Seeking alternative views on alternative varieties

Peer pressure can be good or bad. In Luke Mancini’s case, it will probably turn out to be enlightening but exhausting.

When not one but two mates told him to ‘get his finger out and apply’ for a Nuffield Scholarship he set himself on a course that will see him spend two two-month stints away from the family farm at Whitton in Riverina during 2016. The aim is to learn as much as he can about alternative grape varieties.

‘A family friend who’d been a scholar said “mate you’ve got to do it. It’s never a good time to do these sorts of things because it’s a massive personal investment and a massive investment in time but it’s never going to get easier and I think you’re at the right stage now where you’d really benefit from it”.

‘Then a good friend from uni, who got inducted last year and so is doing the scholarship now, spoke very highly of it and what it allows you to do.

‘I applied right on the last day though, so I didn’t give myself much of a buffer. But I went through the interview process then got the phone call to say “you’re in”.’

Being ‘in’ will mean a two-week induction in Albury followed by an intensive eight-week tour of Singapore, India, Turkey, Qatar, France and the US with colleagues from a diverse range of agricultural backgrounds and an incredibly diverse agenda.

Later in the year will come an individual trip of Luke’s choosing.

‘I haven’t got a clear plan of where and when I’m going to go as yet but I expect to definitely visit California and South America’, he said.

‘I’d like to see big wine regions like Mendoza in Argentina to see how different wineries consult with growers to make the wines that they do.

‘And obviously southern Europe along the Mediterranean, where the climate is most similar to ours. I want to know about the varieties that work in their climate and why they work – and why consumers want to drink that particular wine.

‘I think I might just open a big can of worms and not find a definite answer to what varieties are best suited to our climate. But I hope that in the long run it starts a conversation at least.’

The Mancini farm, halfway between Griffith and Leeton, has been growing wine grapes since the 1990s, when Luke’s father decided to diversify from a traditional base of winter cereals and summer cropping. At the time, grapes were seen as an efficient use of both land and water.

Today, around a third of the 600+ hectares they farm is dedicated to vineyards and Luke says he has greatly enjoyed immersing himself in the wine sector since returning to the land after a few years working with a small grain trading company.

‘The winegrape industry doesn’t feel as organised as the grain industry and I don’t mean that in a bad way; in fact, it’s a real positive’, he said.

‘Most of the businesses that we’re dealing with in the wine industry are family owned and family run so you get really good access to the people who are making decisions from the winery’s point of view, which I think is important as a farmer – to have the ability to make contact with the people who are actually making decisions.

‘In the grain industry, growers don’t get to meet the decision-makers at a big purchasing company.’

The Nuffield Scholarship is one of Wine Australia’s suite of leadership programs.

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