Monday, March 28, 2011

What Makes a Region?

The first time I visited the Canberra Wine Region was 2008, it was a fleeting visit, a test of it's maturity. As a region, it failed. But it made me wonder what makes a wine region? It is clearly more than terroir, the Barossa is as diverse in terroir as all of NSW's growing regions. It is more than one or two flagship wines or even varieties.

What stood out to me were the responses to questions of where else to try in the region. Such questions were often met with indignation. No favourites, no cross-referrals, no sense of community.

There is something else about a region, a sense of community. The sense of community needs to be more than the farmers having been neighbours for as long as the vines have grown. It is more than the kids playing together and following in their forebears footsteps. There is a certain maturity that comes to a region that is beyond the first Cellar Door. It is all of these things; a definitive variety, flagship wineries, iconic labels, a daring to go beyond the expectations, ever emerging new talent and genuine belief that all of the produce of the region should be enjoyed by as many as possible.

Please take this as it is meant, there were some great wines tasted on that brief tour including Clonakilla and Helm, lovely people and fantastic characters. What was missing was the glue, the sense of place, the unity of region.

Now in 2011, I feel the region has come a long way. The region is varietally defining itself with Riesling and cool-climate reds, flagship wineries are standing up and being counted. There is new blood, emerging talents and just the right amount of challenging the status quo.

I am an advocate of Canberra wines, but as a region it is still maturing. Take, for example, the imminent Harvest Festival. 26 of the 33 wineries in the region advertise activities, but most are a simple variation on the cellar door being open, a few gumboot tours and a smattering of Jazz. I'll admit there are a few different things like Dionysus bottling wine, Little Bridge Wines making wine (well crush and begin ferment, but you can go back over the weeks to engage in various parts of the process) and even a unique Thai-style dinner (unfortunately cancelled). But it still feels disjointed, lacking unity of action and a centre of critical mass.

Where do people gather? They have to arrange their own transport between wineries. How do people know where to go? They have to choose or flit between the options. Lots of things may actually occur, but there can be no sense of where or what is happening beyond each venue.

I will be out there trying a few of the interesting options during the festival, but I yearn for the day when it becomes a celebration of the community of the Canberra Wine Region.

No comments: