Clare Valley winemakers Jim Barry Wines took a step towards a more sustainable Australian viticultural industry – and the launch of an exciting new white wine – by planting the first cuttings of Greek white wine grape variety Assyrtiko in Australian soil.
A chance tasting by managing director Peter Barry while holidaying on the Greek island of Santorini in 2007 started what has been a long journey of quarantine approval.
“Assyrtiko immediately stood out as a variety suited to the modern Australian palate,” Peter said.
“The fresh, crisp acidic qualities of the wine are perfect accompaniments to contemporary Australian food – it is a natural partner for our climate and cuisine.”
Embracing innovation in viticulture and winemaking is a hallmark of Jim Barry Wines. Founder, the late Jim Barry was a pioneer of Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Malbec in the Clare Valley region, and actively encouraged other winemakers to follow suit.
Peter is proud to follow in his father’s visionary viticultural footsteps, and sees the planting of Assyrtiko as a step toward growing grapes that have a sustainable future for the region.
“Assyrtiko is grown predominantly on Santorini in arid, windy and hot conditions,” Peter said.
“Clare is a cool district with good rainfall but we must face up to climate change and water scarcity and adapt our management appropriately.
“Varieties which can grow on minimal irrigation and still produce contemporary wine styles is what we all look for.
“We’re beginning with half a hectare of Assyrtiko using two dormant cuttings from a single vine – a true mother vine and Santorini clone,” explains Peter.
The cuttings were planted this week at the family’s Lodge Hill property in the Clare Valley on an east-facing slope at 480 metres, and celebrated appropriately with a Greek-style feast of grilled lamb.
Peter describes the process as a “labour of love” and an exercise in patience.
“The laborious process of importation and quarantine has discouraged many growers in Australia from trying something new,” Peter said.
“As an industry we all support that – we don’t want pests such as phylloxera or other diseases.
“But I don’t think it would have been possible without the assistance and encouragement from Robert Hill Smith and his team at Yalumba.
“The Yalumba nursery in the Barossa is fully accredited for quarantine and they advised and assisted us with the whole process.”
Wine from the Jim Barry Wines Assyrtiko vines is still five years away, but is well worth the wait, according to Peter.
“To make fine wine, you must exercise patience. By the time we release this wine, I will have committed 20 per cent of my life to this project – at least 10 years – but it is preferable to passing from this world and wondering ‘what if’!” Peter enthuses.
Assyrtiko (a-ser-ti-ko) comes from the island of Santorini, a Greek wine region located on the archipelago of Santorini in the southern Cyclades Islands of the Aegean Sea. Although wine was produced in Santorini by the Ancient Greeks, when the region was known as Thira, it was not until the Middle Ages that the wine of Santorini became famous under the influence of the Venetians.
Jim Barry Wines planting material was sourced from Argyros Winery, Santorini, as eight dormant cuttings from a single vine. Most vines on this property are 50-years-old or less but some are estimated to be around 300-years-old. Yiannis Argyros of Argyros Winery is widely considered to be the leading white winemaker in Greece.
More than 60 per cent of the world’s 1200 hectares of Assyrtiko are grown in Santorini. In fact to be labelled under the Santorini classification, the wine must contain 75 per cent or more of the Assyrtiko grape variety with the remaining 25 per cent made up from Athiri and/or Aidani. The remaining 400 hectares are grown in places such as Drama, Greece.
The Clare Valley is the first Australian planting.
Suited to a Mediterranean climate that is characterized by warm temperatures, low rainfall but moderate humidity during the growing season: highly resistant to most diseases; moderate to high vigour; extremely resistant to drought; highly adaptable to different soils and climates; traditionally grown very low to ground in baskets, never on trellis
“Assyrtiko has the rare ability of balancing breadth and power with high acidity and steely austerity. ….The flavours of this variety have a crystalline intensity and a moderate level of fruit that is never too sweet, raisiny or confected while the body combines extract with lean structure. In short the best Assyrtiko is akin to the finest Muscsdet on steroids – remarkable considering that it is grown in some of the hottest, sunniest driest vineyards on earth,” says Konstantinos Lazarskis in The Wines of Greece.