- Published on Friday, 10 December 2010 17:04
- Written by Geoffrey Dean
This has been a good week to be an Englishman in Australia following England's crushing victory in the second Test.
Generous portions of humble pie have been consumed by locals, who seem resigned to the fate of the Ashes, but while most South Australian winemakers are still hopeful the 2011 vintage can be a good one, spare a thought for those ones in Victoria and New South Wales.
All the rain of recent weeks in south-east Australia has created ideal conditions for downy mildew, which is going to have a devastating effect on the national crush.
Estimates of 1.8m tons have now been downgraded to 1.3m, and while that will help not to swell Australia's crippling oversupply of 80 million cases, it is bad news for the legion of struggling growers, especially the bulk wine producers of the Murray-Darling basin, who have been badly hit.
The Hunter Valley, where flowering always take place a month earlier than the rest of the country, has been hammered, with downy mildew already reported in berry bunches.
At least 50%, possibly as much as two-thirds of the crop, will be lost according to Graham Wellman, viticulturalist for Cellarmaster.
As the man responsible for checking the fruit nationwide for the huge, Barossa-based wine mail order company, he is as well informed as anyone. "Nowhere in the eastern states has been spared," he told me. "And those that manage to escape downy mildew will most likely get powdery mildew or botrytis."
The problem of downy is compounded by the fact that Australia has run out of available spray to counter it.
The freak storms that swept across Adelaide a couple of hours after England wrapped up victory dumped so much water that the city experienced its wettest December day since 1936.
The same rain went north to the Clare Valley, which received three inches that night, causing winemakers these past few days nervously to check their vine leaves for downy mildew. Happily at the time of writing, little or none had been spotted but that could change.
While the woes afflicting the Australian cricket team are mirrored by ongoing concerns about the country's wine industry, still hamstrung by the national wine lake, the best wineries continue to produce world-class wine.
I visited a few this week in the Adelaide Hills and Clare Valley, starting at Shaw & Smith in Balhannah. It may be the only one in the world to have two MWs on its permanent payroll in Michael Hill Smith and David Lemire, both Aussies.
The latter took me through its outstanding range, spearheaded by its benchmark sauvignon blanc and M3 chardonnay. The Rhone-style syrah was also excellent.
For good-as-it-gets riesling not just in Australia but anywhere in the New World, you need look no further than the Clare Valley of course.
Grosset, Barry, Pike, Pauletts and O'Leary were a world-class quintet at which to taste, all so weighed down with medals and awards from leading international competitions that it would take too long to list them.
Jeff Grosset understandably likes to remind you that his Polish Hill riesling is the second most-collected white in Australia, while Neil Pike points to the fact his riesling is the biggest-selling one in Austalia each each year over the £13-mark. Neil Paulett and Nick Walker have both won best riesling in the world awards, while Peter Barry, a member of Australia's 12-strong First Families of Wine, continues to produce reds and whites of exceptional quality.
Bulk wine may constitute a staggering 92% of Australia's exports, but brilliant established winemakers like these, and highly capable young ones like Erinn Kleinn of Ngeringa, will ensure Australian wine, if not its cricket team, compares with the world's best.
* Geoffrey Dean, Times cricket reporter is writing exclusively for Harpers Wine & Spirit throughout the Ashes on the cricket and Australian wine market