University, who will be driving the project.
Riverland Wine’s focus is not totally on the future, however, with two major projects funded under the Regional Program nearing completion.
The first is a clonal trial looking primarily at Shiraz and Chardonnay, but also including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, with the clones selected from a variety of sources in Australia and overseas. Wines from this project are being evaluated by the AWRI, with results to be passed on to interested wineries.
The second is a rootstock trial evaluating a range of new rootstock selections against the ‘sector standards’ commonly used in the Riverland. In all, 10 rootstocks plus own roots across 2 varieties, Chardonnay and Shiraz, are being evaluated. This also is nearing completion, with the results to date due to be made available.