For the past 20 months, students from Stanthorpe State High School have been helping to manage and assess the potential of new and alternative grape varieties being trialled at the Queensland College of Wine Tourism.
Now around 30 more schools are joining the team as stage two of an innovative Vineyard for the Future project moves out into different parts of the state. Small plots of established vines will be planted in the Granite Belt Geographic Indication (GI) and South Burnett GI in the coming months, as well as in coastal and other minor regions.
Mike Hayes and students from Stanthorpe State High School taking part in the Vineyard for the Future project.
The Queensland Wine Industry Association (QWIA) initiative, supported by Wine Australia’s Regional Program, is designed to find new varieties that are suited to the diverse climatic conditions throughout the state’s south-eastern corner, where 99 per cent of Queensland’s winegrapes are grown.
‘Sub-regions in this area receive more 2000mm of rainfall a year and humidity is frequently recorded over 70 per cent in the growing stage’, said Symphony Hill winemaker and QWIA director Mike Hayes. ‘It is these climatic conditions that make alternative varieties an interesting proposition and an environmental necessity.’
Mike has been a key driver of the project since being inspired by the potential of alternative varieties during a trip to Europe as part of his Churchill Fellowship in 2013.
More than 70 varieties were planted at the College in November 2015 to kick off the first stage of the project, with a focus on the new rootstock and hybrid varieties then just released by the CSIRO.
The Stanthorpe students are involved as part of the College’s industry immersion program, and are supported by a group of wine sector volunteers.
More than 50 varieties – with such unfamiliar names as Aglianico and Viosinho – will be planted during stage two, with small batch winemaking to follow from the trials over the next three years. Mike will then travel around the regions running workshops for local growers to introduce them to the varieties – and the wines – that seem best suited to their conditions.
‘The future of alternative varieties lies in the research and ability to assess the varieties within the current wine districts’, Mike said. ‘This is a major research project and is essential for the progress of the Queensland wine sector.’
‘For the grapegrower and winemaker, an increased focus on alternative varieties should encourage newcomers to the sector at the same time as educating existing growers. Benefits will include higher cellar door prices and improved profitability.’
The schools coming on board for stage two of the project are all gateway schools affiliated with the College, which is a joint venture between the State’s Department of Education and Training and the University of Southern Queensland.
In a complementary exercise, QWIA is planning a range of activities to gain a better understanding of consumer choices and assist cellar door staff to provide an even higher standard of consumer experience.
‘Within the next five years, the goal is to confidently recommend varieties that are suited to the particular climatic extremities and are commercially viable and accepted by consumers’, Mike said.