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Three Victorian wineries are putting aside traditional rivalries to help each other recover from the coronavirus.
And they’re using award-winning wines and food, nature, and the relatively low profile of
the region as their biggest drawcards.
Tahbilk, Fowles, and Mitchelton — three, five-star rated wineries, located in the Strathbogie
Shire, approximately 90 minutes north of Melbourne — have been hit hard by border closures and Melbourne’s recent ‘ring of steel’, which separated regional Victoria from metropolitan Melbourne:
• The historic Tahbilk Winery is Victoria’s oldest winery situated on the banks of the Goulburn River. Once referred to by the first people as ‘tabilk-tabilk’ (or the ‘place of many waterholes’), Tahbilk is a carbon neutral winery nestled among river flats and kilometres of backwaters, creeks, and walking trails.
• Just up the road, also fronting Victoria’s longest river, is Mitchelton Wines, a mid-century architectural masterpiece, which has been recently updated to include the iconic Ashton Tower, overlooking the Goulburn River and ranges, award winning cellar door, 58 room hotel, restaurant, major events, and one of Australia’s largest Aboriginal art galleries.
• Fowles Wine is the relatively new kid on the block – a five-star winery and farm located in the small township of Avenel, a short drive from the other two wineries. Fowles has also invested in its future, opening a new cellar door and renovating its restaurant, drawing on inspiration from the quintessential Aussie shed and majestic views of the Strathbogie Ranges.
“Each winery is completely different. Yet, by coming together, we offer the chance for guests to experience the best of the Victorian wine industry in a day. This is a great opportunity for people who want real, authentic experiences,” according to Fowles Wine owner Matt Fowles.
Like most businesses in the region, Tahbilk, Fowles, and Mitchelton depend upon holiday makers and daytrippers using the Hume Highway, which completely dried up as a source of tourism in 2020. But now the renowned Shiraz and Riesling producers are fighting back, using the region’s natural hidden gems, and relatively low tourism profile, as part of a new campaign to secure their share of Victoria’s $10bn regional tourism market.
“Relatively little-known wine regions and townships, like nearby Nagambie and Avenel, now have a fighting chance to compete with better-known visitor destinations because of the virus,” Fowles said.
Tahbilk CEO Alister Purbrick said there were about 4.4 million people visiting and spending money in regional Victoria every month in 2019.
“That’s a lot of visitors, even before the pandemic begun, and that gives us a lot of heart to make a serious comeback from the ravage of this pandemic,” he said.
With Victoria’s regional tourism boom expected to go deep into next year, Mr Purbrick said it made sense for the three wineries to band together to offer an attractive alternative to the regular touristy spots.
“In the coming months, we expect to see a surge in visitors from Melbourne, within the region, and even interstate, looking for places to visit and explore, which are different, unexpected, and safe.
“People will still want to have a great food and wine experience in a beautiful regional setting. But, post-lockdown, they will also want to be able to stretch out, breathe, feel safe, and be totally free from the hassle of queues and crowds, which is exactly what we are offering,” Purbrick said.
Chief winemaker at Mitchelton, Andrew Santarossa, said the Take Nature’s Road Trip campaign exploited the fact the region is not always top-of-mind, or on the ‘map’, for most day-trippers.
“For us, this has become one of our greatest strengths as we don’t have the same crowds, or traffic problems, which other more frequented regional wine destinations are likely to encounter this coming summer.
“But what we do have is an amazing natural setting boasting some of Victoria’s best wineries and dining, wide-open spaces, the Goulburn River and Ranges, bush trails and billabongs, and friendly smiles,” Santarossa said.
The South Australian government has launched a $3 million wine tourism campaign designed to attract international visitors to the state’s wine regions and boost the industry.
At Coriole Vineyards in McLaren Vale today, SA premier Steven Marshall, Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development Tim Whetstone and Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment David Ridgway announced the beginning of the “International Visitation Campaigns” in the Barossa, Clare Valley, Limestone Coast, Adelaide Hills, the Riverland and McLaren Vale.
The state Government has committed $750,000 towards the initiative with funding contributions also from Wine Australia, through the Commonwealth Government’s $50 million Export and Regional Wine Support Package, local government, wine associations and communities.
Premier Marshall said the campaigns are a key pillar in attracting more visitation to South Australia’s wine regions and cellar doors.
“Today’s launch of the International Visitation Campaigns across six wine regions will build on the fantastic work this government is already doing to attract visitors to South Australia,” said Marshall.
“Our world-famous wine regions are an important part of the state’s economy and this campaign will allow them to continue to grow and create jobs for the state.”
Whetstone said the visitation campaigns are a collaborative effort to attract international visitors to South Australia’s wine regions, with a focus on China and the United States.
“Almost 40 per cent of international tourists visit a winery during their stay in South Australia and visitor expenditure supports growth in our regions,” said Whetstone.
“South Australia’s number one wine export destination is China and Hong Kong, with $813 million worth of wine exported in 2017-18, which shows where we can continue to add value to any activities targeted to these consumers.
“Six wine regions across South Australia are utilising the campaign in a number of innovative ways to attract international visitors, including a sommelier exchange, multi-lingual website, wine trail, virtual reality and online marketing.
“Our wine regions are continuing to be innovative and adapt to changing consumer needs targeting consumers looking for premium products.”
In the McLaren Vale, wine exports exceeded $100 million for the first time last year and McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association General Manager Jennifer Lynch said a targeted consumer marketing campaign will continue to build on that momentum.
“This investment and support will generate a notable step-change in our region’s continued international growth in key wine and tourism export markets, and we look forward to welcoming more visitors to enjoy what we have to offer in McLaren Vale,” said Lynch.
South Australian company, Advanced Material Solutions (AMS) began commissioning their first commercial units last month and plans to ramp up its workforce from 26 to more than 200 to cater for increasing global demand.
AMS Filtration managing director Gilbert Erskine said the robust titanium membranes were so strong that they could run 24-hours a day for a week while polymeric (plastic) or ceramic filters could spend 30 per cent of their time in cleaning modes, which often included chemicals.
He said his Viti-flow system could be easily cleaned in minutes with hot water and could extract solids up to 80 per cent, compared with about 10 per cent for many traditional membranes.
“The difference between 10 per cent solids and 80 per cent solids would be at least a 7 per cent increase in the product you can put in a bottle – that’s seven litres in every 100,” Erskine said.
“From when a tonne of grapes came in to when it’s ready for the bottle it’s been through the filtration process several times and each time we can capture that extra 7 per cent that would normally go down the drain so that’s payback right away.”
The system is scalable to suit all sizes of wineries, with the bigger units installed at major Australian wineries so far featuring four sets of membranes capable of filtering 35,000-40,000 litres an hour. They produce clean filtrate at less than 1NTU and solids of up to 80 per cent.
Based at Lonsdale in Adelaide’s southern suburbs, AMS Filtration has been in business since 1985 and has had a long affiliation with the wine industry.
It started out making stainless steel fittings, heat exchangers and refrigeration plants for wineries before experimenting with polymeric, ceramic and stainless steel filter membranes.
The stainless steel filters were the most effective but also the most expensive and they were eventually set up in Indonesia to service the palm oil industry, where they proved more profitable.
After many years of experimentation and collaboration with Australian universities, the company developed the titanium membranes and has been secretly trialling the technology with industry partners for the past few years.
“It’s been a 30-year journey but it is very difficult to do, titanium itself is very difficult to work with and it’s taken us a long time and many mistakes,” Erskine said.
“Titanium is very expensive – it’s much more expensive than stainless steel but due to its properties we’ve been able to make it much, much thinner and make the capillary size much smaller than traditional stainless steel so we’ve reduced the weight of the membrane and just by reducing that weight it compensates for the high cost raw material.
“We had a good name in the wine industry so it seemed that the wine industry was where we should launch our filter.”
AMS Filtration exhibited at the 2018 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in California in January and took orders from American wineries without them even seeing the filters in action. Erskine will return to the US next month to follow up with major wineries that made inquiries at the symposium – the largest wine show of its kind in the Americas.
Erskine said he was confident his titanium membrane filters would eventually be sold almost everywhere wine was made.
“We are talking with Portugal at the moment, we’ve already got orders from New Zealand,” he said.
“We’ve put a salesman in New Zealand and we intend on having a sales force globally so we’ll open offices in South America, North America, Europe and we will definitely have these filters right around the world.
“Right now there’s 26 of us – I’ve already advised three more people to start and we envisage there’ll be over 200 people here within three years.
“We are a tiny little company so we are trying to hammer along as fast as we can go but as we get a little bit stronger we will increase our capacity and we’ll just keep doing that to whatever size we need to be.”
South Australia is consistently responsible for about 50 per cent of Australia’s annual wine production and is home to the world-renowned regions of Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale and global brands Penfolds, Jacob’s Creek, Hardys Wines and Wolf Blass.
Erskine said the AMS Filtration system also improved quality by reducing wine “bruising” and the risk of taint because of its rigorous cleaning system at water temperatures of up to 90 degrees.
He said the micron rating of the titanium membrane could also be adjusted to 0.1 microns to filter out e coli or bacteria, 0.2 for standard white wine, 0.4 – 0.45 for red wine or larger for fortifieds.
“We have the ability to change that micron and again that comes down to the strength of the titanium because as you go up in pore size you are traditionally weakening the support structure but titanium can withstand it.
“There are people claiming to make titanium membranes but there is no one else in the world that we know of producing small pore titanium membranes in commercial quantities.”
AMS Filtration is also exploring systems for a range of other industries including beer, meat processing and water management.
“We wanted to focus on wineries first because we have a history in the wine industry but as other opportunities have come up we’ve taken them,” Erskine said.
“The sky is the limit, the filtration market is absolutely enormous and even if we ended up with a very small percentage of that you’d be talking hundreds of employees.”