Making wine in a warming world

South Australian winemakers are looking to Europe as the climate – and what drinkers want – is changing

Grapes don’t ripen the way they used to. As temperatures climb, they are getting sweeter faster.

Winemakers find that by the time the crop achieves the right colour or level of tannins, the grapes contain more sugar. More sugar means heavier, more alcoholic wine. At the same time, drinkers are preferring lighter wines.

Dr Roberta De Bei is trialling countermeasures to delay ripening at the University of Adelaide, where she has worked as a research fellow in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine since she left Italy in 2008.

These techniques, such as removing part of the leaves of the vine while the grapes are ripening, are being developed in hot Mediterranean climates.

“Most of the studies are coming from Italy and Spain,” Roberta says. She is working with researchers at the universities of Sassari and Pisa in Italy to try these methods in Australia, and early results are promising. This collaboration resulted in a paper that has just been submitted for publication.

Ashley Ratcliff is another taking lessons from European winemaking. Based at Barmera in the South Australian Riverland, Ashley’s company Ricca Terra Farms supplies grapes to winemakers and also produces its own wine.

After working in the wine industry for decades, Ashley was inspired by travel in Italy to go beyond the standard chardonnay and shiraz to find European grape varieties that might better suit the times.

“These varieties like the warmer weather,” Ashley explains. “And also consumers are liking the lighter wines.”

Ashley now grows a wide range of grapes from Italy, Spain and Portugal – and even a Serbian white variety called Slancamenca Bela.

Ashley’s next move is a trip to Portugal. “I’ve been planting Portuguese grapes for years, but I’ve never been to visit.”

Banner image: In the warming climate of South Australian, grapes from hot areas around the Mediterranean feel right at home. Credit: Ashley Ratcliff