Turning wastewater into winning wines

Aussie winemaker Michael Fragos grows perfect grapes in his South Australian vineyards with the help of wastewater.

by: Madeleine Coorey: AFP | 10 Jun 2008

The soil, climate and afternoon sea breeze are all ideal. The only problem is the lack of water in one of the country's driest states, a hurdle that he and other McLaren Vale vignerons have overcome by using treated wastewater to irrigate the deep green vines.

Fragos said a decision by local growers taken almost a decade ago to use treated effluent piped from the South Australian capital Adelaide for irrigation had kept the vineyards alive.

"Five years ago people were turning their noses up at it," said the chief winemaker at the Chapel Hill Wine winery. "But now it's the only way you can grow grapes."

The irrigation has not harmed McLaren Vale wines, a point made emphatically by the charismatic Fragos last November when he won the title of world winemaker of the year at London's 2008 International Wine and Spirit Competition.

Judges for the competition described Fragos' wines as "fine textured" and as having a "seamless, silky texture with beautiful balance" and "supple tannins and long, full fruited finish".

Fragos said wineries had to be highly efficient with their water usage.

Amy Richards, the viticulture officer at the McLaren Vale Grape Wine Tourism Association, said rigorous testing of the wastewater irrigation scheme had failed to detect any unwanted impurities in the soil or fruit.

Wines that are powerful but graceful
Fragos, who grew up in the McLaren Vale, is quick to point out the region's attributes, such as its maritime climate, which he said make it ideal for winemaking despite a dramatic variation in soil type.

"Some people say there are some similarities to the Bordeaux (in France), but the soils are quite different. The climate, yes," he said.

Fragos is looking to keep on producing subtler McLaren Vale wines, which he thinks better showcase the region's characteristics, it's a mission he arrived with at Chapel Hill, after 14 years at fellow McLaren Vale winery Tatachilla, in early 2004.

The results, he hopes, are "wines that are reasonably rich and powerful but at the same time not losing sight of style. Wines that is powerful but graceful".

"People are starting to think more about style, not just weight, and making the wines more food friendly," he said. "And making the wines more intriguing, really."

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