Geologist David Farmer defines Barossa land surfaces

As reported last week, David Farmer, co-founder of former Canberra-based Farmer Bros, is about to re-enter the wine trade via a cellar door mail order operation – — in the Barossa Valley.

While setting up the business, though, David’s been applying the disciplines of his old trade, geology, to the Barossa. This work when published could reshape the Barossa marketing landscape.

An exploration geologist before turning to the wine trade in 1975, Farmer’s been sleuthing the Barossa landscape for several years now, seeking to understand what created the various land surfaces and pondering the style of wine that each of these might create.

While this may seem an academic activity, an intimate knowledge of land surface and its relationship to wine styles in the long term lies at the heart of France’s wine appellation system.

Farmer’s not arguing for a similar naming system here. But he believes that an understanding of the landscape could contribute to a better understanding of wine styles. And, linked with that, comes better, more informative marketing of wine from a particular site.

Marketing wines from individual vineyards or groups of vineyards isn’t new. It evolves in virtually every wine region as winemakers recognise the individuality of wine from particular sites.

In an area as old, complex and intensively planted as the Barossa, the practice is well established and growing rapidly as winemakers compete for grapes from the best vineyard plots and then vinify even quite small batches individually.

From his work Farmer expects to define about fifteen distinct grape-growing sub-regions within the Barossa, based on his observations of the land surface, what lies immediately beneath it and what formed it.

Winemakers with long-term experience sourcing grapes throughout the valley understand site-related flavour variation. But the names given to the sites tend to be generalised and based on points of the compass or local place names.

As the practice of releasing these wines separately grows, the use of Farmer’s definitions in conjunction with the old site names could add dramatically to the marketing message – especially were the sites to be viewed on the three-dimensional maps now under construction.

In the future, instead of hearing of northern, southern, eastern or western Barossa, or of Kalimna, Moppa, Lyndoch or Stockwell, we’ll hear, as well, of the southern angular-rock type soils, the cobbled soils of Roland Flat, the Kalimna dunes and the Gomersal Ridge sands.

And through Farmer’s 3-D map, we’ll be able to see each of these and more in the context of the Valley as a whole: starting south at the separate Lyndoch Valley with its slopes, flats and feeder valleys; then north over the ridge into the southern Barossa proper with its rolling, North-Para-River-eroded landscape; over the Gomersal plateau with black, cracking soils, inhospitable to vines, and its magic, sandy western ridge; through to the rising and flatter central and northern valley to the Kalimna sand dunes; east to the rim of the recently uplifted ranges (the Eden Valley) and across to the lower,  more eroded western rim, including the Marananga and Seppeltsfield bowls.

Throughout this infinitely varied landscape, winemakers are defining the sub-regions by the wines they make. What Farmer is doing, with a touch of genius, is creating a future marketing platform for an emerging generation of highly individual sub-regional wines. The publication date has yet to be announced. Check Farmer’s website, for updates.
Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007