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Riverina History

The following information provides a very detailed and descriptive view of the Riverina region, its history and main geographical features.

Geological Features

The Riverina plains were deposited by the action of ancient streams upon the remnants of the Great Dividing Range and thus consist of highly variable alluvial soils with sands and gravels embedded in clays.

The main soil type of the Riverina is red-brown earth. It has a loamy surface horizon 10-35 cm deep and passes abruptly to a reddish-brown clay which contains lime at a depth of about 70 cm. Most of these red-brown earths, although deposited by ancient streams, have been elevated above the general plain level and are found around the lower hill slopes and river ridges. Many of these contain limestone rubble. It is on these soils which are generally free-draining around Griffith and Leeton that the majority of the regions vines are planted.

The City of Griffith is central to the region, lying at the foothills of a low range of hills rising above the Murrumbidgee Valley. Land to the East, South and West of Griffith is generally flat comprising traditional red/brown earths ranging from duplex soils in the horticultural areas to heavy cracking clays of the floodplain soils. To the North West there are patches of Mallee high calcium soils.

Harvest Periods

Variety

Griffith/ Leeton Harvest

Whites

 

[The following indicate normal growing conditions]

 

Chardonnay

Late January

Colombard

Mid March

Muscat Gordo Blanco

Mid March

Riesling

Early March

Sauvignon Blanc

Mid Feb

Semillon

Feb/ March

 

 

Reds

 

Cabernet Sauvignon

Late March

Merlot

Mid March

Pinot Noir (Sparkling)

Mid Feb

Ruby Cabernet

Mid March

Shiraz

March

 

 

Regional Climate

The region has an average annual rainfall of 406mm which is spread evenly throughout the year. High evaporation and low relative humidity, high solar radiation and ample sunshine are features of the summer season. A characteristic of the climate is the high growing season temperatures with the mean for January being 23.8°C. Autumn conditions favour the onset and spread of the fungus Botrytis cinerea, with April to May temperature of 14.3°C and humidity of 77%. The warm climate decreases gradually with the onset of Autumn but still achieves a reasonably high daytime temperature and with the showers usually accompany this change of season, misty mornings and fogs arise which govern the degree of the Botrytis cinerea infection. The higher humidity late in the season, allows the Botrytis or "Noble Rot" development to occur after the picking of most of the red and white varieties. With the region having such a low natural rainfall and the vines needing water at very specific times during their growing season, grapes can only be grown here economically with irrigation.

Wine Industry History

In its first and only report, the Irrigation Trust identified viticulture as a potentially productive activity. In June 1912 John James McWilliam arrived in the district with his eldest son Jack from their Markview winery in Junee.

McWilliam planted his first vines in Hanwood (some of these have been retained at Hanwood and still bear fruit!) in the Spring of 1913 and were kept alive by the carting of water until the irrigation channels arrived in October. Doradillo, Shiraz and Malbec were planted from cuttings brought from Junee.

The first grapes (19 tonnes) were picked in 1916 and sent to Junee for processing. The Hanwood winery was commissioned in February 1917 and processed 170 tonnes. By the 1920s the winery averaged 5,000 tonnes.

Penfolds followed McWilliam's in 1919. In 1922 Penfolds offered eight-year grower contracts which were not renewed after their expiry which coincided with the Depression. Penfolds was followed by De Bortoli in 1928, Rossetto in 1930 and Miranda in 1938 and West End in 1945. Winery establishment has tended to occur in the irrigated areas, with only the Charles Sturt winery at Wagga Wagga located outside the MIA. There are 13 major wineries in this area. The Ruberto winery at Hay has never crushed grapes.

Grape production in the region increased slowly at first (11,596 tonnes in 1930 to 21,663 tonnes in 1961), but expanded considerably in the 1960?s to reach 92,715 tonnes in 1981. The major varieties then were Pedro, Semillon, Trebbiano, Doradillo, Grenache and Shiraz. These varieties were grown predominantly for the production of fortified wines. Today the Riverina produces in excess of 250,000 tonnes of fruit.

As a result of the Depression and the collapse of prices, growers petitioned the NSW Government for the creation of a Marketing Board. Following a poll of producers in 1932, the Wine Grapes Marketing Board was established in February 1933 with the role of representing grower interests in their dealings with wineries. The Board continues to play this role today. Most vineyards are still on small family farms of about 20ha where other horticultural crops are also produced. The majority of grape growers are of Italian descent.

In the 1950's following a succession of wet winters, widespread waterlogging and salinity problems arose which threatened the continued existence of the irrigation industry. The horrendous flood year of 1956 saw thousands of trees, particularly stone fruit trees, perish, and a Board was established to coordinate and oversee the installation of underground tile drainage systems, designed to prevent the water table rising through the sub-soil thus keeping the leached out salts away from the roots of the vines and trees. The first of these drains was placed in 1961.

Rapid expansion of premium varietal grape plantings began in the late 1960's as the market moved away from traditional fortified wine styles, acquiring a taste for red and white table wines. The advent of the Botrytis affected sweet white wine styles for which the region is famous, began in 1958 at McWilliam's Hanwood winery. These particular wine styles have since gained extensive National and International recognition, with the De Bortoli company to the fore with its Noble One branded Botrytis wine.

Riverina History

The name "Riverine", coined from the province of Entre Rios (between two rivers) in South America, was in use as early as 1857. A long letter under the caption "Riverine Colony" appeared in the Border Post of January 24, 1857.

To the West, in the midst of the great rivers of the continent, is the Riverina of New South Wales.

The Riverina is essentially a pastoral district, in which the squatters are patriarchs owning many flocks. But of all the strictly pastoral districts of the world it is perhaps the best.

It is impossible to say when the first station in the Riverina was occupied. Country on the upper Lachlan was occupied as early as 1829 when one McHenry took up a place later called Marengo. In the early 1840's there was much activity, and by 1848 practically all the land along the Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Murray River frontages had been occupied. It was not until this time that the stations in the pastoral districts were clearly described and their boundaries defined.

In the 1860's many Victorians crossed the Murray into New South Wales to become settlers, breeding sheep and cattle. It was said that the herds bred on the stations in their early history were inferior because they had to be produced at the least cost and they only rose in value when the gold diggers arrived and paid any price for meat. But these herds proved that the interior pastures were good for stock, and convinced people that the land which seemed a desert was actually good fattening country. Graziers discovered the saltbush and realised how valuable it was.

This caused the first of three waves of settlement which swept over the region. The first wave arose from the demand for meat made by the goldfields; the second from the success of the first and from the demand for wool; and the third from the increased value of all squatting property in the 1850's and 60's.

Large numbers of sheep were grazed on the Riverina stations in the 1870's. Before this the overland stock trade to Victoria, which began in the late 1840's, was in part, responsible for the development of the district, and particularly the Riverina towns. Thousands of head of cattle and hundreds of thousands of sheep passed annually over these routes into Victoria for many years.

Today, grazing is an important agricultural activity for the region. Figures collected in the 2014 Regional Development Australia - Riverina profile indicated that agricultural production was $1.8billion, or 16% of NSW's gross value of agricultural production.  Further information on the region can be obtained from http://www.rdariverina.org.au/f.ashx/EventsInfo/RDA-Riverina-Regional-Profile-2014.pdf