The Riverina is the second largest wine producing region in Australia and the largest in New South Wales. It is a flat tract of land on the state's south-west plains and is centred on the city of Griffith.
The term Riverina was apparently invented by John Dunmore Lang in the 1850s to describe a type of country (the Riverina Plain). The term quickly caught on and began to replace the official district labels of Murrumbidgee and Lachlan. Viticulture can be traced from 1912 and the arrival of John James McWilliam. Growing 55% of the varietal grapes in New South Wales and 15% of the total Australian grape production, the Riverina is a very important wine region. It has achieved international acclaim for its sweet, botrytis-affected white wines. With a strong food and wine culture, largely due to its large Italian population, the Riverina is also popular for its food and wine events during the year.
The Riverina has a viticultural history dating back to the early 1900s.
The region is currently home to more than 15 wineries.
Producing over half the state's grapes, the Riverina is the largest NSW wine region.
A warm, dry environment and secure water supplies make it a reliable grape producing region.
Many wineries are family owned and operated, often producing wine on a relatively large scale.
The Riverina produces a wide range of wine styles over varying price points.
The Riverina is at the forefront of national environmental stewardship programs to ensure sustainable production.
The keystone grape variety is Semillon, which produces world-famous Botrytis sweet wines.
The region has an average annual rainfall of 406mm, which is spread evenly throughout the year. High evaporation, low relative humidity and ample sunshine are features of the summer. A characteristic of the climate is high growing-season temperatures. Autumn conditions favour the onset and spread of the fungus Botrytis cinerea. The higher humidity late in the season allows 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, grapes can only be grown here economically with irrigation.
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 centimetres deep and passes abruptly to a reddish-brown clay which contains lime at a depth of about 70 centimetres. Many of these also contain limestone rubble. It is on these soils that the majority of the vines are planted.
Chardonnay: Chardonnay is the Riverina's third most important grape variety. Judicious use of oak produces a wine of pleasant varietal flavour, weight and style.
Semillon: Picked at normal maturity, Semillon provides a pleasant wine (which may be blended with other varieties). These days specially selected blocks of Semillon grapes are left on the vine for up to two months after maturity. As a consequence if the conditions are favourable, Botrytis cinerea attacks the grapes, evaporating the water content of their juice and concentrating both its sugar and acid. The resultant wine is a luscious Sauternes-style dessert wine, the regions outstanding speciality.
Red Wines: Much good Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon is produced in the region. With the growing importance of exports, considerable research is being done on irrigation, nutrition and canopy management to improve fruit quality. As in Sunraysia, the quality of wine from this region improved significantly during the last decade of the 20th century.
Map Coordinates: 34° 00'S
Altitude: 140 metres (459 feet)
Heat degree days, October-April: 2201 (cut off at 19ºC (66.2ºF) but otherwise not adjusted)
Growing season rainfall, October-April: 200 millimetres (7.9 inches)
Mean January temperature: 23.8°C (74.8°F)
Relative humidity, October-April, 3 pm: Average 36%
Harvest: Early February - Early May
Bill Calabria, Winemaker, Westend Estate Wines, Griffith, NSW
Knowing what it takes to make a good drop of wine is something Bill Calabria has learnt over the years. He carries on a family tradition started by his father in immediate post-war 1945.
"Apart from a short course in winemaking I've had no formal training and learnt everything I know from working in the winery since I was 16. I am fortunate enough to have a good palate and sheer hard work and learning from your mistakes can be a great way to learn,” Bill says.
"I was only 26 when I took responsibility for running the winery. My father wanted to retire and handed over the reins, which is when we started to build Westend Estate. My whole family is involved and the winery is thriving. We only make wine from grapes grown in this region and doing it tough early on has inspired me to work hard."