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19 August 2002

Australia's First Viognier Symposium a Great Success

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The first Australian Viognier Symposium was not just the first conference dedicated to this variety in Australia – it was quite likely the first time two days have ever been dedicated to any single variety at an Australian conference.

Held at the Yalumba winery in the Barossa, the Symposium attracted 280 Viognier-loving delegates from all states of Australia and as far afield as South Africa, New Zealand and the USA.

The Symposium kicked off with an ‘exhibition tasting’ of more than 60 Viognier wines. This was an open tasting and Viognier makers from all over the world were contacted and invited to submit their wines to be tasted by delegates. Wine offered for tasting came from Australia, Austria, France, Italy, South Africa, Switzerland and USA and provided attendees with a great perspective on Viognier from around the world. The marked differences in style and approach across all the wines proved to be a real talking point.

The opening address by committee member Baillieu Myer, of Victoria’s Elgee Park Wines, had the crowd chanting “just say Viognier” in the first five minutes of proceedings – a promise of the casual and informative style of this unique symposium.

British wine writer, Robert Joseph then gave the keynote address which he introduced with the acronym ‘V I O G N I E R : Very Interesting or Generally Nebulous in Every Regard?’ and went on to take the audience through a fascinating history of Viognier through the ages as well as an overview of Viognier from a modern perspective, including recent growth of Viognier production in key areas.

“The only thing I know about Viognier is that if you think you know the answer, you didn’t understand the question,” said Robert.

Special international guest presenters, Yves Cuilleron of Condrieu and Josh Jensen of Calera, California followed with presentations on Viognier from Old and New World perspectives, respectively. Proceedings then got really technical with a presentation from Dr Peter Dry of the University of Adelaide. Dr Dry presented the findings of a survey he conducted on Viognier viticulture around the world which he plans to publish in association with the University of Adelaide in the near future.

Day two of the Symposium saw Yalumba winemaker, Louisa Rose present on the evolution of Viognier in Australia and Yalumba’s own experiences with this challenging variety. She was followed by Kiwi MW, Bob Campbell who made a convincing argument for bottling Viognier under Screwcap.

‘The Great Viognier Debate’ which followed provided a stimulating, provocative but mostly humorous interlude as two teams argued it out over the topic ‘Viognier is easier to make, easier to sell, easier to drink and easier to pronounce than Chardonnay.’ After a riveting, sometimes zany and often surprisingly learned battle of the minds the audience awarded the victory to the opposing team consisting of Robert Joseph, Alex Dale and Andrew Caillard MW.

Throughout the two days were also scattered several panel discussion sessions which covered topics such as ‘Can Viognier Achieve ‘Classic Variety Status?’, a marketing-based discussion on ‘Expanding the Viognier Niche’ and a viticultural session.

In addition to the initial exhibition tasting, three in-depth structured tastings were also held over the course of the two days and provided some interesting perspective and discussion on the variety.

As the Symposium drew to a close, all agreed it had been a great opportunity to learn, to challenge conventional wisdom and have some fun.

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