In AFRWeekend at 13.April.2017

By Max Allen

In Lisbon this June, grape growers, vignerons, marketers and journalists will gather at a summit called Must: Fermenting Ideas, to discuss the future of wine.

There will be presentations on all sorts of emerging trends, from the rise of China as a wine-drinking culture and a wine-producing nation, to the new ways that Millennials are communicating with each other about what they’re drinking; from a debate on whether English bubbly will ever win out over Champagne to the burgeoning fashion for natural wines; from the craze for high-altitude vineyards to the obsession with obscure grape varieties.

In the two decades I’ve been writing about wine I’ve come across many people who have made many predictions about the future, and touted many cutting-edge innovations. And I’ve learnt that, very often, what’s regarded as new and groundbreaking is nothing of the sort: Someone, at some point in the past, has thought of it – and done it –already.

Take the explosion of interest in new, non-mainstream, climate-appropriate grape varieties like vermentino and nero d’avola from southern Italy, tempranillo and bastardo from Spain and Portugal – hot, dry parts of southern Europe that closely resemble many of Australia’s grape-growing regions. These varieties are already providing more viticultural options in a warming world and they represent a fabulous diversification of our wine culture that I strongly support. But it’s not a new idea.

Back in the early 1860s, Dr Alexander Kelly (the man who founded what would become Hardy’s Tintara winery in McLaren Vale) wrote: “Possessing a climate so resembling Portugal and Spain, it is to these countries we should look for varieties of the vine suited to the warmer localities of Australia.” Only 150 years ahead of his time.

Take one of the other biggest winemaking fads: juicy, fruity, fresh young reds made by a technique called carbonic maceration, where whole bunches of grapes are fermented in a closed vessel to boost upfront perfume and minimise the extraction of too much body and tannin. Again, very cool but nothing new: in the early 1980s in Victoria, the late Stephen Hickinbotham perfected his own variation on this technique (originally from Beaujolais in France) and marketed the wine under the name Cab Mac, kicking off a trend in that decade for juicy, fruity, fresh young reds.

Or take another emerging trend: packing wine not in boring old 750ml bottles but in alternative formats such as flagons and cans. Lovely idea, and it’ll become hugely popular, I’m sure, in bars and at festivals around the country. But it’s hardly novel. The Sydney wine merchant Doug Lamb first started shipping cans of Beaujolais to Australia in 1965. According to news reports of the time he said they were “aimed at the out-of-doors drinking market”.

Indeed, many of the topics up for discussion at Must: Fermenting Ideas will play on this back-to-the-future theme.

New York wine writer Alice Feiring will be talking about how natural wines – seen by many as such a modern fad – are in many ways simply a return to how our ancestors fermented grape juice hundreds of years ago. Grape geneticist Dr José Vouillamoz will be exploring the world of old and forgotten grape varieties – in some cases just a single remaining vine growing in the backyard of an abandoned farmhouse – and how these ancient cultivars might offer new viticultural options for the grower and flavour diversity for the consumer in the future. And winemaker Paul Symington, along with wine critic Rui Falcão, will be promoting the idea of port and madeira, two wines traditionally associated with tweed-jacketed old men, as being thoroughly relevant to a modern wine world fascinated with extreme viticulture and authentic terroirs.

In wine, as in so many other aspects of life, to move forward successfully you often need to look back.

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