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question mark over wine industry « Previous | |Next »
June 13, 2003

This is a publicity blurb. But we can read between the lines if we adopt the perspective of the cultural critic over at junk for code speaking as a wine consumer looking for wine with a clean and green image.

The key point is the threat of salinity to viticulture. The new technology will:

"...enable more effective irrigation management and will assist in halting the billion dollar losses in land and crops resulting from salinity across Australia...The rapid growth in Australia's wine industry, which is based on dramatic export growth in recent years, has seen a significant expansion in the irrigated vineyard area of Southern Australia. The long-term viability of many of these regions is threatened by rising water tables and salinity....The ability to effectively manage irrigation and salinity will ensure long-term economic and environmental sustainable in the wine industry and enable further expansion, in line with export growth."

So they can keep pouring River Murray water into closed valley systems to irrigate new vineyards and monitor the rising salinity levels. Managing the salinity levels through technology provides a way to avoid changing their current irrigation practices and move away from shifting to becoming high quality dry grain viticulturalists as a long term strategy.

Technology will save the day. It shows that the wine industry is environmentally friendly. The development-orientated politicians who are interest in small government and cost cutting can relax. The promise is a big one. With

"...the salinity probe it will be possible to implement a national monitoring system. The benefits to commercial irrigators will be improvements in crop management and risk management. The network will provide government authorities the ability to monitor water tables and salinity in hand with water infrastructure. This will enable an integrated management system at a substantially reduced cost than current alternatives and, in some instances, reduce the need for the major capital expenditure on remediation schemes."

A broader perspective to the technological one can be found here. It is one more concerned with long-term strategic issues of generating wealth whilst protecting and improving the environment.

The on-the-ground reality is that the poor handling of environmental issues by the wine industry will become the most serious potential impediment to its exports in the next decade. The scenario is this: Australian wines are rejected by overseas buyers (eg., Sainsburys and Tescos) because of their unsustainable practices that harm the catchment and the product. That scenario means that the clean and green image has gone.

The scenario means that the Australian wine industry can only survive if it can justify its clean and green image. If it does not, then it risks losing its export market share on environmental grounds.


These remarks by Philip White, the noted Adelaide-based wine critic, on the future of the wine industry reinforce, and supplement, the above arguments: He says:

"Winemakers tend to blame the cotton and rice growers for salinity, particularly in the Murray, but their record here is really bad. The aquifers of McLaren Vale, Polish Valley, Padthaway, Langhorne Creek, to an increasing degree, the Barossa Valley and even Coonawarra is [sic] not healthy, they are all very badly damaged by winemaking."


"In the last 30 years we had a really good opportunity to be the world's best dry grain viticulturists, instead of that we chose to be the world's best irrigators, and we have ridiculous figures where you know, it's up to a 1000 tonnes of water to make one tonne of cheap cask wine which is sold for less than the price of bottled water. That is not sustainable and if I was a shareholder from whichever country, I'd be very, very concerned about the future of that business."

There is a question mark over the industry.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:10 PM | | Comments (1)


much more attention needs to be paid to responsible viticulturalists in the vein of Sirromet Vineyards in Queensland, where all water from their culture processes and restaurant are treated on site and re-used in the vinyard. Where they aid their own power requirements through solar means and vine space is expanded only where irrigable resources from their own dams and reserves allow. Mind you, the product is less than export quality at present, but acceptable none-the-less. Reds more so than whites. Time will obviously be the telling factor.