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Wine regions - Riverland

Riverland   South Australia

Banrock Station wetlands

Banrock Station wetlands

In the Central East of South Australia, just over the border where New South Wales and Victoria meet at Mildura, Australia's largest wine region thrives. It is not the largest by area but by acreage and volume. In fact, the Riverland wine region is so large it currently accounts for half of South Australia's grape production and a quarter of the entire country's wine production. The 2005 vintage saw 480,000 tonnes crushed from this region.

Most of the wine produced in the Riverland is used for export, and much of it we don't see in Australia, but often used as 'Critter Wine', a term affectionately used by the Americans to describe our native animal-termed wine labels. Much of the grapes crushed in the Riverland is sent onto some of the larger wine companies established in the Barossa Valley, the Hunter Valley, and other regions, to top up some of their more reasonably-priced and most popularly purchased wine labels. In fact, if a wine is regionally labelled South Eastern Australia, it probably comes from the Riverland.

Don't let this winemaking trend of the region fool you. It is often said about Australian wine that 'the good wine is cheap, and the cheap wine is good'. If you compare a cheap Australian wine with an equally priced Old World Wine, Australian wine will always come out on top.

And the Riverland produces good wine. Not all of it, however, comes from the larger companies, of which there are many. Small boutique wineries thrive in the Riverland and produce finely sculpted, delicately scented wines, contrary to their terroir. The warm climate, the irrigated fruit, the rich sandy loam soils, all tend towards high yields and potentially average-quality fruit as the vine spends its energy feeding every berry. To produce very high quality wine, the artisan winemaker removes half the fruit while at budburst and reduces the water intake. With smaller numbers of berries and a slightly stressed vine, the resultant wine is more concentrated with flavours, aromas and body.

The Riverland produces more Chardonnay than the combined regions of South Australia, a reliable and versatile early ripening variety that enjoys most climates. Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also major grape varieties planted in the region and produce full flavoured juicy wines. Thus, Petit Verdot and Viognier, both varieties that enjoy warm regions that entice the full body and flavours from their berries, are also being grown.

The region is largely flat and situated only 20m above sea level. Therefore, mechanical pruning and harvesting makes light work of the enormous task of taming this productive region. The mean January temperature is 32ºC, although in extremes it can reach up to 47ºC. Annual rainfall is low with 260mm, most of which falls between May and November.

The larger companies keep the wine region alive, contributing to some of the more famous names in the Australian wine industry, and supporting the 1,300 grape growers in the region. Berri and Renmano (owned by Hardy's), Kingston Estate, Angove's, Orlando-Wyndham, McGuigan Simeon, and Salena Estate all have a presence in the Riverland.

Dead trees on the Murray

The plight of the Murray River has come to
symbolise the crisis of climate change
and environmental degradation.

The Murray River is the lifeblood of the region and it flows through the towns of Renmark, Loxton, Berri and Waikerie, not only feeding the grapes, but citrus and stone fruits, nuts, vegetables and field crops. This is after it has passed through the agricultural regions of Victoria and New South Wales, attaining more and more run-off from fertilisers and pesticides as its precious water sustains Australia's 'fruit-bowl'.

Consequently, the Murray River is in serious trouble with dying fish, less migratory bird visitations, and severe salinity killing the beautiful century-old River red gums. This is visibly evident in the Riverland district, and environmental practises are finally being put into place to save the Murray River.

The Riverland, with its extensive and well-developed grape and wine industry, has input from the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), Primary Industries and Resources South Australia (PIRSA), and the CSIRO Plant Industry at Merbein, near Mildura. Together they are formulating strategies to save the Murray River from total desecration and death, as well as continuing to produce better quality and disease resistant fruit. This region is the most innovative in Australia in terms of environmental sustainability due the obvious effects of long-term agriculture and viticulture.

Banrock Station Wetlands

At the forefront of wetland restoration in the region is Banrock Station. Banrock Station, another in Hardy's stable, was originally a sheep farm on silted Murray marshland. Hardy's set up the cellar door and restaurant, and created a new wine label to adorn recycled packaging, in order to earn proceeds towards environmental sustainability of the ailing Murray River.

Banrock Station Wine and Wetlannd Centre

Banrock Station Wine and Wetland Centre
with its fine wines and view to the future
Photo: Banrock Station

Banrock Station's committment to wetland restoration was recognised in 2002 by Ramsar, the peak world wetland organisation who listed the Banrock Station Wetland Complex as a wetland of international importance.

The wetlands have been made accessible to visitors through the construction of broadwalks and interpretive signs, so the beauty of the wetlands, the wildlife, especially the birdlife can be experienced up close. Visitors can taste wines at the Banrock Station Wetland and Wine Centre, enjoy a meal and learn about wetland environments. Money from wine sales is distributed to numerous organisations both local, national and international in support of wetland conservation.

Riverland harvest time: mid February to mid March

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