Croser in Canberra — on regional wine shows

Regional wine shows, says leading Australian wine man Brian Croser, can be marketing springboards. With the international fine wine market so focused on what grows best where, he argues, regional shows can highlight what varieties best suit a region and the results used to take that message to the world.

Croser was in Canberra last week to chair the Canberra Regional Wine Show, an event open to producers from Canberra, Hilltops (Young), Tumbarumba, Southern Highlands, Gundagai and the south coast.

It’s an extraordinarily varied catchment for grape growing – and hence wine flavours – with vineyards spread over a significant range of latitudes (Mittagong in the north to Gundagai in the south) and, perhaps more importantly, from altitudes of near sea level at Nowra, to around 900 metres at Tumbarumba.

That spread means, as well, a wide range of soils, aspects and, of course, the all import diurnal temperature ranges and low humidity of inland sites, versus the more humid, lower temperature range of coastal sites.

That ensures considerable diversity of wine styles in our local show. Interestingly, our judging scores correlated closely with the theory of what varieties ought to work in the various locations.

At the trophy presentation and exhibitors’ tasting, Croser urged local makers and growers to maximise the four benefits that he sees flowing to them from the show.

First, look at the results, he said, and they’d find a fine-tuned benchmarking exercise, especially in classes like shiraz. In Canberra, he said, the judging was harder than in a big-city show because our styles were in a more limited range – and not shaded by blockbusters from the Barossa or McLaren Vale as they might be in an open show.

This made the task harder for judges. But it allowed a regional style to be judged in all its subtlety and, hopefully, for a range of styles within that comparatively narrow spectrum to be awarded.

Second, regional shows highlight, as well, the bigger picture of what suits various parts of the region. He said that in the Perth Sheraton show for Western Australian wines last week, for example, regional specialties dominated the awards list: chardonnay and cabernet merlot from Margaret River and shiraz from Frankland River.

Similarly, the Canberra show illustrated the strength of high-altitude Tumbarumba’s chardonnay and pinot noir chardonnay sparkling wine; Nowra’s suitability for semillon; and Canberra’s suitability for shiraz, riesling and viognier.

Third, Croser argued, the ratings, in conjunction with judges comments in the catalogue of results, provide clues for improving technical aspects of viticulture and winemaking – and, hence, wine quality.

The fourth and final virtue, Croser believes, is the ability of shows to ‘inform and inspire the way a region manifests itself – to identify its strengths and how to tell the world’.

As to Canberra itself, as opposed to the outlying areas included in the judging, Croser sees a natural matrix of soils, geology and climate that make shiraz, riesling and viognier naturals, and as good as it comes anywhere. ‘These three belong hand in hand’, he commented.

A great highlight of the show for Croser was ‘consistency of style through the shiraz and shiraz viognier classes’. He sees in them similarities to the wines of Hermitage, France, Australia’s two Mount Barkers (Western Australia and Adelaide Hills) and Great Western, Victoria.

He described our shiraz as bright and spicy of medium intensity, fine grained and having finesse – not blockbusters in the traditional Aussie mould.

And what do we have to do as a region to improve? Sadly, as Ian McKenzie had found as chair of judges from 2004 to 2006, winemaking faults remain far too common.

Croser found fewer faults than when he last judged in 2002 but more than he’d expect to find in other regional shows. He lamented that good, expensive-to-grow fruit should be compromised by basic winemaking faults – principally relating to smelly yeast bi-products and largely seen in white wine classes.

He emphasised that the judging of the show was to international standards and that the bronze, silver, gold and trophy award-winning wines would scrub up in any company. Our district has phenomenal strengths but room to improve, too.

The trophy winners from this year’s show were: Lerida Estate Canberra District Shiraz Viognier 2006, Bidgeebong Wines Icon Series Tumbarumba Chardonnay 2006, Wallaroo Wines Canberra District Riesling 2007, Coolangatta Estate Nowra Semillon 2001, Kosciusko Wines Tumbarumba Pinot Noir Chardonnay 2005.

That’s only the top of the honours list. For the full results go to www.rncas.org.au

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2007

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