Alternative wine grape varieties: opportunities, barriers and potential

Page last updated: Monday, 19 November 2018 - 9:02am

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Support through the supply chain is key. Production needs to ensure a consistent quality product, distributors and sales representatives are equally important to the success of a new variety through education and promotion.

It is a challenge to introduce consumers to an unfamiliar variety. Initially there will be some market resistance.

A variety's name can be a factor in success. Being difficult to pronounce is a consideration. The harder the name to spell and pronounce, the more resources required to educate consumers but it can be overcome.

Availability of varieties and clonal material can be an issue. The process of importing grapevine material into Western Australia can take up to two years or more to pass through necessary quarantine measures. Accessibility and the length of time involved in establishing new varieties should be considered.


Investment in new varieties for wine businesses is substantial. With information from field trials and sensory evaluation, each one of the 18 varieties from this evaluation has been categorised in terms of potential for adoption.

High, medium and low potential is indicated (listed alphabetically within each category). The table below provides brief comment on the attributes that have contributed to the varieties categorisation.

Performance of alternative wine varieties grown at Manjimup in Western Australia




High potential



Performs well in Manjimup. Low disease susceptibility and moderate yields. Wines are fine and delicate.



Consistently performed well viticulturally. Juice tends to be high in acid which may prove an issue in cooler years, however wines have scored highly from both judges and consumers. A variety with pedigree.



Vines have consistently yielded well. Moderate sensitivity to powdery mildew. Wines show great concentration rewarded by good wine show scores and positive responses from consumers.

Pinot Gris


Judges and consumers have validated popularity through high scores. No longer classified as an alternative variety as of 2010.



Wines have outstanding colour, scored well with both judges and consumers. Viticulturally typified by small canopies and loose bunches with a degree of berry shrivel  in most years.



Requires additional management due to secondary crops and moderate disease susceptibility. Wines are soft and flavoursome, appreciated by both judges and consumers.

Medium potential



Has not performed consistently, with some years producing next to no crop. Wines best made in a rosè style with distinct floral, muscat characters reminiscent of pink moscato style.



Compact bunches lead to botrytis issues. Vines perform well but conditions in Manjimup are challenging for ideal ripeness. Wines are sound but lack varietal traits produced in warmer climates.



Very late ripening. Struggles to reach optimal ripeness but has good disease resistance. Wines scored well by consumers favouring the medium to light-bodied, fruit forward style.



Distinct upright growth with very large bunches. Variety succumbs to powdery mildew in most years. Wines were typified as floral and perfumed indicating potential to produce distinct wines in a warmer region.

Savagnin Blanc


Productive vines with low disease susceptibility. Juice is prone to oxidation and suspected to contain high levels of protein. Judges commented on the attractive palate texture. Possibly will perform better in slightly warmer region.



Vines performed well in Manjimup with good crop levels and moderate disease susceptibility. Fruit is low in acid at harvest and suitable for dry and sweet styles. Ideally suited to cool regions, wines reminiscent of Riesling but with lower acidity.



High vigour requires additional canopy management. Produced high scoring wines picked at elevated sugar levels. Expected and proven to perform better in a warmer site or region.



Showed low disease susceptibility but late ripening. Wines were fine but not distinctly varietal. Requires warmer climate to reach potential.



Performed well in Manjimup making distinct varietal wines. Some susceptibility to botrytis due to later harvest.

Low potential



Consistently poor fruit set, high susceptibility to powdery mildew.



Tight bunches lead to susceptibility to botrytis. Wines have been lowly scored at shows and not well received in consumer surveys.



Failed in every year to reach sugar and colour ripeness. No wines have been made for assessment.

Further reading

ABS, Vineyard Estimates, Australia 2012 (cat. no. 1329.0.55.002), Australian Bureau of Statistics, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Bruwer, J, Li, E and Reid, M 2002, Segmentation of the Australian Wine Market Using a Wine-Related Lifestyle Approach, Journal of Wine Research, 13:3, 217-242.

Dry, P Alternative Varieties – sourcing key viticultural, wine and market information, 2010, GWRDC, South Australia.

Kennison, K and Fennessy, R 2011, Evaluation of alternative wine grape varieties in Manjimup Western Australia, Department of Agriculture and Food, Bulletin 4824.

Levine, M and Pownall, S 2004, Wine Industry Outlook: Consumption Demographics, Market Segmentation, Trends and Opportunities, 2004 Wine Industry Outlook Conference, Darling Harbour, Sydney.

The Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory, 2013, Winetitles, South Australia.





Contact information

Richard Fennessy
+61 (0)8 9780 6219


Richard Fennessy