Talk by Peter Watters – Viticulturalist

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I’ve had about 40 years in the grape industry firstly as a table grape grower where we operated our own table grape vineyard for 23 years and we then moved from table grape growing to consultancy and contracting in the wine industry in 1990 and along the way we bought the local Post Office which my wife Heather runs. I took the precaution to learn nothing about the PO so I never have to do anything in it! I’ve had a very interesting number of years or nearly a lifetime in grapes particularly in the last few years when we picked up Sirromet Wines as our major client and for 9 years we established their vineyards, 3 of which at Ballandean are: Seven Scenes 102 ha, St Judes 24ha, Night Sky 23ha, and 12ha at Mt Cotton – a total of 400 acres. I’m sure you’re familiar with Sirromet and I hope you’ll try their wines and try their facilities at Mt. Cotton which are quite outstanding and doing something to place the Qld wine industry on the map.

There are any amount of publications on grapes as you know and one of the first things you learn is that they’re one of the major fruit crops of the world – there are more grapes grown than any other fruit crop and if you’re serious about it, we’ve got Viticulture I and II and there’s a book “Wine from a 100 Wines” if you’d like to make your own wine, this publication is all you need. The DPI put out a wine grape information kit. We also have Field Guide to Diseases; there’s also a list of all the wine grapes of the world, there’s also one for table grapes. If you want any information see who are based in Sydney or you could give me a call.

There is no difference between growing table grapes and wine grapes; the physiology of the vines etc. is very similar so there’s no reason why there should be much discrimination between your viticulture and table grapes and wine grapes. Not many wine makers will agree with that because wine makers are sometimes a little bit different but you might have a slight difference in crop levels etc. but generally there are marked similarities. There’s less tolerance from the States in table grapes as when you’re on the fresh fruit market and you’re trying to deal with chain stores, everything has to look pretty good these days.

Sheryl asked me to talk about what varieties are suitable for this area, as well as pests and diseases.

Your first consideration is your soil type and your temperatures and some grapes will behave better at higher temperatures than others – you would be called a warm to hot climate area whereas Stanthorpe, is a cool climate area. Incidentally, Stanthorpe has exactly the same ripening temperatures as Coonawarra and Margaret River and some of the other premium areas in Australia. What you are looking for are varieties that will be fairly tolerant to a range of soils because a number are known to have a fairly high clay content and you also want varieties that will be tolerant to rain in the growing stages but not in the ripening stage so with wine grapes, you’re looking for grapes that have loose bunches which means they dry out quicker when it has rained so when it is consistently wet you don’t want them wet any longer than necessary and I imagine some of you have heard of the 10:20 rule and that is when Downy Mildew is likely to be most prevalent ie 10ml of rain to 10 hours wet grapes and 20ºC temperature so if you get those 3 combinations you have an ideal opportunity for Downy Mildew. There is one variety that is quite resistant to 3 major diseases and that is Chombusen and that is what we planted at Mt. Cotton and it makes a reasonable red wine too. It’s not easy to sell as most people haven’t heard of it but it can be quite successful and it is either resistant or tolerant to Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew and Botrytis which of course is one of the rots if you get berry splitting etc. at ripening so it’s really the safest one for these sorts of conditions. For red grapes, Cabernet is a much looser bunch and fairly tough in the skin and it’s reasonably tolerant to wet weather. Metaro, as the French call it, is another that is tolerant.


There’s a very good guide put out by the DPI on a chemical program for grapes.

Powdery Mildew  Keep a regular coverage on the vine of wettable sulphur starting from bud burst
Downy Mildew   Copper Oxychloride or Mancozeb
Sheryl:   Organic Control:  Spray immediately after pruning with lime-sulphur or bordeaux mixture. Otherwise, during the season cut out the offending parts.

Whites:   Bordello is the most tolerant to wet weather but it’s very susceptible to Powdery Mildew so you have to be spot on with your chemicals. Other varieties like Marsanne and White Muscat which can be used as both a wine grape and table grape, Colombard is another. Keep away from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon because unless you’re going to pick them very early, particularly the Semillon, they can be susceptible to wet weather too. The Hunter Valley was losing their Semillon quite regularly in the old days with wet weather and somebody decided to pick them a bit earlier and that is why they are so famous today because instead of picking them at about 13% sugar, they are picking them at 10-11% and consequently they are aging so well and allegedly they are the best Semillons in Australia which was an accident of picking them early so now everyone does it. There’s probably more people here more knowledgeable than me but don’t tell everyone that!!

Table Grapes:  I still like the old Black Muscat. It does suffer wet weather damage but in these areas you’d be picking it late December so you should have it off before the rains hit in January or February. White Muscat is a nice table grape but have a go at Red Emperor which is a late grape – they grew a lot of it down in the MIA (Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area) and Mildura – it’s a very tough grape. I’d be interested to see how Red Globe, Black American. Flame Seedless which is earlier than Muscat performed here. Menindee Seedless is also worth an experiment. It’s a bit hard to get to bear but on the other hand it’s a very nice grape.

Sheryl     What do we need to do to get it to bear here?  
Peter     Lay down plenty of canes. There’s all sorts of experiments with Menindee. I’ve seen them at 18 months old get 11 kgs and a year later getting 4 bunches a panel which is 4 bunches to 5 vines so they’re very haphazard. A fellow at St George was putting all his on Sultana as a root crop and that was his way of getting them bear so I haven’t followed it up to see if it worked. There always seems to be plenty in the shops ever year so somebody must be getting on top of it. Funnily, they seem to be a lot better when they are young than when they get older. There’s a new variety out called Black American and everybody is singing its praises but I haven’t seen it yet but you should just experiment.

Sheryl     There’s a gene bank up your way.
Peter    The DPI at Applethorpe do have a planting of virus tested material and many, many different varieties.
Sheryl     Is it possible for us to get them?
Peter   Theoretically, you would get them through the Vine Improvement Association. There is an Australian Vine Improvement Association (AVIA) which is an amalgamation of half a dozen State Bodies who are charged with the responsibility of propagating virus tested and clean, planting material. AVIA has been very pro-active in importing varieties and these are then handed to the State Bodies of which there is one in Qld and we have 2 plantings plus the DPI planting which has more or less been handed over to Qld VIA and the idea was that they would then release material to nurserymen to insure that all material going out to nurseries was clean material. Grapes are riddled with viruses. They have to be self funded – they don’t get any government money and the income comes from royalties on cuttings or the cuttings they grow themselves.
Sheryl     What do growers pay per cutting?
Peter      The going rate for the dearest cutting through the VIA is 30 cents – there are 3 different grades and the reason for that is that for grafting and propagation you have different classes.

Sheryl  I have a large folio on grapes if anyone is interested in borrowing.

Heather & Peter’s B&B at Ballandean “Heather’s Cottage” has all amenities; queen size bed, spacious living area with fold down bed and open fire with plentiful wood supply, covered carport, outdoor area and lovely views, handy to attractions, wineries and restaurants but quiet and peaceful.    Ph: 4684 1300 or  4684 1147

compiled by Sheryl Backhouse