“WITH TIME AND CARE AUSTRALIA OUGHT TO BE THE VINEYARD OF THE WORLD.”— GREATER BRITAIN.
Were I asked to name the one industry on which the prosperity of Australia must sooner or later rest, I should unhesitatingly answer, “On the cultivation of the vine.” And this must be so; for while there is every reason to know that it will be called for from abroad, it is absolutely certain that it will be required in our own territories. The chief purpose of this chapter, indeed, is to insist upon the value of our own wines as the most healthful and the most wholesome drink for Australian use. It is a strange anomaly this, that at the present period of our existence a declaration of this kind should be necessary. Yet it is only in keeping with the rest of our food habits, with their perpetual challenge to our semi-tropical environment; and hence we are confronted with the astounding fact that although we are practically Southern Europe, yet we follow a mode of living suitable only for a rigorous climate and a land of ice and snow.
Moreover, as I shall attempt to show, the Australian climate and soil are beyond all question naturally intended for the cultivation of the grape, so that there is no occasion to overcome the forces of nature; on the contrary, they are unceasingly giving us the greatest encouragement. Then, again, think what widespread prosperity the use of our own wine would bring about. Apart from its beneficial influence on the national health, it would cover the land with smiling vineyards, and give to enormous numbers a healthy livelihood; it would absorb thousands from the fever and fret of city wear and tear into the more natural life of the country; and lastly, it would relieve the abnormal congestion of our crowded centres, and do more to bring about widely distributed employment than any other industry.
The history of the introduction of the grape to Australian soil deserves more than bare reference to that event It will be remembered that Captain Cook discovered this territory in 1770; in November 1791, barely more than twenty years afterwards, the first vine was planted at Parramatta, near Sydney. Nothing can demonstrate the suitability of the climate and the soil for its cultivation more than this one fact, namely, that at the very beginning of Australian settlement it was plain enough that the land was meant for the grape; and there is an interesting historical association, well worthy of note, attached to this circumstance. By order of the Emperor Napoleon, the Great Napoleon, a voyage of discovery to the Southern Hemisphere was performed by a fully equipped expedition during the years 1801, 1802, 1803, and 1804. One of the naturalists, M.F. Peron, has given us an excellent account of his New South Wales experience, and after referring to the Parramatta vineyards as likely to be followed by the most excellent results, he goes on to say:—“By one of those chances which are inconceivable, Great Britain is the only one of the great maritime powers which does not cultivate the vine either in her own territories or her colonies, notwithstanding the consumption of wine on board her fleets and throughout her vast regions is immense.” This is another illustration of the old adage that lookers-on see most of the game, for this observant Frenchman has recorded an opinion the very truth of which comes well home to us. His remarks, moreover, open up a vista of what a great trade might be done with India in connection with our wines; indeed, it is this interchange of products which keeps the circulation going in the blood-vessels of commercial life.
Yet, although the vine was thus early started in Australia, it has since made but little progress, relatively speaking, in comparison with the great industry of wool-growing, and it will be appropriate to make this reference to the grape and the fleece conjointly, for the same name — that of John Macarthur — is intimately associated with both. In a small way sheep-breeding had been initiated soon after the settlement of Australia. But it was John Macarthur, by his introduction of the merino sheep in 1797, who gave the first impetus which led to the subsequent creation of the Australian wool trade. It was John Macarthur, too, who formed the first vineyard in Australia at Camden Park in 1815; though, as I have already said, the growth of the vine industry has not advanced with anything like the same rapidity as that of wool; if it had, Australia would now occupy a position second to none in the world.
It seems most fitting and opportune also to mention the fact that at the very time I am writing there is a proposal in the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD to do something to perpetuate our gratitude to John Macarthur. It is not often that one man has the opportunity of establishing two such great industries as wine-making and wool-growing. The benefits to Australia which have followed from the latter are altogether beyond calculation; for which alone the name of John Macarthur deserves to hold a place in the memory of Australians for ever, and if the wine industry had only been developed in like proportion, Australia’s prosperity would have marvellously increased. Knowing, therefore, what John Macarthur has done for Australia, it is to be hoped that before these lines see the light of day what is now proposed will be an accomplished fact.
The next most notable occurrence in the history of Australian viticulture is undoubtedly the action of James Busby who in 1828, says Mr. T.A. Coghlan in his WEALTH AND PROGRESS OF NEW SOUTH WALES, returned from Europe “with a large collection of cuttings from the most celebrated vineyards of France, Spain, the Rhine valley, and other parts of the continent of Europe, and started, on his estate at Kirkton, in the Hunter River district, a vineyard which has been the nursery of the principal vineyards of the Colony.” This was a more important event than would be imagined from a bare recital of the fact, for Busby has conferred upon Australian vines a high quality for all time to come in this way. His collection of cuttings from the best of the vineyards in Europe consisted of the choicest varieties or “cepages,” and this has been a matter for congratulation ever since. Fuller reference, however, will be made to this important subject a little farther on. what is certainly interesting also is that Busby was so impressed with the future of the Australian wine industry that in 1830 he published his MANUAL OF PLAIN DIRECTIONS FOR PLANTING AND CULTIVATING VINEYARDS, AND FOR MAKING WINE, IN NEW SOUTH WALES; and, as I have just said, the high qualities of our wines are due to him alone, so that the name of James Busby must always be gratefully remembered by all Australians.
It makes one think that these sturdy pioneers of former times had a greater belief in Australia and her possibilities, and more energy and foresight, than are apparently possessed nowadays. But while I am on the subject of the literature of Australian viticulture I must not forget to mention an excellent little pamphlet by James King in 1807, entitled, AUSTRALIA MAY BE AN EXTENSIVE WINE-GROWING COUNTRY. Indeed, James King was another of those far-seeing men who were convinced that there was a great future for the Australian wine industry; moreover, he did a good deal in the way of developing it by cultivating the grape and by making wine.
Now, there are certain figures connected with vine-growing and the consumption of wine which possess a great value in relation to Australian viticulture, inasmuch as they enable us to see more clearly its relative progress, and, what is more, they indicate its future possibilities. It is only by methods of this kind that we are enabled to form an accurate estimate of the condition of any industry. And besides this, too, they act as a — stimulus to increased exertion. But it will be still more interesting and instructive to make a comparison between the little which has been done in wine production and the almost incredible proportions of our wool industry. And when it is remembered that there was nothing to prevent the wine trade from attaining a magnitude very like to that of wool, it will be seen what magnificent opportunities have thus far been practically thrown away.
At present the whole of Australia annually produces only a little more than three million gallons of wine, while the yearly yield of France is 795; of Italy, 798; of Spain, 608; of Hungary, 180; and of Portugal, 132 million gallons. And another thing is that the whole of the five colonies of Australia and Tasmania have altogether no more than 48,099 acres under vine cultivation. The total amount of wine made in the six foregoing colonies for the year ending March 31st, 1892, was only 3,604,262 gallons. The city of Paris itself requires nearly 300,000 gallons of wine daily, so that this single city would consume in 12 DAYS all the wine which the whole of Australia takes 12 MONTHS to make. So far back as 1875 the production was 1,814,400,602 gallons. And lastly, there is just one more fact worth remembering which is that the approximate value of the 1890 vintage to France was nearly 40,000,000 l. sterling.
Let us see, on the other hand, the gigantic strides on the part of wool. In 1805 the amount of wool exported from Spain was 6,895,525 lbs., and from Australia NIL. In 1811, however, Australia exported the modest quantity of 167 lbs. In 1861 the exportation from Spain had fallen to 1,268,617 lbs., while from Australia it had increased to 68,428,000 lbs. In 1891 New South Wales alone produced 357,096,954 lbs., representing a value of 11,036,018 l. And lastly, the wool exportation of Australia and Tasmania (not reckoning New Zealand) for the same year reached the enormous figures of 593,830,153 lbs., with a value of 20,569,093 l.
The disproportion between the attention which has been given to viticulture and that which has been bestowed upon wool-growing is well brought out in the following table:—
TABLE showing the value of the total amount of WINE produced in the FIVE COLONIES OF AUSTRALIA (including both that for local use and that for export) for the year ending March 31st, 1892; and the value of WOOL (only that exported, and therefore irrespective of that locally required) for the FIVE AUSTRALIAN COLONIES and TASMANIA alone, and not including that exported from NEW ZEALAND, for the year 1891:—
Total value of Australian wine (local use as well as export) produced for the year ending March 31st, 1892, only about. . . . . . . . ..800,000
Value of wool exported from Australia and Tasmania alone in 1891 (and therefore irrespective of the additional value of that locally required), not less than. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20,569,093
From the foregoing, therefore, it will be apparent that the whole subject of Australian viticulture is one of tremendous importance; and I am strongly of opinion that practical results will only be brought about by awakening in the mind of the Australian public an active interest in everything connected with this, though yet undeveloped, great wine industry. With that object in view, therefore, it will be my endeavour to bring forward those main points of viticulture which it is most desirable should be widely known. But such an attempt, to be successful, must largely depend upon the arrangement which is adopted, for it is impossible to do more than take up the principal matters concerned with the space which is at my disposal. The scheme which has been devised will, it is hoped, help to a clear understanding of the subject.
If there is one reason more than any other why the wine industry should sorely reach to colossal dimensions, it is that the climate is naturally adapted for the cultivation of the vine. Although human effort and human skill can overcome what looked to be almost insuperable difficulties, they cannot, as we know, fight against climate. Hence, having a climate created, as it were, for the growth of the grape, there can be no possible excuse offered for its neglect. Indeed, as I have already shown, the suitableness of the climate for this purpose directly attracted the attention of the first arrivals, and as a consequence the vine was actually planted a few years after the discovery of Australia.
There are three constituents, namely, heat, light, and moisture, which in varying proportions make up what is known as climate. The first two, heat and light, are derived from the same source — the sun — and may, therefore, be conveniently considered together. The more heat and light a vine receives the more vigorously it grows. What is more important, however, is that the wine from it becomes stronger. It gains in strength because the percentage of glucose increases in the must: the must being the juice pressed from the grape, but in which fermentation has not commenced. Accordingly we find that the wines of the warmer regions in new South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia are much stronger than those from the cooler parts.
It is important to remember that the unripe berries of the grape contain several acids, notably tartaric, citric, and malic acids. As the fruit begins to ripen, these acids act upon the various substances, namely, starch, gum, dextrine, lignine, cellulose, &c., also contained within it, and grape sugar or glucose is formed in consequence with the advent of ripening, therefore, the fruit becomes richer in sugar and poorer in acids; part of the acids, in addition, is neutralised by the mineral salts which are absorbed by the roots. These acids, however, are not so thoroughly neutralised in a cooler climate, and as a result the wine has often a sour, crude taste. The warmer the climate the more alcohol the wine will contain; indeed, it may become too strong. On the contrary, the cooler the climate the more of acid there will be, and it may possess in consequence a crude, sharp taste. But these are matters which can be rectified by choosing the right varieties of grape for the different localities, and by their proper cultivation.
The third element concerned in the climate, namely, moisture, has now to be considered, and it is important from the fact that in a moister climate the percentages both of glucose and of acids in the grape are diminished. It is also important for another reason, namely, that while heat and light are unalterable, moisture may be produced by irrigation. This constitutes one of the vexed questions connected with viticulture, and the most diverse opinions have been expressed about it. Some believe that irrigation is of great value, while others cannot say enough against it. But it would seem that when judiciously employed it is of unquestionable advantage. It renders the cultivation of the grape possible in places where it would otherwise be impossible; it largely increases the yield; and, what certainly must not be forgotten, it enables a lighter wine to be produced in the warmer regions. And another argument in favour of irrigation is this, that there is far more fertilizing matter in river water than in rain water. Hence it is that irrigation greatly enriches the land and increases the yield. It is thus a powerful aid, and because its advantages have been abused, that is no reason why it should not be made use of in a rational and scientific manner.
There is still another matter connected with this question of climate, namely, the aspect of the vineyard, which should be referred to because many different views are held upon it. But, as in all similar cases where there are such decidedly antagonistic opinions, it will be found that the arguments are not maintained from the same standpoint. So in this case the importance or non-importance of the aspect depends altogether upon the climate, and upon the locality — whether it be level or hilly. On level ground the aspect is not nearly so important. On hilly land it makes a considerable difference, from this circumstance, that in Australia the northern side of a hill is always hotter than that facing the south. In the hot regions, therefore, a hill slope facing towards the south is preferable; while in the cooler districts, since more warmth is required, a situation with a northern aspect is necessary. It is often said that hilly ground is better for the cultivation of the vine than level land. This is certainly true as far as cold localities are concerned, because a warmer aspect can then be chosen, and there will also be more shelter and better drainage.
People as a rule run away with the idea that the soil for the grape must necessarily be of a rich character. Even the farmer, thinking of wheat growing, and the market-gardener, thinking of his turnips, are apt to entertain a similar belief. But the truth is that the vine is a hardy plant and will grow in almost any place that is not water-logged or otherwise unsuitable. In America the definition of a soil adapted for the grape is expressed in the following phrase:—“Land that is suitable for vine-glowing is land that is not suitable for anything else.” This is of course an extravagant way of stating the matter, still it is worth recalling. We may say this much, however, that almost any soil will do for the vine, provided that it does not bake and crack in the summer, nor get wet and boggy in the winter. A simple test is said to be adopted by the vine-growers of the Rhine. A specimen of the soil is put into an earthenware vessel into which boiling water is poured to cover it, after which it is undisturbed for three days. If the water on being tasted gives a mouldy or salty taste, the soil is believed to be unsuitable.
In considering the soil we must pay heed to its physical and its chemical characters. By its physical characters we mean its looseness or stiffness, its depth, and its colour. This looseness is a matter of much importance. It fulfils the great indication required in a soil for grape-growing; that is, a soil which will not remain damp after having been well wet. There is a marked difference between a stiff clayey soil which dries up and cracks in summer, and a loose soil which is always moist a little below the surface.
The depth of the soil is a matter that varies in accordance with the climate. In warm districts the vine requires more room for development, and goes deeper. In the cooler regions it has a sufficiency of moisture, and can content itself with a shallower soil. The colour of the soil, like its depth, is a matter of consequence according to the climate. A dark soil absorbs heat, becoming hotter consequently, while it reflects but little on the plant above. On the other hand, a light-coloured soil absorbs very little heat, but reflects almost the whole of the rays upwards upon the vine. From this it follows that a dark soil is better in a cooler climate, because there is generally an excess of moisture; while a light colour is more suitable in the warm regions, for the moisture is then retained.
The chemical constituents of the soil play no inconsiderable part in assisting the development of the vine. Of these, however, there are only five — namely, nitrogen, phosphorus, potash, calcium, and iron — to which it is necessary to draw attention. For the successful cultivation of wheat and other cereals a richly nitrogenous soil is invaluable; for turnips and maize one rich in phosphorus is of great advantage; but for the vine potash is of considerable importance. It is true that nitrogen and phosphorus are necessary for the production of the vine wood, but it is for the fruit itself that the potash is so much required. As it is well known, the deposit known as winestone or “cream of tartar,” on the inside of the cask by the fermentation of wine, is really tartrate of potash. In a similar way the potato is a plant which requires a supply of potash, and without it there is a manifest diminution in the crop. But in the case of the vine, unless there is a sufficiency of potash, the leaves do not attain to their full development; the stem is stunted to one-fourth of its natural size; and there is little or no fruit at all. Calcium or lime has a marked effect in increasing the strength of the wine. For this reason, therefore, this element is more necessary in the cooler than in the warm regions. And finally, there is that other chemical constituent of the soil, which deserves a brief notice, and it is iron. Now, the presence of iron therein has a distinct effect in deepening the colour of a wine. This is without doubt the reason why our Australian wines, as a general rule, are so rich in colour.
Many words connected with viticulture are of French origin, as might be expected considering that it is a land where the wine industry is such a source of wealth. The term “cepage” (pronounced say-pazh) is one of these, and it possesses quite a distinctive and particular significance, so that a little explanation is necessary. The vine family is divided into several species, of which the ordinary grape vine, VITIS VINIFERA, is the most important. Of the VITIS VINIFERA there are many, more or less distinct, sorts of “cepages”; and the value of the word lies in the fact that it serves as a means of distinguishing all these different varieties. Originally a native of Asia Minor, there are now over a thousand sorts of European vines. Of these quite a number are already cultivated in Australia, and a brief reference to a few will help to a better understanding of the term “cepage.”
Of the red grapes the following may be instanced:— The Carbenet (pronounced Car’-ben-ay); of which-there are two varieties, the GROS or large, and the SAUVIGNON or smaller kind. The latter is perhaps the choicest of all the red wine grapes, and has a characteristic flavour, with delicious bouquet and perfume. It forms the basis of all the best vineyards of Bordeaux, and is largely cultivated in Australia, for it does well in the cooler parts. And it will be just as well to take this opportunity of referring to the word “Carbenet,” as in Australia it is much too often erroneously spelt “Cabernet.” The best authorities, however, are all in favour of “Carbenet” as the proper mode of spelling. In the same way an unfortunate orthography in the case of Riesling, which was given as “Reisling” in the London exhibition of 1886, gave a writer in the SATURDAY REVIEW the opportunity of a tirade against Australian wine-makers.
The Pinot (pronounced Peen’-o) Noir or Noirier will serve excellently to demonstrate the significance of the word “cepage.” This is the dominating grape of the best vineyards of Burgundy, and enters into the composition of many famous wines, such as Romanee–Conti Chambertin, Corton, &c.; just as the Carbenet Sauvignon belongs to the renowned clarets of Bordeaux, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Lafitte, and Chateau Latour. This black Burgundy does well in our cooler regions, and is usually pruned short, although it gives far better results with long pruning.
Shiraz (pronounced Shir-az’) is another red variety which is extensively cultivated in Australia. It is the grape from which the celebrated Hermitage red wine of France is made, and was first planted by a monk, who brought the cuttings from Shiraz, in Persia. It is one of our most reliable red varieties, and prospers best in a moderate temperature. But the white varieties will perhaps afford us a better idea of the expression “cepage,” for three different varieties may be adduced, whose characteristics are well known. First of all there is Riesling (pronounced Rees’-ling, but too often, as I have just mentioned, erroneously spelt Reisling), whose prototype is that delicate Riesling of the Rhine, from which those famous wines of the Rheingau, namely Steinberg, Marcobrunner, Johannisberg, as well as Hock, are made. It is probably the best of our white wines, and does well in the cooler districts. But it should be borne in mind that long pruning is indispensable for it, as it gives very poor crops when pruned short.
Then we have Tokay (pronounced Tok’-ay), so nearly corresponding to the Furmint, which is the chief grape grown in the well-known Tokay vineyards of Hungary. It yields a most excellent wine, and does well in the same regions as the preceding. And lastly, Verdeilho (pronounced Ver-dell’-o) deserves to be referred to amongst the white wines. It is the principal white variety grown in Madeira, and Madeira is a wine that is especially held in repute. It is better suited for the warm districts, and requires to be completely ripe before vintage.
It was a most fortunate thing for Australia, therefore, that her pioneers in viticulture were men like James Busby, who obtained their plants from the finest “cepages” in Europe. And this is a magnificent legacy which must inevitably exercise a powerful influence for ever on the Australian vine. Mr. Hubert de Castella drew special attention to this very fact in his paper read before the Royal Colonial Institute, London, in 1888: so that a beginning was made under the most auspicious conditions.
There are some interesting facts in connection with the different “cepages” which are certainly worth noticing. If the climate and the soil in one place be similar to the climate and soil in another, each variety — LE CEPAGE— of the grape will always produce the same wine. Thus some vineyards on the Yarra, Victoria, having a similar climate and similar soil to one of the great Bordeaux districts of France, produced a wine hardly to be distinguished from that of the latter. Then, again, one vine may produce a choice wine in one locality, but only an indifferent growth in another; and, conversely, a different “cepage” which does well in the latter region is almost a failure in the former. For instance, in France, the Gamay in the Beaujolais district, in which the soil is granitic, gives a superior wine to the Pinot; but, on the other hand, the Pinot in the Burgundy country, where there is a limestone formation, gives forth a world-famous wine, whilst the Gamay is nowhere in comparison.
Next, it is necessary to remember that the effect of a warmer climate is to increase the alcoholic strength of a wine. At the same time, however, it must not be forgotten that this effect is greater in some varieties than in others. One “cepage,” giving in a cool region a wine of 18 per cent. of alcohol, when transported to a warmer locality may show an increase to 26 per cent. of alcohol. Another “cepage,” showing 20 per cent. in the lower temperature, may only develop 23 per cent. in the hotter districts.
It will be evident from the preceding that the greatest discrimination is necessary in the selection of the variety for any particular region; and from the knowledge at present at the vine-grower’s command he can do no more than form an approximate opinion of the “cepage” likely to suit his locality best. It is recommended, therefore, that new planters, before starting their vineyards, should carefully observe what varieties are giving the best results at any neighbouring vineyards; if some appear to be doing better than others, they should stick to the successful kinds. And again, it is advisable that they should be chary of what plants other wine-growers extol, when perhaps the latter are in another part of the country altogether and under totally different conditions of climate and soil. Instead of committing themselves to a large purchase, therefore, they should plant a selection of several varieties, and find out those which are the most suitable.
It is not my purpose to enter fully into the entire subject of grape-growing, for that is too extensive to be dealt with here; nevertheless, there are many points about it of Australian concern, over which there has been considerable discussion. This shows that our vignerons, instead of placidly following out old lines, are determined to find out for themselves the methods which will give the best results. That such a spirit is in active existence is unquestionably a source of satisfaction to those who have the welfare of Australian viticulture at heart, for it is only by a determination to find out the best course to be pursued in the many points connected with grape-growing, and more especially with wine-making, that we can hope to reach perfection.
And although we have the climate, and the soil, and everything in our favour, yet it must be recollected that there are vignerons of the very highest excellence in the old wine-making countries, and that it will only be by surpassing them that we can hope to secure the markets of the world. As I have already said, my own belief is that the best way of infusing vigour into our wine-making industry is to arouse public interest in the subject; and with that object in view, therefore, I shall endeavour to bring forward those matters which are of Australian viticultural importance.
Even at the outset we come against a disputed point, about which there has been, and is still, considerable diversity of opinion. It is to what depth the ground should be cultivated. On the one hand, there are some who affirm that a shallow depth of 8 or 9 inches, or even of 6 inches, is quite a sufficient penetration of the soil for most land; but, on the other, there are many who, while conceding the fact that a superficial cultivation like this may be successful for a few years, are strongly opinioned that a deeper working is eventually necessary. More than this, they contend that, even admitting good results were obtained by simple ploughing, yet they would have been still better with a deeper working. It would seem, however, that climate has a good deal to do with the matter. In the hot districts the vine attains a far greater development than in the cooler parts, and the roots require a deep soil. And besides this, in the warm regions the wine is naturally too strong, and the deeper the soil is worked the lighter the wine will be.
But there is one thing in particular which should not be overlooked, and it is that the land should be in a state of fine sub-division. One American writer insists that the ground before planting should be “as fine as bolted flour.” This expression serves very well to show the importance of a thorough pulverisation of the soil; and the best results are certainly obtained .where this is energetically carried out.
The next thing in order is that of laying out the vineyard, in which it will be desirable to consider what distance apart the vines are to be planted. This matter of spacing the vines is one about which there is still considerable disagreement; and the question as to whether they should be planted near to one another, or far apart, is yet unsettled. But the truth is no inflexible rule can be laid down, as the climate, the soil, and the “cepage” all exercise a controlling influence. It seems to be generally admitted that in the warm districts the vines should be planted farther apart than in the cooler regions.
In a hot climate the vigour of the plant is increased by the great amount of light and heat which it receives. The must will be too strong, therefore, and it is only by planting the vines at a greater distance apart than usual, and also by pruning very long, that the resulting wine will be rendered sufficiently light in strength. In a cooler region, on the other hand, where the vigour of the plant is less, the crop on each vine must be reduced by short pruning, so as to increase the percentage of glucose in the must and ensure a good wine. And where the size of the plant is lessened by this method of pruning, the vines must be placed closer together in order to make use of all the available soil. This latter itself has also to be thought of in this matter of spacing the vines. In a rich soil, where the vigour of the plant is increased, the vines should be placed farther apart; in a poor soil, on the contrary, they should be planted closer together.
Mr. Francois de Castella, formerly Expert to the Board of Viticulture, the author of THE HANDBOOK ON VITICULTURE FOR VICTORIA, and who is now the proprietor of the Tongala vineyard, in an instructive article on viticulture in Victoria lays down the following rules with regard to the spacing of vines:—“THERE IS FOR EACH LOCALITY, WITH THE SAME CONDITIONS OF SOIL AND CLIMATE, A CERTAIN DISTANCE, WE MAY CALL THE OPTIMUM, AT WHICH VINES WILL THRIVE BEST; IF THIS DISTANCE BE INCREASED THEY WILL NOT IMPROVE, AND MAY EVEN DETERIORATE. Unless this be a distance which cannot conveniently be worked by horse labour, it would evidently be a waste of land to plant any wider, and would entail the use of unnecessary labour for its cultivation. It would be just as foolish to plant vines any closer than this, as it would give unnecessary pruning, disbudding, tying up, &c. — that is, if the climate be such that grapes will ripen satisfactorily.
“I have come to the conclusion that in our district (Lilydale, a cool region) the optimum distance is 4 1/2 by 4 1/2 feet, practically 2,000 vines per acre, at least in the poorer soils; and, after careful observation, I am of opinion that vines planted any wider will not bear more fruit. This is, however, rather too close to be conveniently worked by horse labour. I should, therefore, recommend 5 by 5 feet. But on the Murray (a warm region) this distance would not suit at all, and I believe that the vine-growers are right to plant 8 by 8, and even 10 by 10 feet, in that district.
“In conclusion, I would advise every vine-grower starting in a new district to determine by experiment what is his optimum distance. He can make a pretty good guess from observations of soil and climate, and for the rest let him, instead of planting all his vineyard on one scale, plant different blocks at different distances apart, so that if he wishes to extend his vineyard later on he may know what is the most suitable way to do so. By a careful consideration of these and other points which regulate the growth and development of the vine, and a practical application of the deductions drawn from them, it is possible for the intelligent vigneron to obtain from his land a maximum of return with a minimum of labour, and also to regulate the strength of his wine so as to suit the requirements of trade, thus making viticulture one of the most remunerative as well as most attractive branches of agriculture.”
In France, especially in the northern districts, the vines are placed much closer together than ever they are in Australia, and this means that only hand labour can be employed. But it has to be remembered that the scarcity of manual labour with us makes it necessary to arrange the vineyard with enough width between the plants for a horse. rt is desirable, however, not to go to the other extreme and space the vines at too great a distance from each other; indeed, in favour of a closer planting, the following influencing circumstances should be borne in mind. In the elevated regions, where the rainfall is ample, the vines may be planted closer together than on the plains or on the lower slopes; firstly, because there is no fear as to a sufficiency of water; and secondly, for the reason that the vines, by being nearer together, protect one another from the inclement weather. Spring frosts also are very liable to occur in certain localities; and here again the vines, by being brought closer together, afford shelter to each other from the direct rays of the sun, which are particularly injurious when coming on top of a severe frost.
Then again, although some believe that in dry districts it is better to give each vine plenty of space, yet there are others who are of opinion that a closer formation is rather an advantage. And on this account: that since the roots come in contact with one another, they are compelled to strike deeper in search of water — just in the very place it is desirable they should go. In addition to the foregoing, it must not be forgotten that a dark-coloured soil absorbs more of the sun’s heat than one of lighter colour; just as a dark coat is hotter to wear than a light-coloured one. For this reason, therefore, it is better for the plants to be closer together in a dark soil, since the shadow of the vines will then be over the root-producing areas.
In the SOUTH AUSTRALIA VINEGROWERS’ MANUAL, which has been prepared by Mr. George Sutherland, under instructions from the Government of South Australia, the author expresses this conviction: That a very large proportion of the new vineyards of South Australia will be planted wide, especially in the warmer districts and on the lower rises of the foothills; but that after all 6 feet may be found the most suitable on more elevated localities, where we shall have to look for some of the best wines of the claret and hock type. One leading Californian authority, according, to Mr. Sutherland, was a great advocate for wide planting. After an exhaustive inquiry into the matter, however, throughout the wine-producing countries of Europe, he became quite converted, and believed in closer planting. Mr. Francois de Castella also records the fact that in a block of vines at St. Hubert’s (Lilydale, Victoria), every second vine was rooted out on one-half of the block. After ten years it was found that on the whole the closer wines had done better than those from which every alternate vine was rooted out.
There is another somewhat disputed matter connected with viticulture, which deserves a little notice; and it is the relative merits of planting cuttings or rooted vines in the vineyard. The majority of the witnesses examined by the Royal Commission on Vegetable Products in Victoria, 1889, admitted that cuttings ultimately produced a better vine. But, as in some of the preceding points at issue, may it not be that climate and soil have a great deal to do with the results? Signor Romeo Bragato, the Expert to the Board of Viticulture in Victoria, in his HINTS TO INTENDING VINE-GROWERS, recommended cuttings, not only for cheapness, but because if planted in the vineyard at the first they did not require removal.
In the course of his advice he proceeded to remark:—“The ways used here and elsewhere by the vine-grower are two — namely, by cuttings, and rooted vines — but they do not always agree which of the two is the better. There are many who say that, for the new plantation, rooted vines must be preferred; others maintain that it is better to plant by cuttings, because they grow more nourishing and give the vine a longer life. Both these methods are good and to be recommended; but, in a general way, I would advise you to stick to the cuttings, and that not only because by planting them you will have a sensible economy, but also because if you plant the cuttings in the vineyard you will never have to more them. If you use rooted vines, it is impossible, notwithstanding all your care and attention, for you to carry them from the nursery to the vineyard without hurting their roots, which are very delicate.
“ But if the ground which you intend to plant with vines were loose and arid, then I would never hesitate to advise you to always use in that case rooted vines, because the cuttings without roots would not absorb the rainy water which in such kind of soil runs away in the same time it takes to fall. This is the reason why, in such a soil, the cuttings seldom strike.
“On the selection of the cuttings depends the future of the vineyard, but of this the vine-growers are not sufficiently persuaded, because they do not pay all the attention required for this delicate operation. In fact, when in the vineyards in order to cut the cuttings, they take the thin and thicks — those growths on the new wood and on the old — without making any distinction, and without knowing if the old vine gives fruit or not. Many also, without other care, leave their cuttings in the vineyard for months exposed to the air, sun, and rain; not thinking that the very porous wood gets dry very quickly, and becomes weak near the buds. Others, again, buy their cuttings without knowing to what variety of vine they belong, and how they were preserved. It is not surprising, therefore, that these negligent vine-growers, after having incurred great expense in preparing the soil and planting the vineyard, besides having their vineyard planted with so many varieties, are compelled to pull up a great number of cuttings that have not struck, or, having struck, do not carry fruit.”
The young vine takes about four years to reach its fruit-bearing stage. During this time the plant requires to be properly trained so as to obtain the best results from the growing grape. Now, although there are many different systems of rearing vines, yet in the main they consist of an upright stem or trunk, and an upper part or crown — the latter varying considerably in shape. Thus we have the “gooseberry-bush” style, which is employed for those vines requiring short pruning. Then there is the “trellising” style, for the long-pruned varieties, in which the vine is trained to a great distance along a wire. Indeed, these two methods may be taken to represent the two main styles of training the vine; although the different modifications used in various countries are almost endless.
There is, however, one important point which requires attention, no matter what system is adopted, and it is the height of the vine above the ground. The nearer a vine is to the ground, the more radiated light and heat it receives, and as a consequence its resulting nine is stronger. In vines so near the ground, also, the alkaline dust arising from the soil neutralises the natural acid of the fruit, and prejudicially affects the fermentation of the wine.
As a matter of fact the earthy taste — GOUT DE TERROIR— which is sometimes present in wine, is believed to be caused by a certain amount of soil being present on the grapes during fermentation. This must be looked to, especially in the warmer districts, where by giving the wine a greater distance above the ground, a lighter, more delicate, and better wine, quite free from the foregoing demerit, is produced.
The testimony of experts throughout Australia is unanimously in favour of raising the vine sufficiently above the ground, so as to keep the grapes well off the soil, and also to provide for the free circulation of air beneath. It is true that in some parts of the Continent the practice for ages has been to keep the vines well down against the earth. But this is done to secure the advantages of the radiated heat, and enable the grapes to ripen. In Australia, however, even in the elevated districts, the sun is usually warm enough to ripen the grapes without this being necessary.
Before leaving these references to the growing of the grape I purpose making a few remarks upon pruning, a subject which is as interesting as it is important. The objects of pruning are manifold. By it the cultivation of the wine is facilitated; the best results are obtained from each variety of grape; the yield is increased; the product is more uniform in character; and the quality of the wine is vastly improved. But a great deal of the work of pruning is so entirely technical that it would utterly fail to possess any attraction for the general reader. Consequently I shall attempt no more than to briefly refer to those particular matters which are of Australian concern.
Now, it is laid down as a rule for pruning that some vines should be pruned short, while others require long pruning; that is to say, one variety of wine requires to be repressed, as it were, and in another the branches have to be kept long to produce a superior quality of wine. The explanation is that while the sap is on its way through the roots, the stem, the branches, and the shoots of the vine, for the production of fruit, it is distilled out, so to speak, during its passage from the earth to the fruit. As Mr. George Sutherland prettily puts it, the grape is, in fact, the crowning product of the whole plant. In this way, the farther the sap has to travel through the whole vine on its way to the growing fruit, the better will the resulting wine be.
To a certain extent this is true of all vines, but more especially so in the case of Shiraz and some of the Pinots. In various districts of France, in order to bring the grape to perfection, the vine-growers will train out their main branches along trellises to a length of 50 and even 60 feet, so as to give the sap the longest possible distance to travel; and, further, for the purpose of concentrating into the fruit the whole result of the wine, all the buds and little shoots, which would distract therefrom, are carefully taken away. This gives to the vine a very curious look, but it serves well to illustrate how greatly wines differ as to whether they require short or long pruning. It also helps to a better understanding of the two main styles of training the vine already mentioned, namely, the “gooseberry bush” and the “trellising.”
The fact that this elaboration of the sap in long-pruned vines requires a long distance to intervene between the roots and the fruit itself, is one of considerable importance. It is necessary to remember, however, that cultivation of this kind requires additional labour. Moreover, one of the principal reasons why the short-pruned vine has become such a favourite in Australia is that it is a labour-saving vine, and therefore its adoption is almost a necessity. But, as Mr. Sutherland remarks, “there is no doubt that Australia can never hope to produce in any quantity the finest qualities of wine until the vignerons attend more to those practices which depend essentially upon the fundamental fact that the sap flows with different habits through different varieties of vines; and, therefore, that some vines require short pruning, while it is even more important to remember that others will only yield satisfactorily under a system of long pruning.”
In a paper on viticulture, at Mildura, which was drawn up for the Royal Commission on Vegetable Products in 1890, Mr. Francois de Castella, a former expert to the Board of Viticulture, Victoria, has condensed so much knowledge within a small compass that I have quoted the following:—
“Most of the settlers I met told me that they intended to prune their vines short. Now, in my opinion, they could not make a greater mistake — for wine-growing, at least; as for raisin-growing I have never taken any interest in the subject, and, having no experience, do not wish to express an opinion on it. I must say that all the settlers I had occasion to speak to were raisin-growers, but I should warn any future wine-grower at Mildura, who may chance to read these few notes, to beware of short pruning.
“Most of our vineyard labourers come from the cold parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, where grapes ripen with difficulty under ordinary circumstances, and where the vine does not take any considerable development. There, short pruning has to be resorted to in order to make a drinkable wine. When these men arrive in Australia they bring all their old habits and prejudices with them, and tell the inexperienced vineyard proprietor that long pruning weakens the vine. The proprietor, thinking that they know more about the subject than he does, allows them to do as they like, and they set to work to cut the vine down to such an extent that, unable to take advantage of the genial climate to which it has been transplanted, it gives only one-eighth or one-tenth of the quantity of grapes it could be made to bear with intelligent pruning, besides being much weakened; whereas long-pruning strengthens a vine if the climate be favourable to its development.
“Another disadvantage of short pruning in warm climates is the well-known fact that the less grapes you have on the vine, the more glucose the must will contain; therefore, instead of making much more per acre of a drinkable wine, which they easily could do, they content themselves with a much smaller quantity per acre of a wine which ferments so badly that alcohol has to be added to prevent the production of lactic acid, resulting from the excessive temperature reached during fermentation favouring the development of this particular germ.
“The resulting wine, a curious mixture of alcohol, sugar, lactic acid, and water, is most unpalatable, sour, uninviting, and unwholesome. besides ruining the name of Australian wine when sold as such.
“I may here warn vine-growers against the advice given to them by some would-be authorities, who tell them they can make a light wine by picking grapes before they are ripe. This is absurd. The unripe grape contains a certain percentage of vegetable acids, such as tartaric, malic, &c., &c. some of which are themselves converted into glucose during the process of ripening, whilst others are eliminated after helping to transform the starch of the vegetable tissues into glucose. It stands to reason that if the fruit be picked before complete maturity, these acids, which are not capable of fermenting, will be found unchanged in the wine produced, thereby rendering it acid and undrinkable. It is, of course, necessary, in warm climates, to pick the grapes before they get over-ripe or shrivel up; but it would be just as foolish to rush to the other extreme, and pick the fruit too soon.
“If, instead of blindly following the mode of culture which has been adopted in a cold climate, the vine-grower would listen to the dictates of reason, and were to try a few inexpensive experiments, he would soon find out his mistake, and confer a boon on himself as well as on his neighbour, not to speak of the consumers of his wine.
“Even in the cooler districts of Victoria, such as the Yarra Valley, I do not know of any variety of vine which is weakened by long pruning, even in a series of years; while certain varieties are so influenced by short pruning as to bear no fruit at all. If this be the case on the Yarra, how much more must it be so on the Murray?”
Mr. de Castella then referred to some other matters connected with the practices followed at Mildura, and concluded with these encouraging words:—
“I contend that no other culture will give such magnificent returns, do so much good to a country, or have greater attractions for the happy proprietor of the vineyard, as there is no branch of agriculture which presents such a vast field for experimental research, or which is so extensively benefited by the practical application of scientific laws and principles, as viticulture.”
Up till this time our whole attention has been taken up with everything that has to do with the production of the grape. But with the gathering of the crop a complete change has taken place, for nature no longer exercises such a controlling influence. At this stage the art of winemaking really begins, and the climate, the soil, and all the other factors that have so much to do with the growth of the grape assist us no longer. From the moment that the grapes are gathered till the wine is ready for bottling is a most eventful period; for, during this important time, under proper treatment, wine may be made to reach perfection.
Indeed, it is only by paying the most minute attention to all the details connected with the making of wine that Australian vignerons will succeed in placing our wines before all others; because it is very important to remember that the must produced in Australia is equal, if not superior, to any in the world. Now, all that follows this portion relates to wine-making alone; and it should for that very reason, therefore, possess a special interest for us. Moreover, it will be a good thing for the wine industry, for Australia, and for her people, when such an interest becomes part of our daily life.
Naturally the first thing to suggest itself, therefore, in the making of the wine, is the place in which it is made. There is no doubt that in Australia the importance of a proper cellar has never been sufficiently appreciated. But the French have a proverb, “the cellar makes the wine,” showing that it plays no inconsiderable part in the production of good wine. As Mr. Walter W. Pownall, the representative of the Australian Wine Company, explained before the Vegetable Products Commission in Victoria, a knowledge of cellar routine and cellar work would aroid the spoiling of much good wine. A man thinks when he has grown the wine that is all that is necessary. But the fact is, a wine-grower has never done with his wine till it has passed out of his hands.
There was a valuable pamphlet on Australian wines written by the late Doctor Bleasdale, of Melbourne, in 1876. It is now out of print, and regrettedly so, for the worthy Doctor was one of the best connoisseurs of wine Australia ever had. Mr. L. Bruck, the well-known medical publisher of Sydney, however, has placed me under considerable obligation by giving me his own copy, and in the preface therein I note that the author, in speaking of this very question, remarks:—“I would here reiterate what I have often stated, namely, that if the cellar management in the three colonies were equal to the magnificent produce of the vines, no “country on the earth could surpass, in quality and variety “of kinds, Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales.”
Then again, Mr. James Smith, of Melbourne, in the course of his admirable prize essay on Australian wine, which appeared in GREVILLE’S YEAR BOOK OF AUSTRALIA for 1886, has these observations on this subject:—“It is, however, in the management of the cellar that one must look for the most efficient means of securing that uniformity of quality which I regard as such an important desideratum. If it be not a science, it is certainly an art requiring special knowledge, training, and experience, combined, perhaps, with natural aptitude. And it is precisely in this respect, I fear, that our deficiency in Australia is greatest.
“In the wine-making countries of Europe the cellarmaster is an expert who inherits the skill, traditions, methods, and usages of many generations of men who have adopted and followed the same calling. His organs of smell and taste have been educated to practise the nicest discrimination of flavour and odour, and if the vintage of a particular year differs in quality from that of its predecessor, he knows how, by a judicious blending of the old with the new, of the highly-coloured with the pallid, to arrive at that uniformity which is so indispensable.”
The cellar must neither be too damp nor too dry. Any excess of dampness would rot the casks and give a musty taste to the wine; while, on the contrary, in too dry a cellar the staves of the casks would shrink and cause leakage. The cellar is usually kept somewhat dark. The openings for the admission of air and light should be provided with shutters, so that the atmosphere and temperature may be under control. The floor of the cellar should be paved or cemented, be well levelled, and cleanliness throughout should be strictly and strenuously maintained.
But the following remarks of Signor Bragato as to what a cellar ought not to be will perhaps be more instructive, and besides they contain a vast amount of information on the subject. In referring to some of the cellars he came across during his tour of inspection through one of the Victorian districts, he writes:—
“The majority of the buildings used as cellars are nothing less than wooden sheds, with galvanized iron roofs. Here the air has a free circulation day and night, and the cellerman is thus rendered powerless to control the temperature, which very often, from 100 degrees in day time, goes down to 54 degrees or less during the night. The appliances required for winemaking are all round badly preserved, and are covered with mouldiness and dust. The floor of the buildings is not paved or cemented, and it consists of earth, so that it has the power of absorbing the wine that gets spilt and becomes the source of pernicious germs, which will spread all over the cellar and in the air, to be finally deposited in the must and in the wine, causing irreparable loss in the quality of the wine. There are a few good cellars, but these, also, are badly kept and badly used.
“The casks are neglected, and the coat of tartar is scrupulously left in the cask, with the erroneous idea that it tends to preserve the wine. All the empty casks I have smelt in the cellars inspected are impregnated with bad odours, which are not detected by the majority of the owners, in consequence of having accustomed their olfactory organs to the predominant odour of mouldiness in their cellars, and so they are unable to detect if the odour of their casks is healthy or not.
“With the bad cellars which the vignerons have at their disposal, combined with the neglect of the casks and other appliances, and the little care in the preservation of the wine, it is only natural that a large quantity of the wine produced is spoiled, and condemned to the still to be converted into inferior brandy of bad taste and colour, which is often used to fortify the wines, with the result of rendering them unfit for consumption. “Amongst the wines I have tested, I found some really very good ones, presenting all the characteristics required in a fine wine. But if there are good wines, there are also very bad ones, and these, I am sorry to say, represent the bulk in every cellar I visited. Some of the wines are cloudy, sweetish, with a good deal of asperity. Others present tartaric, lactic, and acetic fermentations.”
After some further comments on various other matters, the same gentleman concludes his report with the following:—
“Finally, I may say that by what I have seen I cannot help expressing the opinion that Australia is capable of producing really fine wines, to be highly appreciated in the world’s markets. But to produce an appreciable wine, it is necessary that the vignerons should improve in their system of wine-making, and substitute for their sheds cellars constructed on a rational principle; and by devoting more attention to the cleanliness of the casks and other cellar appliances. A modification in the system of cultivation and pruning of the vines will also be factors in improving the quality of the wine.
“There is in this country good soil, and a climate which cannot be equalled for the successful cultivation of the vine. Capital is plentiful, and the people very enterprising; so there remains only the want of Technical Instruction, by the institution of practical schools of Viticulture, without which it is doubtful if ever its vignerons will succeed in making wines likely to be appreciated in the foreign markets.”
In the same way Mr. J.A. Despeissis, of the New South Wales Department of Agriculture, also insists upon cellar cleanliness. And it would seem, indeed, that there is ample justification for his deprecatory remarks. It appears that on several occasions he has noticed fowls and pigeons roosting in the wine cellars. Now, as he pungently observes, the wine cellar was never intended for this sort of thing. Another way of putting the matter would be to point out what a mad thing it would be to use a fowl house as a cellar. Moreover, he gives minute directions for disinfecting the cellar, in order to destroy any germs or minute organisms which may be lurking in crevices or in odd corners. This is best accomplished by burning some sulphur in earthenware pots, distributed over various parts of the cellar; previously seeing that all the windows and gaps are rendered air-tight by means of bagging. The fumes should be left in the cellar — for a day or two, after which the doors are opened, and a free current of air allowed to sweeten the whole place.
Moreover, a model cellar is necessarily a very elaborate affair, considering it is the laboratory, so to speak, in which the wine is created. A model cellar would consist of the following six compartments:—
1. The section for the first treatment of the grape.
2. The fermentation department.
3. The section for the preparation and storing, of the new wine.
4. The underground cellar for the storage of the matured wine.
5. The bottle department.
6. The distillation department and for the utilization of the refuse
The cellar of Mr. Henley, near the Ovens River, in Victoria, is very complete. It is provided with a steam lift, a steam crushing machine, and a steam pump, while there is perfect ventilation and a uniform temperature. His cellar is divided into three compartments: the fermenting house in the middle, the cellar for the new wine, and the cellar for the old wine. The building is 83 feet by 80 feet, built of brick, with double walls 9 inches thick outside and 4 inches inside, and between the walls there is 4 1/2 inches of space. The temperature on the hottest days in the summer never surpasses 80 degrees Fahrenheit; and, lastly, the floors, both of the cellars and the fermenting house, are cemented for the purpose of absolute cleanliness.
At the very beginning one of the chief matters to be looked to is the selection of the time at which the grapes should be picked. The proper period is that when the interior of the grape contains its principal components, the sugar and the acids, in the right proportions. In the warmer districts the grapes are sometimes allowed to become too ripe. In such a case there would be an excess of sugar and a deficiency of acid, and a regular fermentation would be impossible. On the other hand, it will be remembered in the course of the remarks upon pruning that I quoted Mr. Francois de Castella to show what a mistaken idea it is to pick the grapes before they are thoroughly ripe in order to produce, as it is erroneously supposed, a lighter wine. It is of the greatest consequence, therefore, to choose that particular time for gathering the grapes when they contain the respective elements in their strictly proper proportions.
On the eventful day for the picking of the grapes the weather should be fine and bright, and in the warm districts they should be picked early in the morning and late in the afternoon, so that they are not too warm. The grapes should never be taken to the fermenting house when too heated; indeed, it would be better not to crush the grapes at all than to have them in such a state. As Signor Bragato observes, if they are too warm the fermentation will start with too high a temperature in the must, and very likely the result will be the formation of lactic and acetic germs. In Algiers and other warm regions the grapes picked in the day are left outside during the night; by this means the temperature of the must is lowered.
In the picking of the grapes the greatest care should be taken to discard the mouldy, dry, and dirty grapes, and leaf insect worms should likewise be got rid of. Once the gathering of the grapes is commenced it should be concluded as quickly as possible, and therefore a sufficient number of hands must be engaged for the purpose. For instance, with the Riesling, if the grapes are left on the vines on a hot day twenty-four hours after they arrive at perfection, the wine will not be nearly so good.
On the arrival of the grapes at the press-house, the first thing to be determined upon is whether the stalks are to be used or not. In the case of white wines it is not customary to separate them from the grapes. A good deal, however, will depend upon different circumstances. Thus, when grapes are grown in flat, damp places, or during wet seasons, it is often advantageous to ferment the berries with part of their stems; but, on the contrary, those grapes which contain a sufficiency of tannin will not require the latter. For example, in the production of white wines at Mr. Hans Irvine’s (“Great Western”) vineyard in Victoria, the grapes are first crushed with the mill, the mill consisting of two grooved wooden rollers working against each other. After this the skins, together with the stalks, are placed in the wine-press. In the case of red wine, however, the grapes are separated from the stalks by means of an iron griddle, so that only the skins are employed in the formation of the wine.
The methods pursued with regard to the elimination or retention of the grape stalks vary in different parts of the Continent. The most careful vignerons remove the stalks in the case of the finest growths of Burgundy; but in the making of champagne, and also in the Rheingau, from which part come the famous Hock wines, the stalks are allowed to remain. In the Medoc districts, which produce the finest clarets, the stalks are likewise put into the fermentation vat; but this is considered to be a great mistake, since a long time elapses before the astringent taste of the wine subsides. With the far-famed Red Hermitage wine of France, too, the stalks are permitted to pass into the vat, and in the case of sherry and port, as well, the stalks all take part in the fermentation, though it is believed that better results would be obtained by their removal. But in all these old wine-producing countries of Europe the same customs have been followed from time immemorial, and they are not likely to be altered at present.
The must — that is, the juice expressed from the grape, but in which (juice) fermentation has not yet taken place — is a fluid of very complex composition. It is made up of a variety of ingredients, with which it is necessary to become familiar in order to follow, during the process of fermentation, its change into wine. We find, therefore, that a large part of the must consists of water; this serves to dissolve the other constituents, and to dilute them to the required extent. For instance, the sugar in the must needs to be considerably diluted for the purposes of fermentation. In too concentrated a form it actually prevents it, as we see when fruits are preserved in syrup.
Next to water, sugar is the material which exists in the largest proportions in the must; it is, however, that peculiar kind of sugar termed “glucose,” which may be described as uncrystallisable sugar, and as consisting of half grape sugar and half fruit sugar. It possesses the property of being able to ferment, which cane or crystallisable sugar cannot do, unless, indeed, it first be changed into glucose. Now, it is a curious fact that although cane sugar can be transformed into glucose, yet the latter form of sugar has never, so far, been changed into cane or crystallisable sugar. As Mr. J.A. Despeissis points out, the invention of a process that would achieve this would be worth more than all the mines of New South Wales put together.
In the process of fermentation the glucose is broken up into a number of substances, which differ entirely from it; and as these different bodies are very important they deserve much attention. Under the influence of fermentation glucose undergoes a great change, of which the principal products are alcohol and carbonic acid gas. The alcohol is, of course, the one predominant feature in wine; and according to the amount of alcohol which wine contains, so it varies in strength.
In addition to these two main products of glucose by fermentation, namely, alcohol and carbonic acid gas, there are glycerine and succinic acid, as well as a lesser proportion of other derivatives, very much akin to alcohol. Of all these glycerine is by no means unimportant, as it confers a blandness or mellowness upon the wine. The succinic acid, also, is distinctive for this reason, that it is the source of that characteristic flavour in wine known as “vinosity.”
Besides the water and the glucose, the must likewise contains quite an appreciable amount of those important bodies, the various acids. These consist of tartaric acid, so frequently met with all through the vegetable world; of malic acid, which is the acid almost distinctive of apples; of tannic acid or “tannin,” and of other acids. These different acids play an important part in the production of wine; without them, in truth, it would be a mere admixture of spirits and water — a colourless, flavourless, and insipid product. By their assistance, however, wine is endowed with the brilliancy it possesses. And more than this, the action of the alcohol on these acids develops those exquisitely delicate ethers — the oenanthic and other ethers — which constitute, in fact, the bouquet of the wine. At the same time, it has also to be remembered that while these many acids constitute the life and soul, so to speak, of the wine, their very presence is absolutely necessary for the process of vinous fermentation. That is to say, the active agents of vinous fermentation are only enabled to work perfectly in a liquid which is somewhat acid.
There is an astringent principle, named tannin, which calls for attention in any reference to wine-making. It is almost the same body — not quite — as the tannin obtained from galls, and so largely employed in tanning. This vine-tannin, if it may be so termed, does not exist in the juice of the grape, but in the stalk and the skin. The white wines, in which the juice is almost always freed from the skins and stalks, contain but little tannin; while, on the contrary, most red wines, in which juice, skins, and stalks are all included together in the fermenting-vat, contain a good deal. Some white wines derive their tannin from the oaken casks which hold the wine; and their colour, in consequence, subsequently deepens. Other red wines, strange to say, gradually lose their dark colour from a certain action of the tannin. So that tannin is the cause of some white wines deepening in colour, while it renders other red wines of a lighter colour. Now, tannin has the effect of preserving albuminous substances, and in this way it may be beneficial in rendering red wines more durable. But although this may be advisable in wines which are liable to turn, it is certain that excess of tannin is most undesirable. In fact, the practice of placing the stalks in the fermenting-vat is in many cases, as I have previously stated, an unnecessary proceeding.
The mineral kingdom is not unrepresented in must, and certain saline substances are found in it. Of these, the salts of potash are uniformly present, and the most important is, without doubt, the acid tartrate of potash. This is the salt so well known in commerce under the name of cream of tartar. The lees of wine contain it in considerable quantity, and it is also found as a crystalline deposit in the inside of the casks. As the alcohol begins to develop in the must this salt is precipitated, and the more so the lower the temperature. Thus it is that a light wine of low alcoholic strength, if it be markedly acid, will lose the acidity in a cool, underground cellar. And, as a matter of fact, the proper maturation of a wine is impossible without a due amount of tartar; besides this, it develops in the wine a well-defined vigour and tonicity, which improves its taste, while it also increases its alimentary qualities.
There are a few other ingredients in must, namely, the colouring matters and essential oils, and the albuminoids, or nitrogenous substances. The colouring matters and oils appear to be contained in the cells of the inner side of the skin. Of these, the purpose of the colouring matter is obvious; while the essential oils are believed to contribute to the “aroma” of the wine. The albuminoids or nitrogenous substances are of the nature of white of egg; and, when in small proportion, are necessary for the due performance of the fermentative process. But, in excess, they are a source of considerable anxiety to the vigneron, in that they are the cause of much of the wine going wrong.
The must, as we have already seen, is the juice of the grape, which has been squeezed out by the grape-mill or from the wine-press. The murk, or pomace as it is called in America, on the contrary, is the mass of grape skins, stalks, &c., left behind in the press. A clear apprehension of these two terms is required in order that no confusion may arise. The fermenting-vat is the cask in which what is called the strong, stormy, or tumultuous fermentation takes place. The “cuvage” is the length of time the contents are left in the fermenting-vat.
The whole phenomena of fermentation are too complicated and profoundly scientific to be dealt with here. I shall do no more, therefore, than briefly refer to the behaviour of the must in the fermenting-vat. Fermentation sets in soon after the must is placed within the latter. The germs of vinous fermentation are contained in abundance in the air of the wine cellar, as well as being on the grapes themselves. M. Pasteur, who has contributed so much to a proper understanding of fermentation, has proved that the yeast fungi come from the external surface of the grapes, and are not derived from the interior. Hence it follows that the skins are to be well crushed before fermentation begins, to ensure proper action in the must.
The temperature of the must soon begins to rise, and the fermentative agencies break up its glucose into alcohol and carbonic acid gas. There is a bubbling and seething in the liquid during this action, which gradually subsides. The increase of temperature in the fermented fluid begins to abate; the skins and husks subside to the bottom of the vat; the liquid itself becomes slightly less turbid — and the first stage of wine-making is at an end.
A clearer insight into this important part of the process will perhaps be gained by noting some of the practices followed on the Continent, as regards the duration of the vattage. The length of time the various contents — whether they be the grape juice alone, or the grape juice together with the skins and stalks — remain within the fermenting-vat, varies greatly in different parts. In the Champagne country, the must is allowed to stand for twelve or eighteen hours, during which time a froth arises to the top and a sediment descends to the bottom. Without disturbing either of these, the precious liquid is carefully withdrawn into small barrels, and the fermentation is then allowed to proceed. This purification is one of the most important matters connected with the making of champagne.
The Medoc districts, in the Bordeaux territory, produce the finest of the clarets. The grapes are detached from the stalks, and subjected to pressure. The must is put into the fermenting-vat, to which is added the murk resulting from the pressing, and the stalks which were previously separated from the berries. The time necessary for vinification varies; in good years it is no longer than four or five days, and the future wine will then be at its best with regard to taste, delicacy, and softness.
In one case, that of the Red Hermitage wine of France, the grapes are unstalked and crushed before being placed in the vat. The contents of the latter are then stirred twice a day, and ultimately once a day. This is continued for about a month, and in one of the best vineyards for forty days. This long “cuvage” appears necessary from the fact that the large amount of sugar in the must is but slowly transformed into alcohol.
There is a curious incident which occurs in connection with the world-renowned wines of Burgundy, which is worth recording. As the fermentation proceeds, the murk, as in all similar fermentations, rises to the surface of the vat, and forms what is called the “hat,” or CHAPEAU. The fermentation proceeds till all is ready for the wine to be drawn. At this time the “hat” is so dense that it will bear the weight of two or three men. Each of them now begins working with one foot till he gets it through the crust, and the whole CHAPEAU is eventually broken up and mixed with the wine.
But to return to our subject. As soon as the stormy or seething fermentation is over, the young wine is drawn off from the fermenting-vat into the maturing-cask, at which time it may be quite warm and turbid. In a cool cellar and with perfect quiet it gradually becomes clearer; it deposits on the bottom of the cask many of the substances it contains, and the fermentation becomes no longer visible. The time which this “slow fermentation” takes to occur will vary with the type of wine, with the nature of the must, and with the influence of the season. Speaking generally, it may be said to be from two to eight weeks after its entrance into the maturing-cask. The wine is considered to be ready for its first racking when it has become clear and transparent, and when its lees have subsided to the bottom of the cask.
In racking there is a withdrawal of the wine from the sediment which it casts down, and which is known as the lees. It is an important operation because irremediable damage is caused to wine by allowing it to remain in contact with the dregs. A knowledge of their composition is of great value, since it serves to explain their injurious influence. The lees deposited from vinous fermentation consist of mineral salts, tartaric acid, and organic matters. Of these the ‘organic substances are the most to be dreaded, and for this reason, that they are very prone to rapid decomposition. They consist of yeast-cells, cells of other micro-organisms, of DEBRIS and minute particles of grape stalks and skins, and of other bodies, all readily liable to decompose. All these various materials, therefore, are continually a source of peril, for the slightest thing may start action in them, which spreads throughout the wine and simply ruins it. By removing it from such undesirable company all these risks are avoided, and the best possible qualities of the wine are afforded the opportunity to develop. In the performance of racking definite changes take place in the vine, which are assuredly important. For it must be remembered that the nearly fermented young wines contain an excess of carbonic acid gas; and this is rightly regarded as possessing great preservative properties, in that it prevents the dangerously spreading growth of the little micro-organisms and germs present in all new wine.
In the course of racking, however, a certain amount of the carbonic acid gas must be lost, and fresh oxygen is absorbed from the atmosphere. The oxygen is invaluable from the fact that it exerts a powerful chemical influence upon the wine; as a consequence fermentation is slightly renewed if there be any grape sugar remaining. At the same time the colour of the wine is also modified, and any rawness or harshness in its taste quality is enormously increased by the development of those delicate and subtle ethers which have so much to do with the flavour and bouquet of all wines.
The operation of racking, consequently, is one of great importance, as it requires to be repeated from time to time. A copious deposit of lees generally takes place after the first racking, and a second one should speedily follow. During the first year young wines are often racked off as many as three times, but with the older wines once a year, at the beginning of spring, may be sufficient. But it is precisely in matters of this kind that judgment and experience are so much needed.
Now, it has been pointed out over and over again that it is solely by a correct treatment of Australian wines in the cellar that we can hope to attain to excellence; in fact, the whole secret lies in this direction. And it is very much to be regretted, therefore, that cellar management and wine treatment have not yet been conceded their proper position, that of being the principal factors in the success of Australian wine. Amongst others, this very truth was pointed out by Mr. Pownall, to whom I have previously referred. In giving evidence before the Vegetable Products Commission of Victoria in August 1889, he observed:—“In some of the cellars I have been horrified with the amount of wine which I should describe as ‘perished’ and as ‘perishing.’ It is astounding, I can hardly express the quantity. And very often the vine-grower is so ignorant of his business that he shows one wine which is ‘tart’ and ‘sour,’ and even praises it. I find those wines are generally exceeding three years old, and I attribute it to the lack of cellar knowledge and treatment, because in the same cellar where I find large quantities of bad wine I find this year’s and last year’s wine good, and promising well; but if longer kept, and so treated, after a few years it will be utterly useless.”
It will only be by paying attention to all the details connected with the cellarage of Australian wines that the victory will be ours. I have said so before, and now say it again, that our Australian must is quite equal to, if not superior to, any in the world. But it is from that very time that the critical stage in the making of our wines begins. It behoves our vignerons, therefore, to concentrate their energies mainly upon that vastly important period which follows onwards from the very beginning of vinification.
Of the five senses, namely, seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting, the last is by no means the least important. It is a wise provision, this sense of taste, in that it enables us to relish our food, and also to select that which is suitable at the same time. If we took no pleasure in eating we should probably cease to eat at all, and die of starvation. And if we had no taste we might eat that which was unsuitable. In illness, almost the first things that the sufferer will complain about are that he has lost all desire for his food, and that everything tastes alike to him. The true taste impressions are limited to the following, namely, bitter, sweet, sour, and salt. The best substances to mark these four varieties of taste are quinine for the bitter, honey for the sweet, vinegar for the sour, and table salt for the last. The sense of taste is closely associated with that of smell; indeed, the sense of smell has nearly all to do with the perception of flavour. There is an inseparable connection between the two senses of smell and taste, for when anosmia or loss of the sense of smell occurs, all taste, except for bitterness, sweetness, sourness, and saltness, is completely lost, so far as ideas of flavour, &c., are concerned.
Brillat–Savarin, the high-priest of gastronomy, quaintly puts it that smell and taste form only one sense, having the mouth as laboratory, with the nose for the fire-place or chimney; the one serving to taste solids, the other gases. George Dallas, too, the gifted author of THE BOOK OF THE TABLE, also expresses the association of taste and smell in an apt way. He makes reference to the fact that the other senses are not dependent on each other, but that the hearing becomes more acute in a blind man. On the contrary, taste is made for marriage, and smell is its better half. Taste loses, as he says, all its delicacy when it cannot mate with a fine olfactory nerve. The late Dr. Druitt has likewise noted that the union of smell with taste is essential for the enjoyment of wine.
From the foregoing it will be seen that when we speak of taste we refer to a complicated and extremely delicate process. There is this also to be remembered, that it is a sense which can be cultivated to a high degree; and in the wine-taster it is brought to the very pitch of excellence. Yet, notwithstanding all this, it must be a matter of every-day experience, that people will profess to an ability to judge wine when they know absolutely nothing of the various points, so to speak, to be looked for. What I mean is this, that there are many different things to be observed when a wine is tasted, and that each one requires to have proper judgment bestowed upon it. What these are I shall endeavour to speak of in due course.
Wine tasting is a fine art as seen with the COURTIERS or experts who are employed by the large houses in Bordeaux. There are exceptional qualifications required for this office, for its holders must possess a delicate and highly trained palate, and an exquisite and perfect sense of smell, while at the same time a lengthened experience and unerring discrimination in the value of the wine submitted to them are also called for. Mr. James Smith, in his prize essay, already referred to, quotes with approval the following passage from a French authority:-“The COURTAGE of wines is, then, a true science, which is acquired by long observations, by numerous tastings, extensive practice, and a correct judgment; a science which has rendered, and is daily rendering, true and important services to our vinicole department (that of the Gironde); for, by this means, intelligent classifications have given to our GRANDS CRUS a universal reputation, and have made our best wines known and appreciated throughout the civilised world. In the judging of wines, therefore, at least four essentials are necessary: two of the senses — the taste and the smell must be perfect — while great experience and special knowledge must be equally present.”
Now, there is an old saying, DE GUSTIBUS NON EST DISPUTANDUM, and consequently every person has a perfect right to like what pleases him; so that in this way anyone may prefer to drink whisky, or any other form of spirits, and he is quite entitled to believe there is nothing so good for him; but, on the other hand, an habitual spirit-drinker must not claim to possess a correct judgment in estimating the qualities of a good wine; for, as a matter of fact, the daily influence of whisky on the palate is absolutely fatal to its delicacy of perception. There are none of the graceful flavours, none of the delicate ethers, none of the perfumed bouquets in whisky that belong to a wholesome wine. No, there is only the coarse spirit which benumbs the palatal nerves, and renders them incapable of picking out these vinous attributes. Moreover, it would almost seem that a person’s very thoughts are controlled by his customary beverage. It is evident, indeed, that Richard Bentley, one of the greatest scholars of modern times, believed in this doctrine; for did he not make this memorable remark to one of his pupils: “Sir, if you drink ale, you will think ale”?
Is it not true, also, that with many people champagne is regarded as the highest type of wine? This is more likely to be the case with those who are beginning to realize the pleasures of life. Indeed, as it has been acutely remarked, a youngster from college, when invited to dinner, thinks himself badly treated if he does not get it. Now, it is not to be denied that champagne is, in its way, an imperial drink, and that it has a specially exhilarating effect. But, at the same time, it must be remembered that it is on the other side of the champagne stage of life that the appreciation of really great wines begins.
Take, for instance, a comparison of the wines of Bordeaux and of Burgundy. These are two distinct classes of wine, and, according to Mr. Sept. Berdmore, should be imbibed different days. That they are entirely distinct wines might only be expected, seeing that the geographical positions of the two districts are so far apart. The Bordeaux wines come from the south-western or Bay of Biscay side of France, while those of Burgundy belong to her eastern portion. It is almost universally a matter of belief that the red wines of Bordeaux should be warmed gradually — taking some hours — before they are drunk. The temperature of these wines should be as nearly as possible the temperature of the dining-room itself. The finest clarets are often utterly spoiled from the fact that this has been disregarded, and they have been brought to table without ally preparation. In the case of Burgundy, however, an opposite treatment is required, and by many connoisseurs it is considered to be best when brought up from a cool cellar shortly before use. All these are matters of considerable importance, and show that the judging of wines requires something more than a mere off-hand opinion. There are certain descriptions of the different varieties of wines, given by Thudicum and Dupre, Vizetelly and others, which are of great assistance in helping to a knowledge of the various desiderata to be looked for. Moreover, much will be gained by collecting them together, as their principal characteristics will be better remembered when they are thus contrasted with each other. It is not my wish to laud the wines of other countries to the disparagement of Australian growths, but it is my object to show clearly those desirable properties which all good wines should possess. A knowledge of these lofty standards will do more to better the quality of our Australian wines than anything I know of.
The wines of the Medoc, that district of the Gironde which produces the finest clarets, namely, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Lafitte, Chateau Latour, &c., possess distinguishing features peculiar to themselves. They have a certain slight distinctive roughness; are fine, juicy, marrowy in the mouth, and after having been in bottle some years they acquire a very beautiful bouquet. They have, moreover, this remarkable hygienic quality, that they can be drunk in large quantity without, as the French say, “fatiguing” either head or stomach. But there is another portion of the Bordeaux country, namely the GRAVES, which produces both red and white wines. The latter include those magnificent Sauternes, Chateau d’Yquem and La Tour Blanche, which take such high rank; Chateau d’Yquem, indeed, has been likened to liquid gold — liquid gold in a crystal glass — and is one of those most luscious and delicately aromatic of wines, with an exquisite bouquet and rich, delicious flavour.
As it has already been stated, Bordeaux and Burgundy are entirely different wines, and this fact must be well remembered. The wines of the latter comprise some of the most famous growths of France, and are distinguished by the suavity of their taste, their finesse, and spirituous aroma The red wines have a fine colour, a good deal of bouquet, and a delicious taste. They give tone to the stomach, and facilitate digestion. Of these red wines of Burgundy the Romanee–Conti is among the first growths, and it is renowned for its fine colour, its aroma, its delicacy, and the superb quality of its delicious taste. Clos de Vougeot is another great growth, which is slightly more alcoholic than the preceding. Chambertin, also, possesses a good deal of seve, delicacy, perfect taste, and pleasant bouquet; moreover, it has a softness which made it an especial favourite with the great Napoleon. Corton, likewise, is of high colour, corse, and, as it gets older, acquires a great deal of seve and bouquet.
The white wines of Burgundy however, must not be forgotten, for amongst them is the renowned Chablis. This, with the oysters, the squeeze of lemon juice, and the brown bread and butter, usually heralds in any large dinner. Although slightly alcoholic, it is not heady, and possesses body, delicacy, and an agreeable perfume, with that distinguishing PIERRE A FUSIL taste — that flinty flavour — which is its recognised characteristic.
Leaving the Bordeaux wines and the wines of Burgundy, it is next desirable to speak of one which belongs to the South of France. It is well known, at least by name, to most Australians, and any description of its properties, therefore, will be the more appreciated. This is the Muscat of Rivesaltes, in the department of the Oriental Pyrenees. By some it is esteemed the best liqueur wine in the world. A good sample of it possesses great finesse, a good deal of vinosity, and that wonderful muscadine bouquet which gives to it its celebrated characters.
There is another wine, coming from the valley of the Rhone, in the south-eastern portion of France, whose name is equally familiar to most Australians; this is the Red Hermitage, or, as it is perhaps more commonly known amongst us, Shiraz, wine. A genuine wine is distinguished by great richness, a lively purple colour, and a special bouquet; and it becomes, by these united qualities, the best wine of this region.
Turning to the German wines, those of the Rheingau must claim our attention. This district borders on the Rhine, and it is said that the river acts as a mirror, in reflecting the rays of the sun towards the vineyards. The Rheingau must not be confused with the district of Hochheim, which is situated on the Maine. Yet it is curious that the first syllable of the latter district (Hochheim) has furnished the monosyllabic English word Hock, under which are confused ALL the Rhine wines. Amongst the wines of the Rheingau may be enumerated Steinberg, Marcobrunner, and Johannisberg. With regard to the wines of the Rheingau, Mr. Henry Vizetelly observes: “Although the flavour and bouquet of the grand wines of the Rheingau are equally pronounced, it is exceedingly difficult to characterise them with precision. After gratifying the sense of smell with the fragrant odour which they evolve — and which is no mere evanescent essence vanishing as soon as recognised, but often a rich odour which almost scents the surrounding atmosphere — you proceed to taste the vine, and seem to sip the aroma exhaled by it. Now and then you are conscious of a refilled pungent flavour, and at other times of a slight racy sharpness, while the after-taste generally suggests more of an almond flavour than any other you can call to mind. No wines vary so much in their finer qualities as the grand growths of the Rheingau. The produce of a particular vineyard, although from the same species of grape, cultivated under precisely similar conditions, will differ materially in flavour and bouquet, not merely in bad and good years, but in vintages of equal excellence. Moreover, these wines need the most skilful cellar treatment during the long years they are maturing. All great wines, it should be remembered, ripen slowly, and cannot be ‘pasturised’ into perfection — that is to say, cannot be rapidly matured by heating them to a certain temperature, as ordinary wines may be.”
The Hochheim vineyards are situated, as I have previously indicated, on the banks of the Maine, several miles above its confluence with the Rhine. There is one exceptionally fine Hochheim growth which comes from the vineyard of the “Dechanei,” or deanery. True Hochheinner is a remarkably aromatic wine, and possesses both body and fire. Indeed, it contains as large a percentage of alcohol as the so-called noble Steinberger — the most spirituous of the Rhenish growths — with more sweetness. It consequently lacks that subdued acidulous freshness of flavour which is such a marked characteristic of the wines of the Rheingau.
Some reference to sherry and port is necessary, because they are both types of wines that are widely known, and consequently ally remarks concerning, them are of value by comparison. It would appear that with most sherry, and certainly with all port, there is an addition of alcohol to the wine. Even the wines which are sold in England under the name of “natural sherry” contain from 13.2 to 15.5 per cent. of alcohol. Beyond all question, therefore, from 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 per cent. of alcohol must have been added, for no “natural sherry” should ever contain more than 12 per cent. of alcohol. Some sherries, however, have been introduced with an alcoholicity of from 12 to 13.6 per cent., with the following, characters: The taste is freely vinous, rich, pure, mellow, and quite free from heat or the taste of added spirit. But fashion has much to do with the type of sherry in request; thus the colour has varied from time to time. In the same way, too, a taste for dry sherries arose with the Manzanilla epoch, only to be carried to excess. As with all other wines, a certain age in sherry is desirable; the ethers become developed during this period, and impart a rich flavour to it. In the course of time, however, sherry falls off so much that it is only fit for giving flavour to young wine.
In the matter of port, also, it may confidently be asserted that not a single drop is sold that does not contain a certain amount of added brandy. That is to say, all port wine, without exception, is brandied. The effect of the brandy is to keep the wine quiet; it prevents it from undergoing any fermentation; and, what is more, it keeps it from changing, no matter whether the climate be hot or cold. Messrs. Thudicum and Dupre state that a perfectly natural port has 9 per cent. of alcohol as the lowest, and 13.8 per cent. as the highest limit.
A sample of Alto Douro wine submitted to these gentlemen, although it was slightly alcoholised, yet possessed the following desirable qualities: it was fine, because it was derived from the finest and ripest Alto Douro grapes, the Verdeilho and Bastardo; it was full, owing to its great vinosity and high amount of natural alcohol, yet free from adventitious syrup; and it was pure, because free from all those faults which depreciate so many southern wines, such as the fousel flavour, or the burning taste of distilled spirit. Besides all these great qualities, it characteristically possessed the very essence of an ideal port wine flavour — without the saccharine and spirituous taste commonly found in port wine — and it had a natural smooth astringency such as pleases the palate and imparts keeping qualities.
Moreover, it was very unlike the artificial sweet and burning products commonly called port wine. It was thoroughly fermented, and contained such a minute quantity of grape sugar that the latter could not be possibly detected by the taste. It was perfectly dry, and thereby differed entirely from ordinary port wines, which contain from 2 to 6 per cent. of sugar. Its alcoholicity was certainly below all the port wines usually sold. With all these desirable qualities, therefore, it possessed high dietetic and hygienic virtues, and refreshed the system like Burgundy or Medoc wine.
It will be convenient to make reference here to two terms about which there is a great deal of confusion. It is the difference between the “aroma” and the “bouquet” of wine. Now, the Settimana Vinicola has recently well observed that although these two are usually supposed to be the same, yet they are entirely different. The aroma of a wine is altogether distinct from those agreeable and delicate odours known by the name of “bouquet.” For instance, some American grapes have what is called a “foxy” smell, and the wine prepared from them has this aroma, which is perceptibly disagreeable. Aroma pre-exists in certain grapes, and during vinification will pass into the resulting wine. On the other hand, perfume, the bouquet of the French, as it has been pointed out by Professor G. Grazzi–Soncini, is the complex sensation produced simultaneously on the palate and nose, owing to the intimate connection between these two organs, and which has already been referred to. This bouquet is due to the action of the ethers, which are formed during the life of the wine. The CORRIERE DEL VILLAGIO remarks, in addition to the preceding, that there is a chemical difference between the “aroma” and the “bouquet” of wine. The former is produced chiefly by one or more carburets of hydrogen, and their oxidation derivatives. The bouquet, however, results from the admixture of aldehydes with one or more essential oils and various ethers, produced by combination of fatty and other acids with ethylic and other alcohols, and from these changes result the different ethers which constitute the bouquet of wine.
One of the most valuable books published on vine-growing and wine-making is that by the justly celebrated Dr. Jules Guyot. The greater part of one particularly important chapter is wholly taken up with the most graphic and lucid description of wine-tasting with which we are acquainted. Besides this, it contains such an amount of information on the subject, that no remarks in this connection would be complete without reference to it. For the following vivid rendering of a good deal of this very chapter I am very much indebted to my friend Dr. John Steel, of Sydney:—
“Wine put upon its trial is subjected to two jurisdictions; the one altogether belonging to the senses, the other wholly physiological. The appreciation of wine by the senses is referred to three of our organs of sense — the eye; the nasal chambers, in front and behind; and the mouth, equally at its anterior and posterior part.
“WINE JUDGED BY THE SIGHT. — Wine pleases the eye by its clearness and colour: and be it ruby, rose, amber, or white, it ought always to have perfect clearness and freshness of colour. Neither of these latter tones will be out of harmony in a really good wine, even in extreme old age. If you will not take upon yourself to decide whether a wine is good when it is attractive to the sight, you can always say that it is not good or at least that it is not in the best condition, when its transparency and shades of colour are questionable. Freshness of colour and clearness are good signs. Though they are not to be regarded as qualities, yet any appearance to the contrary betokens real defects in the wine.
“WINE JUDGED BY THE SENSE OF SMELL; THE TWO ODOURS OF WINE. — Wine reveals itself by two sorts of odours (the aroma and the bouquet) to the outer organ of smell — that is to say, when that sense is exercised by inhaling (or sniffing) the wine. The first, or aroma, is the general and common odour peculiar to most wines. It is always strongest when the wine is newest, but it always characterises good wine, however old it may be. This first odour seems to be due to the volatilization of the spirit, which holds in solution an essential oil, more or less volatile, more or less powerful, and more or less characteristic of each kind of wine. This aroma is a sign of real quality in the wine, and is generally very strong and very noticeable during the first years; it becomes concentrated, refined, and attenuated as the wine ages. The second kind of odour the bouquet, on the contrary, is developed with age, and would appear to be owing to the reaction of vinous acids on the spirit, which gives rise to certain ethereal combinations.
“WINES ARE NOT MADE CHIEFLY TO PLEASE THE SENSES OF SIGHT AND SMELL— Aroma, like colour, is a favourable or unfavourable sign, agreeable or disagreeable. Yet before everything wine is a nourishing beverage. It is a very good thing that sight and smell should be gratified in this way, but it would be puerile and ridiculous to exalt beyond measure the importance of these organs of sense; and to pretend that the superiority of wine rests almost exclusively on the pleasurable impressions which are derived therefrom. I have seen many hosts bother their guests with vexatious insistence to look at, hold up to the light, sniff their wine, even the empty glasses, almost throughout the whole duration of a banquet — at the risk of making them well nigh die of thirst. The true amateur, the wine-taster, knows perfectly well how to look at and how to smell his wine; but he knows full well also that these two preliminaries ought to be immediately followed by the taking of the fluid into the front part of the mouth. Colour and smell are merely two notes introductory to a gastronomic theme; if they are only by themselves they lose their relative value, and the theme is not properly understood.
“WINE JUDGED BY TASTE; THAT IS, BY THE MOUTH AT ITS ANTERIOR AND POSTERIOR PART. — Before speaking of the impression wine gives to the sense of taste, I ought to say that this sense is the only one in the animal organization which possesses a double apparatus for perception — one at the tip and edges of the tongue, the other at its root and at the soft palate. The first perceives acid or electro-positive tastes through the two lingual nerves; the second detects alkaline tastes by the two glosso-pharyngeal nerves. Tastes perceived by the front part of the mouth, in the case of liquids as well as solids, are not the same as those discriminated by the back part of the mouth. An alkaline salt, for instance, gives to the front part an acid, styptic, salt, or sweet taste, but communicates to the posterior part a basic, bitter, or saponaceous taste.
“WINE-TASTING PROPERLY SO CALLED. — Wine taken into the front part of the mouth gives rise to acid, sweet, and styptic tastes at the outer edges and tip of the tongue. All shades, in harmony, ought to give a pleasing sensation to the organ, when neither acidity, sweetness, nor astringency predominates. Next we pass the wine to the posterior part of the mouth, and delay it there by a kind of gargling. It is now that we get the smack of the soil, the taste of cask or wood, the insipidity of salts, or any bitterness. If the whole effect is pleasing to the back part of the mouth, with the absence of all disagreeable impressions, we must, to put the finishing touch on the wine-tasting, not spit it out, but swallow it. As soon as the wine has passed over the root of the tongue and the soft palate and its pillars, a most pronounced odour ascends from the pharynx into the nasal cavities, and gives forth newer and more powerful revelations, AS to the qualities or defects of the bouquet of wine, than can ever be obtained by the outward sense of smell. Moreover, the last contact of wine with the mucous membrane of the pharynx and of the base of the tongue leaves a lasting impression of taste, and when this sensation is disagreeable it is designated under the collective name of ‘after-taste.’
“GOOD AND BAD WINE JUDGED BY THE SENSES. — If, then, a wine possesses perfect clearness and freshness of colour, if it has an agreeable odour, if the combined effect of the acid, sweet, and astringent tastes is gratifying to the anterior part of the mouth by a fusion, seeming to form a unique taste like many notes in a complete harmony; if to this harmonious impression the back part of the mouth adds a feeling of glow and vinous richness, without alcohol being noticed; and if, at last, the act of swallowing crowns the whole with a natural bouquet, not followed by any ‘after-taste,’ we may pronounce the wine to be good as judged by the senses. But, on the other hand, the wine is unsatisfactory if it fail in any of these points. It will be inferior in proportion as the acids, sugar, and the salts become individually perceived by the tip of the tongue. Again, it is imperfect when the chilliness, flatness, the essential oils, the taste of earth and of cask, and above all, an excess of froe spirit, are manifestly noticed at the base of that organ. And lastly, it is defective just as the ‘ARRIERE BOUQUET’ is less pleasant, and the ‘after-taste’ more disagreeably prolonged.
“THE DIFFICULTY OF JUDGING BY TASTES. — In this unfolding of the process of wine-tasting I have endeavoured to be clear, and yet I feel I have not been sufficiently so. It will be impossible to judge by tastes until science has laid down signs or words representative of their quality, of their stamp, or of their harmonious relations. The science of tastes has yet to be founded. Till then, chefs de cuisine and the clever caterers for banquets will remain isolated geniuses or empirics; while, as regards wine-tasters and gastronomists, they approve or they criticise, but they do not establish any rules. It would be a curious collection that would comprise all the expressions used by wine-tasters, wine-merchants, commercial travellers, amateurs (by far, indeed, the most numerous class), to express the feelings they experience in tasting wines. I know an English traveller who only liked a wine when it caused a ‘peacock’s tail in the mouth’; and everybody knows the expression of the Auvergnian drinking a glass of generous old wine —‘It’s a yard of velvet going down the throat.’
“THE PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECT OF WINES. — The inhabitants of a beer-drinking or spirit-drinking country will never possess the vivacity of wit and the light-heartedness of those who live in a wine-producing land. It is not by any means the alcohol in itself which constitutes the worth and goodness of wine, for beer may contain as much, and spirits certainly contain more. To be more or less spirituous does not constitute good wine. All natural wine is good, whether it be strong or weak in spirit, if it keeps its organic life. It is good, too, if it reveals itself by a fresh odour, by a union of all its elements in a taste harmonious to the palate, by being easily digested, and by causing greater activity of body and mind, and a sensible augmentation of muscular force. Be the taste of the wine fresh, sharp, or delicate; be it soft, unctuous, or rich; be it acid or strong, the wine is good if it supports and increases the forces of body and mind, without wearing out the digestive Organs.
“WINE IS GOOD RELATIVELY AND NOT ABSOLUTELY. WE OUGHT TO HAVE BEFORE EVERYTHING GOOD COMMON WINES. — A wine is good according to the use to which we put it. Even an excellent liqueur or dessert vine is undesirable and out of place for ordinary drinking purposes or for nourishment. We must distinguish between wines for ordinary use, those for side dishes (ENTREMETS), and those for dessert. And these again should be differentiated into wines for small, medium, or large glasses, relatively, proportional to the quantity which we can or ought to drink. A good cake is always good if we only eat a little at a time, and seldom take it; but bread is infinitely better and preferred by everybody to eating cake always. It is vastly more important to have good ordinary wines than to have good VINS D’ENTREMETS or good liqueur wines. And, indeed, this very matter affects the total consumption within and out of France, and the interests of producer and consumer, as well as the interests of public hygiene. Good ordinary wine, alimentary wine — for wine is a real and excellent food — by no means a wine strong in spirit, nor is it a wine of great age; but it is a wine of fine CEPAGE, not going beyond 10 per cent. of spirit, or even 6 per cent.”
This is a subject the importance of which cannot be over estimated. And it is one markedly calling for consideration, as there have been, and still are, grounds for complaint in this direction. It will be advisable, therefore, to look well into the question, because it will amply repay the trouble bestowed upon it. First of all, then, let us refer to the remarks of Mr. Francois de Castella, the author of the Handbook on Viticulture for Victoria. He points out that in each district there will be one class of wine which will surpass all others in excellence, and that this is the type which the grower should produce. All the vine-growers in any one district should endeavour to make their wines of the type specially adapted for that particular district; and of course the type will vary in different districts. In this way, and only in this way, will it be possible for the public to obtain an unvarying article.
At the present time there are in each district a number of wines possessing various names, such as Hermitage, Shiraz, Carbenet, Burgundy, Chasselas, Riesling, Tokay, &c., but these names actually mean nothing. Each district should produce a different type of wine. A Riesling from the Yarra and a Riesling from the Murray are as distinct as Hock and Sherry. Mr. de Castella further advises that each vine-grower should join the Vine–Growers’ Association in his locality. In this way the members of each district can agree amongst themselves to produce one class of wine, or at most two — say one white and one red. Instead of the same names being applied to entirely different wines, the nine will come to be known by the name of the district in which it is produced. One will then be able to have some idea of the contents of a bottle, from the label upon it. At present the name on the bottle is no indication whatever of the wine within; indeed, the same name is on the outside of many totally distinct wines. This change must assuredly come, and the sooner it does the better for Australian wines.
Mr. Pownall, in the course of his evidence before the Royal Commission on Vegetable Products in Victoria, also drew attention to this same want of uniformity. He believed that each vineyard ought to aim at making a standard quality of wine, so that wine-merchants might know what to expect from that vineyard. The wines throughout Australia should likewise, as far as possible, bear uniform names. He stated that he had met wines in various vineyards grown from the same grape, and called by different names; and though this might seem a trivial matter, yet it led to endless confusion. Moreover, it should not be permitted to continue, especially as it could be so easily rectified.
It must be said, however, that at the Great Western district, in Victoria, a start has been made in the right direction. A report on the vineyards of that locality referred to the gratifying fact that a marked tendency existed towards the adoption of a rational nomenclature of wines. Many of the leading growers were confining themselves to one red and one white wine. Some of them called their wine by the name of the vineyard, adding the words Hock, Chablis, Claret, &c. after them. This is unquestionably so far an improvement, and it is to be hoped that before long the wine will be known by the name of the vineyard or district, and by nothing else.
Mr. James Smith has also strongly insisted upon the supreme importance of this uniformity, especially as regards the quality of the wine. And this is perfectly true. The quality of any particular wine is solely dependent upon the season, but the produce of any given vineyard should surely possess, as he remarks, a distinctive CACHET, by which the palate is enabled to recognise it. For instance, an expert would not fail to distinguish between a Chateau Margaux and a Chateau Lafitte, nor between a Chateau Latour and a Haut Brion. Notwithstanding the different vintages, there is always a uniformity and continuity of flavour maintained through all these great growths. But in the case of our Australian wines there is a lamentable difference. Wines of the same denomination and from the same grower DIFFER SO MATERIALLY one year from those bearing a similar name, and coming from the same cellar, in another, that it is difficult to believe they are the same. As Mr. Smith justly observes, this is an unpardonable defect in the estimation of connoisseurs; more especially such as attach themselves to a particular kind of wine, and naturally drink it by preference. Constancy of type should be unremittingly aimed at by the vigneron. And this can only be possible by continuous attention to each individual factor concerned in vine-growing and wine-making.
Figures help us considerably more than words in enforcing a proper idea of the magnitude to which the Australian wine industry should develop. It will be appropriate, therefore, to preface this portion by bringing forward a few speculative data. In an earlier part of this chapter it was stated that the city of Paris alone requires nearly 300,000 gallons of wine daily, and that this single city would consume in 12 days all the wine which the whole of Australia takes 12 MONTHS to make. The population of Paris is nearly two and a half millions, while that of Australia is three millions odd. By considering these together it will be seen that the wine which it takes over three million people all the year to make, lasts another two and a half million people only 12 days.
Now, the total annual wine yield of Australia, including both that used here and that which is exported, is only worth about 800,000 L. It follows from the foregoing, then, that Paris will in 12 days consume about 800,000 L. worth of wine, and for the whole year the Parisian figures for wine consumption will reach to something like 20,000,000 L. Let us suppose that Australia were only a wine-drinking community, as her climate unceasingly calls for. It would be fair to assume that her yearly wine bill would be in accordance with the following rule of proportion. If Paris with her two and a half millions annually consumes wine to the amount of 20,000,000 L., then Australia with her three millions odd would surely require for her own use at least 20,000,000 l. worth year by year. And when it is remembered in addition that the export trade should be enormously in excess of any local requirements, it will readily be see what a magnificent future only awaits its calling into being.
We cannot hope that our Australian wines will take a high place amongst those of the world as long as they are not in general use by our own people. There can be no keener reproach than to have it said: “Why, even the Australians themselves do not drink their own wines.” And this is regrettedly the fact. It is necessary, therefore, that first of all our people should take a very deep interest in all the details connected with vine-growing and wine-making, and thus give some encouragement to those who are doing their best to establish what will ultimately become Australia’s brightest glory. And it will be a good thing for this land when a knowledge of every point in the growing of the grape, and every step in the making of the wine, becomes part and parcel of our daily life. The very hoardings of our streets are covered with advertisements of countless brands of whisky, and of numberless varieties of ale. But those setting forth the virtues of our wines are conspicuous by their absence. It would seem that Australia, where our own wine should be the national beverage, is almost the last country in which to find it.
It may be asked, what are the reasons which lead to this disregard of the virtues possessed by our own wines? The reply to this question is not an easy matter, but I shall endeavour to answer it to the best of my ability. The probability is, if a dozen people were asked, at random, why Australian wine is so little used in Australia, that at least that number of different explanations would be forthcoming. The truth, however, is more likely to be found in a combination of reasons, rather than from any one single cause. These are obviously worth considering, from the very fact that the knowing of what they consist is of the first importance in rectifying them.
I shall begin, then, by saving that the label on the bottle has much to answer for, in that it is misleading. It does not give any idea of what is to be found inside. Thus the word Riesling, on one bottle, may be attached to a wine grown on the Hunter, in New South Wales, and on another to a wine from the Yarra, in Victoria. It is true that the wine from these two places may be grown from the same “cepage.” But while the river Yarra wine will contain perhaps 11 per cent. of alcohol, that from the Hunter River will have quite 20 per cent. — so much does an increase in the warmth of the climate increase the alcoholic strength of the wine.
And while we are on the subject of labels, I must certainly take exception to the unattractive character of those employed on the bottles of our Australian wines. There is no reason whatever why a little consideration should not be paid to the artistic sense in this respect. Our wine merchants, it would appear, fail to understand the selling power which belongs to the “get-up” of the label on a wine bottle. I feel sure this attractiveness has a great deal to do with the success of many products, notably in the case of the American preserved fruits. Some of these are labelled in a manner which is creditable in the highest degree — and what is more, from a practical point, it is no unimportant factor in their huge sale.
Then again, there is that want of uniformity which Mr. James Smith has so ably descanted upon, and to which I have already referred. It is bad enough to have a wine labelled Riesling, or whatever it may be, from one place differing entirely from a wine of the same name which comes from some other locality. But it is a far more serious defect when the wine of any particular place one year differs entirely from the same wine coming from the same locality at another. For the same variety of wine, of the same vineyard, thus to vary, year by year, is simply unpardonable. This must not be allowed to continue, for while it exists Australian nines will always be subject to reproach — a reproach, indeed, which cannot be explained away.
And while dealing with these shortcomings I propose to speak of another matter, which is by no means unimportant. I refer to the size of the bottle. It has frequently happened that visitors to Australia hare said to me, “I should very much like — indeed, I am anxious — to try your Australian wines; but unfortunately I cannot drink a whole bottle at table, and I am unable to obtain less.” Now, this is undoubtedly a grievance, and should be overcome in some way; either by putting up a portion of our wines in smaller bottles, or else by making some arrangement so that a smaller quantity may be obtained. Since these lines were written, however, it is very pleasing to record the fact that one enterprising firm in Sydney has taken a highly commendable step in this very direction; and already smaller bottles of Australian wine may be obtained for the low prices of 6d. and 9d.
Up to this point I have made no remarks with regard to the knowledge of wine possessed by the majority of Australians, and yet in many respects it is the most important of all. They are not called upon to pronounce an opinion upon a wine, such as would be looked for from an expert. But I do think it is very desirable that they should know, at least, the kind of wine that is suitable for Australian use. Once this is accomplished, and it is by no means difficult to learn, a great deal will have been achieved. It is quite a mistake to imagine that the value of a wine increases with its strength, and that the stronger a wine is, the more valuable it becomes. Even in Europe itself strong wines are going out of fashion, and lighter ones are taking their place. People much prefer a light wine, of which they can take a fair amount and quench their thirst, in preference to a strong wine of the port or sherry type, of which they can only take a small wineglassful. But in Australia, the very place where one would expect a demand for all lighter wines, the taste for strong wines as the rule. This is another striking example of the same antagonism to climatic environment which is found all through our food habits. A light wine is the wine above all others which should be most sought after. What Australia requires as a national beverage is a wine of low alcoholic strength. It should be so cheap as to come within the easy every-day reach of all classes. And finally, it should take the place of all other liquids, since it is essentially wholesome, hygienic, restorative, and cheering.
The reputation of Australian wines in the English market has hitherto been damaged to a considerable extent by the practices which have been followed on the part of some of the large buyers. But before referring to these proceedings, to which Mr. Hans Irvine, of the Great Western Vineyard, in Victoria, has so properly and powerfully drawn attention, it must be distinctly understood that any subsequent remarks do not apply to all the London wine-merchants. On the contrary, there are many whose characters are irreproachable, and whose integrity is above suspicion. By clearing the ground in this way one is enabled to protest against the treatment which Australian wine receives in London, without levelling charges against estimable men, who command respect, and who deserve the gratitude of all Australians for their fair dealings.
Well then, most of our wines purchased by English buyers have been those of full-bodied, crude, and coarse young wines, containing a great amount of alcohol. Two reasons have been assigned for this proceeding; the first being that Australian wines would not bear the voyage unless they were sufficiently strong; and the second, that in England the demand was more particularly for such a class of wine. But many of these firms are utterly ignorant of any special knowledge as to treating the finer and more delicate wines. It has suited these buyers to deal only with the stronger wines, as they are the more secured from any loss or trouble. For the fact is, these wines, while being of a greater alcoholic strength, are really of most excellent character and quality. And besides this, they release certain customers, whose idea of a good wine — even at the present time — is a wine of great body and strength, and not so much one with that delicacy of character and bouquet which the finer wines possess.
Some of the merchants, having but little bother with the heavier wines, have encouraged their sale to as great an extent as possible. From this it follows that those who prefer and habitually drink a better class of wine have never had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with the magnificent wines which Australia can supply. As Mr. Irvine tells us, the higher types of fine, light, delicate, dry wines, with a richness of bouquet, such as most districts in Australia are capable of producing, are the kinds of wine we must look forward to for establishing a name and fame for our produce. It is not too much to assert that before very long Australia will be able to supply wines whose quality will rival the choicest vintages of the most famous vineyards of Europe. Even as it is, the delicacy of bouquet and excellent characters of many of the Australian red and white wines have fairly astonished connoisseurs on being submitted to them.
It seems a thousand pities, then, that such misconception should exist with regard to our wines. And quite undeservedly so, for as a matter of fact these lighter wines are most unfairly neglected. They simply require to be properly fined and carefully attended to. The casks in which they are shipped should be thoroughly cleansed and treated before being filled, in order to take out any taint of spirits they may contain; or any excess of tannin, which is always present in Dew wood. If these different matters be looked to they will improve to a wonderful extent on the voyage, and after being allowed a week or fortnight’s rest on arrival, they will be found in a highly satisfactory condition. After this time these delicate wines of a low alcoholic strength require to be duly cared for. But they are worth a little extra attention, for it is absolutely certain that through them, and through them alone, will our Australian wines be accorded the merit and the appreciation which they so undoubtedly deserve.
It must not be imagined, however, that the foregoing is the only handicap which Australian wine has to carry. In other cases there are many reprehensible proceedings adopted, which irretrievably injure the reputation of our wines in the English market. Some of the inferior wines are shipped home and “restored,” by blending them with full, heavy, rich wines from warmer districts. When “clothed” in this way, their imperfections are for a time hidden, but the bad soon contaminates the whole. It is true that a good, sound, and well-made wine improves with age. But with these “restored” and “clothed” wines the reverse happens, and they become worse and worse by keeping.
Then again, many of the widely advertised Australian wines in the old country are sold too young; and unfortunately these young wines constitute the bulk of the trade done with England. They are bottled when too green and crude, and have not been given a sufficient time in cask to develop into high-class wines. They must be allowed to acquire a proper amount of cask ripeness, and if they were stored and attended to for twelve months before being bottled they would vastly improve. In some cases, also, wines are shipped from Australia before they are twelve months old, and as they are usually fined, bottled, and sold as soon as possible after arrival, it has actually happened that the British public have repeatedly drunk wines that are hardly one year old. Indeed, the wines are frequently bottled when in a state of fermentation, consequently secondary fermentation goes on in the bottle, and the bottles are often shattered by an explosion. And more than this, they are often badly blended; they do not receive sufficient care and attention; and they are not uncommonly in the hands of a few men whose sole object is to make money.
There is still something further which is greatly prejudicial to the fair name of Australian wine, and it is this: Many of the wine merchants hold very small stocks, so that any one supply soon runs out and is no longer obtainable. As a result it is urged against the wines that they are not constant, and that it is impossible to procure the same wine twice running. With larger stocks, too, there would be some certainty that the wine was matured, as for example with a merchant holding a three years’ supply. In this case, also, the consumer would be enabled to obtain a continued supply of any particular wine to which he might have become attached.
My own belief, however, is that the most powerful impetus to our wine industry will arise from the Australians themselves taking an interest in all that concerns this great source of health, wealth, and employment. I have said so before, and take this opportunity of saying so again. Let our people take an active interest in every detail connected with the growing of the grape, and with the making of the wine! Let a light, wholesome wine, also, enter into the daily dietary of the whole people! For the national drink for Australian use is unquestionably a wine of low alcoholic strength; a wine of a sufficient age to be free from any reproach of newness; and a wine possessing those qualities which render it wholesome, beneficial, hygienic, cheering, and restorative.
There are two other matters which require to be noticed before leaping the whole subject of Australian wine. The first of these is a reference to the establishment of Viticultural Colleges, and it is one of very great importance, because it has much to do with the development of the wine industry. Now, I am not one of those who look to the State for everything, but it seems to me that if you recognise the necessity of State education, you must at least equally recognise the necessity of affording the youthful population of Australia the opportunity of learning that which must eventually develop into the one distinctive industry of this land. France at the present day, even with her unrivalled reputation as the wine-growing country of the world, avails herself of the advantages of Viticultural Colleges. Italy, also, by means of their help is making strides in a manner actually bordering on the miraculous. If these countries, then, in which vine-growing and winemaking have been carried on for centuries find Viticultural Colleges indispensable, how much more must a young country, with its wine industry quite undeveloped, need them!
It must with confidence be said, therefore, that Australia cannot do without these Viticultural Colleges. Something has already been done by the establishment of Agricultural Colleges, and this is most commendable. But what I believe is this, that a wine-grower must be a wine-grower and nothing else. To know everything connected with the growth of the grape and cellar management thoroughly is quite enough for any ordinary man to attempt to master. Therefore viticulture must either be made a distinctly separate course at the Agricultural Colleges; or, what if better still, Viticultural Colleges must be established for the purpose alone.
At Montpellier, in France, the course of viticultural education is elaborately comprehensive, and includes the study of the anatomy of the vine, its flowers, leaves, seeds, &c. The pupils become thoroughly acquainted with every variety of wine in practical form; they see it grow, learn the art of pruning, and of everything pertaining to the growth of the vine. They also master all the details connected with grafting, the laying out of vineyards, the diseases to which the vine is liable, and the remedies which are most effectual. And, in addition, there is minute instruction in every step in cellar management and the after care and treatment of the wine itself, from the start to the finish. In this way the subject is studied from a thoroughly scientific standpoint, with a result that influences for good the whole of French viticulture.
But if the benefits derived from the establishment of Viticultural Colleges in France are thus remarkable, those which have followed their introduction into Italy are nothing less than wonderful. The School of Viticulture at Conegliano has been the means of increasing the wine production of Italy to an incredible extent. In 1870 Italy exported only 4,000,000 gallons of wine; yet in 1890, in the short space of twenty years, this had risen to 88,000,000 gallons. This school has taught the people to make good wine; it has induced people who had never dreamt of it to plant vineyards; it hag led people to plant them properly, since they were shown the way on a rational principle; and lastly, they have thus learnt how to make wine on a scientific basis. The course of study there is extremely severe, and as a result all those who receive diplomas from it thoroughly understand the cultivation of the vine and the management of the cellar. This School of Viticulture has been such a phenomenal success that other provinces of Italy brought pressure upon the Government. As a consequence therefrom, secondary schools have been established at many places, notably Gioia del Colle, Pozzuolo, Tmola, Avellino, Alda, Catania, &c.
In conclusion, there is that other most important matter to which I should like to draw attention. It is to advocate the establishment of an Australian Wine–Growers’ Association on a federal basis. The advantage resulting from the formation of a strong Association, with a numerically powerful membership roll, would be very great. Such an organization would be well able to conduct a weekly paper of its own, with contributors from all the different colonies. There would be no dearth of literary material, for the whole subject is one teeming with interest. Even now a substantial beginning has been made, and THE AUSTRALIAN VIGNERON AND FRUIT-GROWERS JOURNAL is well deserving of success, and is already doing good work in this very direction. And besides the foregoing, an Intercolonial Wine–Growers’ Congress should meet annually at the different Australian metropolitan centres (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, &c.), in rotation, where there would be the opportunity of discussing theoretical questions, and of tasting practical results. In all these many ways public interest in the Australian wine industry would be continually sustained; and, rising from its unfairly neglected position, it would speedily attain to that pride of place which is manifestly its destiny.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53