The new AUS$10m (€6m) Centre for Wine Excellence at Margaret River, Western Australia, will be officially opened tomorrow.

The Centre provides diploma courses and courses in winemaking and viticulture, wine business and wine tourism. The courses are run in association with Curtin University of Technology, Edith Cowan University, and other colleges and high schools.

Director Mark Gibberd, whose CV includes detailed viticulture and horticulture research projects as well as studies in factors influencing water-use efficiency of grapevines, hopes to expand wine research and development in the region.

The centre started just in time for the 2004 vintage. Students crushed, drained and pressed five tonnes of Chardonnay and two tonnes of Chenin blanc.

Dr Gibberd said the facilities – ‘a first for Western Australia’ – made it possible for the students to work in industry conditions during the early stages of their degree.

‘The winery provides students with a unique opportunity to apply their knowledge of the theory of wine production on both an experimental and industrial scale,’ he said.

Curtin University aims to build up its research capacity, with plans to appoint a postdoctoral research fellow in the near future. Two of Curtin’s existing wine lecturers will also transfer to Margaret River from their current location at the Perth Campus.

Western Australians produces some 20-25% of Australia’s premium wine, more than one third in Margaret River. Recently the region has been dogged by oversupply and disagreement over marketing strategies.

According to the WA Department of Industry and Technology, the grape crush in the region is set to increase by 50% in the next five years. Nearly 33% of wine industry employment is generated in Western Australia and total winery investment is estimated at nearly AUS$106m (€64m).

Written by Frank Smith