It has been 20 years and more since the Barossa Valley — along with other parts of South Australia — witnessed old vines being ripped out of the ground.
In the 1980s, amid doom and gloom about the long-term financial sustainability of the wine industry, the government vine-pull scheme paid grape growers to a “grub out” vines. Many of these vines were very old, going back to the mid-19th century. Plenty of people were appalled by the vine-pull, but plenty of growers still ripped out their vines. And it is happening again, but this time for an entirely different reason, according to Ben Canaider, writing in Australia’s The Age…
Rather than being ripped out and turned into barbecue coals, these old vines are being carefully transplanted to safe paddocks where they might still prosper. The reason — like the vine-pull scheme — is fiscal but it is not short-sighted. It is preservative and hopeful.
The vines have so far been Shiraz vines, about 320 of them in a paddock inside the township of Tanunda, all dating back to the 1860s. Sitting there, they were in semi-retirement, a stone’s throw from Langmeil Winery. Langmeil, which dates from the 1840s, has been responsible for the transplanting. And no wonder. Being pathologically obsessed old-vine growers, the folks at Langmeil were loathe to see any more ancient vines go under the bulldozer’s blade.
But why the rampaging bulldozer in the first place? Development. Old vines have been recently ripped out to make way for housing. And development has been on the increase in the Barossa townships.
Realizing that more and more of the Barossa’s open spaces were being developed, and that this development was going to fundamentally change the nature of the area, the Barossa residents association decided something had to be done.
Taking on two councils, the association managed to have regulations changed so that people needed a minimum of 32 hectares on the flats to build one new house, or 121 hectares in the hills. It meant that the Barossa wouldn’t look like the never-ending Melbourne suburbs, but it also meant that town property grew to meet demand for housing development. And because the townships date from the mid-19th century, they contain a substantial number of old vines.
The logical thing was to transplant the vines. Langmeil director Carl Lindner spoke to Geoff Hardy, in the Adelaide Hills, who put him on to a tree transplanter. “The key is to keep the root ball intact and this machine that Carl used could take about a half a ton of soil and vine root out of the ground in one go,” Hardy says.
Lindner moved the 320 vines from Tanunda about 25 kilometers north to the old Kapunda Showgrounds. The transplant work, carried out in the winters of 2006 and 2007, has so far had a 90% success rate.
Yet it does come at a cost. The vine transplant might cost 20 or 30 times more than planting a typical vineyard.
These old vines are real time machines. They are new world Shiraz from pre-phylloxera roots. They effortlessly defy the Porty, fruit-bomb flavors that typify too many Australian Shiraz wines.
And they are the sort of wines that don’t need a marsupial on the label to sell.