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Balnarring WineryCellar Door
James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion 2015
The 2015 edition of James Halliday’s “Australian Wine Companion” has recently been published and for the 11th year, Vale Wines have received his ♦♦♦◊ rating which he describes as a solid, usually reliable, maker of good to very good wines. This publication is probably the most authoritative manual on Australian wines with what I feel are the most honest appraisals of wines to be had from this part of the World. We have consistently been rated at 90 points or above in each of these years for our Riesling. The consistency of these ratings is gratifying as we are being compared to all regions of Australia and it shows that good quality Riesling can come from areas other than Clare and Eden Valley!

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Cool Climate Durif – You must be kidding!

Durif glass

No we are not! In 1999, we were researching unusual varieties for planting at our new vineyard at Balnarring on the Mornington Peninsula, some 65km. South of Melbourne, and noted that Durif was regarded as an early ripening variety (John Gladestones – Viticulture and Environment, 1992 page 67) along with Tempranillo (another variety we planted) and should be suitable to our site.

Discussions with various experts (including Dr. Richard Smart) indicated that Durif (Petite Syrah as it is known in USA) was very prone to bunch rot and our cool maritime climate with an annual rainfall of some 750 mm., would prove to be difficult. It had originally been developed in the Southern Rhone area of France by Dr. Durif in the late 19th century by crossing true Syrah with Peloursin, but, today, very little remains in France because of the bunch rot problems. A visit by our daughter Caroline to the Southern Rhone area found that Durif is still grown in small quantities to add colour and tannin to Rhone wines, but not declared as it falls outside the appellation controlee regulations.

Durif has been grown in the Rutherglen and Riverina areas of Australia for many years and has produced massive wines with great tannin structure, deep, deep colour and traditionally high alcohol levels ideally suited to long term cellaring. Would the Mornington Peninsula be able to tame the beast? Would the crop succumb to disease?

After 12 vintage experiences, we can now report the wine shows similar characteristics to the Rutherglen style, but with less ripe fruit, less tannin and a degree of spiciness derived from its Shiraz origins. This results in a more elegant style of red wine not dissimilar to a cool climate Shiraz.

The crop levels are enormous and judicious heavy pruning is necessary to achieve full ripening of the bunches. The 2015 vintage of Durif from our vineyard achieved an alcohol level of 14.5% and there was no bunch rot evident. Another great advantage of Durif is that it is not susceptible to Powdery Mildew – a constant problem in cool areas such as ours.

While Durif may not replace its parent – Shiraz as a mainstream variety in Australia, it offers a real alternative for those who like to try something different from a cool, maritime area.