Adversity becomes opportunity for the Yarra

Dave Bicknell of Oakridge Estate (Photo: Huon Hooke)

Replanting its vineyards to avoid phylloxera could cost the Yarra Valley $1 billion. So say local winemakers including Mac Forbes of Mac Forbes Wines and David Bicknell of Oakridge Estate. Phylloxera has been slowly but steadily spreading outwards from the place where it was first detected on St Huberts Road, Coldstream.

There is no cure for phylloxera vastatrix, the tiny root-eating aphid. The only way to control it is by prevention: vineyards must be replanted with vines grafted to phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. Most of the valley’s vines are planted on their own roots, ie. ungrafted and therefore vulnerable. Grafted vines are much more expensive than ungrafted.

Vineyard owners whose vines are in the path of phylloxera are either replanting or making plans to replant, and this is being seen as an opportunity to improve the layout of vineyards as well as the choice of vine varieties and clones. There are many rootstocks to choose from and much thought is going into choosing the right rootstock for the site, variety and clone. Choice of clone is a big one: there are many more clones available today than when the older vineyards were planted – especially chardonnay and pinot noir.

Bicknell says it’s also a good opportunity to replace vines affected by Eutypa, a fungal disease that starts in pruning cuts and spreads throughout the vine, restricting its yield and eventually killing it.

“Eutypa is an even bigger problem than phylloxera – or at least a more immediate one,” he says.

“Chopping off the head and arms (of the vine) doesn’t always get rid of all the diseased wood. The replanting program gives us an opportunity to deal with Eutypa at the same time as we are protecting ourselves against phylloxera.”

Oakridge is replanting the winery vineyard, which produces its best cabernet sauvignon grapes. Yarra Yering is another winery in the vicinity which is replanting. Winemaker Sarah Crowe says,

“Cabernet will have a stronger presence in our vineyard after replanting. I think that will be a trend across the valley.”

Out of adversity comes opportunity.

*Read my story earlier this year about Phylloxera spreading in the Yarra Valley

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