Swan Valley Winemakers Association president Damian Hutton with 60-year-old grape vines at Nikola Estate in the Swan Valley. Picture: Anita McInnes

Old vine charter set to extend life of Swan Valley vines

The Swan Valley old vine charter shows the solidarity of the people of the region agreeing it is part of WA's agricultural history.
December 7, 2023
Anita McInnes

THE newly established Swan Valley old vine charter will not just recognise the story of winemakers in the area but will also provide some incentive for their children to keep quality old vines in the ground, says new Swan Valley Winemakers Association president Damian Hutton.

After the launch of the old vine charter on November 29, Mr Hutton said Nikola Estate had some vines planted in 1930 but James Talijancich and Arch Kosovich both had grape vines more than a 100-years-old.

Mr Talijancich and Mr Kosovich are credited with getting the old vine charter project off the ground with both of them, and consultant Julie Church, among those putting considerable time into the project over the years.

Mr Hutton, who is chief winemaker and general manager at Nikola Estate and Oakover Wines, referred to Mr Talijancich’s speech at the launch of the old vine charter, and said it showed the importance of the Swan Valley in terms of generations using the fruit to make wine, and the role it played in the agricultural history of Western Australia.

“This is where James was coming from – what the old vine charter does more importantly is show the solidarity of the people of the region of the Swan Valley and the whole as a group to say we all agree it’s an important part of Western Australia’s heritage,’’ he said.

“It’s not just Graeme Yukich going ‘I think the Swan Valley is awesome’, it’s not just James Talijancich saying ‘I’ve been making wine here for a 100 years’, it’s the whole of the valley.

“It’s a group of people who all believe the same thing – its 20 growers with 200ha that all believe that it’s important to keep the vines in the ground.

“It’s more important than keeping old vines in the ground it’s a group mentality that the Swan Valley is an important part of Western Australian history.’’

As the key representative of the Swan Valley Winemakers Association (SVWA) on the Swan Valley old vine charter working group Mr Hutton is well placed to prioritise and drive the old vine charter project.

The charter is modelled on the Barossa old vine charter and recognises the age of vines as old vine (35+), survivor (70+), centenarian (100+) and ancestor (125+).

Mr Hutton said the charter meant Swan Valley winemakers could promote their fruit as being grown from vines that have survived an amount of years and it also meant the value of that fruit would hopefully increase.

“Now we can say this is chenin blanc from 60-year-old vines, that I could sell twice over because people actually recognise the quality, and now we sell it for $1500 a tonne not $800 (because that’s what it’s worth).

“So that’s the good thing, the charter will make everyone aware of the fact that if you want fruit from old vines from the Swan Valley you have to pay for it.

“(But) the old vine charter is not to keep old vines in the ground for the sake of old vines being in the ground it’s more about community, understanding the history, importance and relevance of the valley as a whole.

“It also protects quality vines  that are old.’’

Mr Hutton said the charter would help preserve the historic vines and stop the old vines from getting ripped out in the future were a winery to change hands.

“That was the first catalyst for it right, so young people rip out the vineyard and go ‘Oh now I’ve got some nice land and I’ll sell the land’, which is actually worth more without the vineyard because no-one wants to buy the vineyard because they don’t want to look after it.

“To stop that happening we needed to make it important and recognise the fact that old vines exist for a reason because they are good vineyards.

“You don’t pull them out because every time you make wine out of them it’s good wine so it’s just a matter of protecting that heritage.

“They ripped it out before because they were getting no money for it – they weren’t even getting enough money to cover the cost of growing the grapes so they’d just rip it out.

“So now we can use the old vine charter to elevate the price of those grapes so it’s worth while keeping them in the ground.’’

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