David Paxton on the Australian drought and water management
This show was published 11 July 2008
David Paxton is one of Australia's best known viticulturists and consultants. He founded Paxton Vineyards in McLaren Vale, South Australia in 1979. We ask him about the Australian drought and how water is being managed in McLaren Vale.
McLaren Vale in South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent. The drought this year in Australia has been the worst on record. Some rain but very scattered and patchy. Most areas in the grip of serious drought. El Nino and La Ninja are the tidal movements in the Pacific ocean and the cooling down and heating up of those currents has a huge effect on whether there is drought or rain. El Nino is the drought phase and La Ninja is 'normal' conditions. At this stage there is no prediction that there will be a break in the drought phase.
A license allows the use of 1.1 megalitres of water per hectare of land. If you want to use more you have to buy it, at a hefty price.
There is a huge reliance on the Murray Darling system by rural and residential areas. In addition, recyled water from the cities is used to irrigate but the drought has meant producers have no option but to limit their use of water and irrigation in the vineyard. In McLaren Vale there has always been drip irrigation with some sprinklers and flood irrigation. Now it is 100% drip irrigation. Water is managed by monitoring the soil moisture and only adding water when you really need to. This has increased the quality of the fruit produced with more concentrated flavours and smaller crops. They have also improved the structure of the soil so that it has ability to hold more water from natural rainfall as well as from irrigation. The drought has been good for viticulture in that it has changed the way the vineyards are managed.
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