Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Romeo Bragato and Australian Shiraz
“…the syrah - or the shiraz - in both your countries, it is because of the Italians. Did you know that?"

Actually no, I did not know that. But apparently Ben Canaider, of The Age, and his New Zealand compatriot think they do. Granted they were answering a question from a lecturer at the Conegliano School of Viticulture and Oenology, one of Italy's most respected wine schools. They may have felt the need to give the expected answer of Romeo Bragato because this is the school where Bragato was the only one to stand up when his professor asked who would go to Australia to ply their trade (1).

Who is Romeo Bragato? Well he is the fellow that Canaider, and obviously some Italians, want us to believe is responsible for the importance of Shiraz in Australian and New Zealand viticulture. Given Bragato’s history it is possible that he can claim some responsibility for Syrah in New Zealand as he was the New Zealand Government Viticulturist with the Department of Agriculture from 1902 until 1909. Although he left disgruntled with the level of support he had received for his efforts. Still his role in New Zealand wine is celebrated by the Bragato Study Exchange Award, a student exchange program that exists between New Zealand and Conegliano, and the annual Bragato Conference that is held in Blenheim.

But what did Bragato do for Shiraz in Australia? The available information suggest very little. Bragato came to Australia in 1888 and offered to instruct the Rutherglen and Murray Valley wine growers on vine growing and making wine (2). But his role in Australian wine history goes unmentioned in Nicholas Faith’s Liquid Gold: The history of Australian wine and its makers and John Beetson’s A Concise History of Australian Wine.

Bragato does appear in David Dunstan’s Better than Pommard: A history of wine in Victoria as he was appointed Viticultural Expert to the Board of Viticulture of Victoria in November 1889. He advised Victorian vignerons for ten years before his move to New Zealand. He was designer of the winery and cellars attached to the College of Viticulture at Rutherglen opened in 1897 (3). As part of his work he advised Glenlinton Vineyard at Whittlsea to plant Semillon, Shiraz and Cabernet (4). However there is no evidence that Bragato had a role in Shiraz finding its home in South Australia. Shiraz vines date back into the mid-1800s in the Barossa. Turkey Flat Vineyard claims some of the oldest, and one of the newest wines, Kalleske’s Johann Georg Shiraz, comes from vineyards planted in the 1870s.

1) Better than Pommard: A history of wine in Victoria. David Dunstan, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Victoria, Australia, 1994. p165.
2) Ibid, p165.
3) Ibid, p166.
4) Ibid, p 206.

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