Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tapestry of terroirs too good for little boxes

600 million year-old Seacliff sandstone and Reynella siltstone
curl under the proposed development site; Chalk Hill and
Paxton vineyards (the green shaded blocks) are on the same dirt
across the road to the left of the picture
(detail from the Geology of the McLaren Vale Wine Region map)
The winegrowers of McLaren Vale are fighting to stop a proposed housing estate on precious vineyard land.

This isn't just another case of a bucolic wine region threatened by greedy urban sprawl. What's at stake here goes much deeper than that - literally.

The inconceivably old country under the proposed Seaford Heights development site is special: far better suited to the deep roots of a splendid vineyard than being smothered in yet more ticky-tacky boxes.

We know this terrain is special because in June the McLaren Vale Grape, Wine and Tourism Association - in conjunction with the South Australian government - published a detailed geological map of the region.

The map shows the history of the rocks and sands, the faults and tears, the rumblings and inundations that have shaped this country over eons. It also shows how the region's vineyards are now draped over this diverse tapestry of terroirs.

The map shows that the jumble of siltstones and sandstones under the controversial development site were formed up to 650 million years ago and that this ancient geological pocket is unique in McLaren Vale.

To wine lovers, of course, phrases such as "unique ancient terroir" start the saliva flowing, and the very high quality of wines already produced from this terroir - in the Paxton and Chalk Hill vineyards just across the road from the development site, on the same rocks - indicate this area has huge potential to become one of McLaren Vale's most prized viticultural sub-regions.

Unless, that is, these ancient rocks are covered in concrete and bitumen.
Australia's winemakers have realised that the key to a sustainable future lies in promoting unique regions and special vineyard sites.

We need to support this crucial development in Australia's wine history and to value the contribution to our shared culture of soul-soothing wines, redolent of the unique ancient soils they were grown in.

We need to protect our special vineyard sites, not cover them in little boxes.

UPDATE: This article first appeared in The Weekend Australian on 4 September 2010. A couple of days later, the local Onkaparinga Council rejected the development application. The application is now in the hands of the state government.

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