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Wine growing produces its ups and downs

TOP DROP: Ridgemill Estate owner Martin Cooper with Jacob Veness at the public wine tasting in Toowoomba. Their chardonnay variety was named the Best Queensland White wine for the variety at Wine Show recently.
TOP DROP: Ridgemill Estate owner Martin Cooper with Jacob Veness at the public wine tasting in Toowoomba. Their chardonnay variety was named the Best Queensland White wine for the variety at Wine Show recently. Bev Lacey

LIKE all farmers, Martin Cooper has kept a close eye on the weather. But he knows he can't change anything.

The Ridgemill Estate boutique winery owner has also accepted that unpredictable weather means his next vintage will be down by about 25%.

"We had really good bud bursts in September last year and then a late frost on November 16," Mr Cooper said.

"When we got the frost, it was severely affected and we lost the best part of our crop.

"That set us right back in the season."

He said the vines had somewhat recovered from the snap frost, only to be hit again in January.

"We got belted by hail in late January this year that came in from the east one day," he said.

"Then two days later, it came in from the west and as a consequence of that, our crop is probably down about 25%."

But that's just a way of life for grape growers in the Stanthorpe area where his property, Severnlea, is located on the Granite Belt.

Mr Cooper grows 10 grape varieties on 16 of Severnlea's 21 acres and despite the hit-and-miss nature of the weather, he wouldn't grow anywhere else.

He said it was the ideal mix of rain, warm days, low humidity and cool nights that meant his vineyard, like others in the region, flourished.

But there seemed to be a protective bubble floating over Severnlea that meant he fared better than some of the region's other producers.

"It's an interesting location here," he said.

"In the summer months, when you see the storms building to the south and think we're going to get hammered, it misses us.

"Storms tend to split about 2km away and you think, gee, someone is getting hammered, and touch wood, we don't get it."

Mr Cooper purchased the Severnlea land in 2004, which was then named Emerald Hill.

Cabernet, shiraz, chardonnay and merlot varieties were the first varieties planted, back in 1998, by the former owners.

An acre of tempranillo was planted in 2000, and when Mr Cooper bought the property, he renamed the vineyard Ridgemill Estate.

The vineyard now boasts shiraz, cabernet, chardonnay, merlot, tempranillo, saperavi, verdelho, viognier, and malbec and grenache varieties.

Mr Cooper credits the soil profile of the Granite Belt region as major contributing factors to the wines Ridgemill Estate produces, as well as the weather conditions.

"You need early rain to get some water into the ground but then you really want dry weather," he said.

"That keeps the wines healthy, but if you can get nice temperatures with warm days and cool nights, it's ideal.

"You don't want high humidity because that's what brings the mould and fungus to the trees."

While wine producers gamble on the weather as much as any other agriculture industry, they fare better during droughts.

He said prolonged dry weather as seen through the drought had been a godsend for his vines.

"While our quantity is down, our quality is very, very good," he said.

"And that is the same right across the district."

Mr Cooper said he expected to produce about 750 cases this year, down from the average yearly production of about 1000.

Ridgemill Estate

Produces 10 varieties of wines

Is a wine supplier to high-end restaurants in Brisbane and Melbourne including Aria, Echo and Esquire

Made moves to capture the tourism market and offers accommodation onsite

Located at Donges Rd, Stanthorpe

Topics:  stanthorpe vineyards wine