Italian in ‘the Jura’

Despite being fortunate enough to visit Italy on a regular basis, our busiest time is during their harvest so I’m yet to see grapes on the vine. This weekend, squadra slp had a road trip to ‘the Jura’ (as in Mildura) to see a whole bunch, literally, of Italian varieties on the vine at Chalmers Nurseries.

First, a bit of background info. Bruce and Jenni Chalmers established their grapevine propagation business, Chalmers Nurseries, in 1989. Working with Italian viticultural companies Vivai Cooperativi Raucedo and Gruppo Matura, they introduced 70 clones and varieties to become the largest wholesale vine nursery in Australia. Some of these varieties, in addition to the usual suspects, include the rare (even in Italy) Colorino, Mammolo, Picolit, Nosiola, Pavana, Refosco and Schioppettino. They have since sold the business, but daughters Kim and Tennille continue the family’s love of Italian wine and grapes at their vineyards in Heathcote and Merbein.

The property, with 1000 hectares of vines, is responsible for 1 per cent of Australia’s wine and the Chalmers, along with 300 staff, used to hand prune the lot! The vineyards roll on and on under a big sky, the sun-drenched landscape as impressive as it is harsh. It’s very Australian, just the way Drysdale and Streeton painted it.

The Chalmers have been largely responsible for what I think is the third wave of Italian varieties in Australia. First came Sangiovese, because everybody knew Tuscany. Then came Nebbiolo, a variety with such an ethereal quality it is no wonder winemakers fell for it. Although there are a few, literally only a few, good examples of these grapes in Australia, it’s the next wave that is going to be the most interesting. This third wave features varieties that are far better suited to many of our winegrowing areas, where they can achieve both environmental sustainability and quality. Sure, they might not be as ‘sexy’ as Sangiovese or Nebbiolo, but the real future of the so called ‘alternative varieties’ lies in Aglianico, Montepulciano, Negroamaro, Nero d’Avola, Fiano and Vermentino. It won’t be long before some of them are no longer considered alternative.

The Chalmers range is definitely worth seeking out and the wines offer great value. Thanks for looking after us Kim and Tennille.

Here’s a mini photo essay of what we came to see.

PART I, VINO BIANCO

MOSCATO GIALLO

Not as in Moscato d’Asti, this is found in Alto Adige and makes outstanding dessert wines with remarkable concentration and freshness.

VERMENTINO

Looks like being the next big thing in white wine. Sauvignon need not panic just yet, but I know which wine I’d rather drink.

FIANO