Great examples of the innovative spirit of Rutherglen are the vast amount of varieties and styles within such a small region. Sparkling Shiraz a favourite, flavourful and long lived Riesling, Marsanne and Chardonnay, Sangiovese, and Gamay, impressive Shiraz and the iconic Durif attest to the successful application of modern winemaking and viticultural techniques learnt, developed and embraced over the years.
The viticultural team of Winemakers of Rutherglen are constantly looking to enhance understanding of the Rutherglen soils, climate and clonal performance, particularly in response to the challenges of climate change.
Continuing with experimentation and searching for ways to move forward in the vineyard and winery has included looking at long-established varieties in a new way, as well as investigating new varieties that are best suited to the region's climate and predicted future conditions.
As a result, many producers have identified an exciting opportunity by experimenting with old vine fruit, as Portuguese varieties such as Touriga Nacional and French varieties like Mondeuse have been in the ground for a century. There are also a wide range of younger alternative varieties, as shown in the accompanying table, that are adding to the diversity of the region and are producing some fresh and interesting wines.
Rutherglen has seen a resurgence of the famous Rhone varieties, which show a great suitability to the region. The dry, warm climate provides conditions ideal for these styles.
Recently it has been the white varieties that are proving most successful, with marsanne, roussanne and viognier producing aromatic and generously layered wines, with ripe fruit flavours and excellent structure.
The region has had plantings of grenache and shiraz for more than a century, cinsault for up to ninety years, marsanne for fifty years, viognier for more than fifteen years and mourvedre and roussanne for approximately seven years. These Rhone varieties have flourished in Rutherglens climate which is similar to the Rhone with warm summers and cool nights.
Durif is a rare red grape variety brought to Rutherglen from France in 1908 by the eminent Australian viticulturalist Francois de Castella as one of the possible replacements for vineyards devastated by the vine aphid phylloxera.
Introducing the variety to Rutherglen at the time was a master stroke – the soils, the climate and the skills of the winemakers were a winning combination that ensured the variety flourished in its new home. Indeed, such is the affinity between the variety and its adopted home that it is sometimes referred to as Rutherglen Durif.
While Rutherglen Durif is usually made as a table wine, it also finds its way into blends with other varieties such as Shiraz, or made into a very popular sparkling red style. The variety is also a prime contributor to some of the region's outstanding vintage and tawny fortified styles.
Despite the long history of working with the Durif, the winemakers continue to explore new viticultural and winemaking practices as they strive to further evolve their individual house styles and ensure that Rutherglen Durif maintains its place in the years ahead as one of Australia's fine red wine styles.