Grape expectations for region
VINE GENES: Eloise Collingwood, 7 months, and her father John Collingwood look at grapes at Four Winds Vineyard, Murrumbateman. Photo: Karleen Minney
John Collingwood is celebrating the coming of age for Canberra region's wine industry with his seven-month-old daughter Eloise under prolific bunches of grapes at Four Winds Vineyard, Murrumbateman.
Eighty per cent of Four Winds grapes have been contracted to winemakers, including leading producers in the Hunter Valley and Griffith.
Hot summer days and cool evenings are providing ideal growing conditions as Australia's traditional wine areas look to share more of this region's cool climate fruit.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the rainfall outlook for the next three months indicates drier than normal conditions across parts of eastern Australia.
Mr Collingwood said good weather eased pressure on growers because fungus outbreaks which spoilt two previous seasons were less likely.
''There was a lot of water in the ground from last season, so we have only recently put a bit of irrigation on, when we have had consecutive days into the mid-30s.
''At the same time, you don't want to feed them too much, so you don't get the problems we had last year with all the rain because of too much vigour.
''So it is a balancing act between maintaining their growth and not over-watering, so they don't get too dense.''
He said growers had been vigilant about up-to-date spraying, and consequently there was much less disease about in the drier weather.
''I had a good walk around the vineyard yesterday and it looks really good.
''We are at a lull at the moment, we sprayed up until Christmas while the fruit and leaves were young, now they are less susceptible.
''In this part of the growing phase, there is shoot thinning and plenty of grass cutting. Later in February we will be putting the nets on.''
Wine consultant and writer Nick Bulleid, a director and shareholder in the Hunter Valley's Brokenwood Wines, said Tyrrell's produced good wine from grapes south of Murrumbateman a couple of years ago, and before Christmas producers were looking for more grapes from the Canberra region.
''It is more a question of going to a region which does a particular wine style or grape variety well.
''Take the Hunter, for example, it's no use trying to grow a sauvignon blanc or pinot noir there, but Orange or other cooler areas like Tumbarumba are good. A lot of people are now going to other areas for riesling as well.''
Mr Bulleid said Canberra's strengths were riesling and medium-bodied shiraz.
''People in the industry have known that for quite a while, but it is becoming more widely recognised now.
''The broad retail trade is becoming more aware as well and eventually consumers will too.''
Now living in Canberra, Mr Bulleid has a pinot noir vineyard at Crookwell.
He said large and small Hunter Valley wineries were investing in other regions.
''Winemakers there want to broaden their offering, they are happy to source fruit from another area and regionally declare it, very proudly, Orange or Tumbarumba and even in the future, Canberra region on the label.''
Four Winds winemaker Bill Crowe, who came to the region after a decade of wine making in California's Napa Valley, said this season got off to a bang, with quick flowering and good fruit set.
''The shiraz is looking particularly good as opposed to the past two years,'' he said.
''I've only been here for two years, [but] this is the best growing season I have seen for shiraz, I think it is getting back to what it was in 2009 and before.''
As well as a bountiful harvest, Four Winds is preparing for its annual film night in March, where bike-related films from a minute to 20 minutes will be screened among the vines.
Stories range from friends travelling through North America and on different mountain bike tracks, to bikes being shipped to developing nations, and will coincide with Donate Life Week which promotes organ donation.
Four Winds founders Graeme and Suzanne Lunney's son Tom worked up until his untimely death at age 32 in 2010, ending a year-long wait for a double lung and heart transplant.
Since then, their daughters Sarah and Jaime have reunited on the vineyard with husbands John and Bill, and are building a cellar door and broadening their activities.