Coaxing wine from a red desert

Birds eye view of Chalmers bushvines

The Chalmers family in Australia's inland wine engine room are at it again. This time (almost) without water, and with a new line of Italian varietals aimed squarely at the American market.

These vines should be struggling to survive. Instead, they’re clearly flourishing.

I’m in Merbein, near Mildura, in the hot, flat north-western corner of Victoria. It’s early March, towards the end of this year’s harvest. The sun glares down from a cloudless sky, radiating off the bright-red sand underfoot.

This vast inland region, the Murray Darling, along with the Riverina in New South Wales and the Riverland in South...