When it comes to technical know-how, the Australians are streets ahead of the pack. Wine was being commercially produced here as long ago as 1850 but in modern times Australia has become one of the most successful wine-producing countries in the world.
At the top end of the market, an emphasis is being placed like Orange and Wrattonbully. Mny of the new sites are in cooler areas, where the grapes provide better levels of natural acidity and aromatics. Australia built its reputation on wines showing ripe fruit flavours, often accompanied by noticeable use of oak, and in today’s commercial middle ground, there’s an enormous amount of wine being made to a standardised recipe, all backed up by full-throttle maketing.
The main wine-producing regions are hear the cities of Perth in Western Australia, Adelaide in South Australia, Melborne in Victoria, and Sydney in New South Wales. The climate rends to be hot, so irrigation is often necessary. The vast size of the country means that the states provide different growing conditions. Some of Australia’s most elegant wines are made in the relatively cool climate of Western Australia. White wines from the Chardonnay, Semillon, Riesling, and Verdelho grapes have been successsuful, along ‘Bordeaux Blends’ from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
South Australia includes the premium regions of the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, and Adelaide Hills. Barossa Shiraz is world-famous for its inky, concentrated style, whilst Coonawarra, with its coole climate and Terra Rossa soil, provides ideal conditions for some af Australia’s outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon wines. The Adelaide Hills vineyards, situated at 450 metres above sea level, are proving to be a prome area for Riesling, Pinot Noir and bottle-fermented sparkling wines.
A great range of wines is produced in Victoria, including the unique liqueur Muscats. The Yarra Valley benefits from one the coolest climates in Australia, resulting in fine Pinot Noirs, Rieslings, Chardonnays, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Australia’s ultimate cool climate location however, is Tasmania. The island is home to some of the very best Pinot Noirs.
In New South Wales, the lower and upper Hunter Valley, locared norh of Sydnay, has established itself as an area of ‘classic’ wines such as Semillon and Shiraz. Both of these can develop with bottle age.
No New World wine-producing country has had such an influence on the entire philosophy of wine as Australia. The wine industry was also established here by European immigrants. Australia set about a radical change in wine-making techniques so that good wines could be made for a few Australian dollars.
The European industry tried for years to protect themselves against these Australian wines but the public proved en masse to prefer the tasty Australian wines that were ready to drink, amenable, comforting, rounded, full-bodied, and warm. What is more they were much cheaper. It seems as though after years of battle Australia has not only won market for itself but also much more. Countless 'flying wine-makers' from Australia now fly from one European company to another to teach them how to achieve the same kind of results.
More and more Australians are also establishing themselves in the South of France in order to make Franco-Australian wines. No other New World country has similar achievements.
This is one of Australia's oldest wine-producing areas which has existed since the second half of the nineteenth century.
High quality wines, and in particular very aromatic reds and superb floral Rieslings come from the Clare Valley. The climate is predominantly a moderate continental one with big differences between day and night temperatures, especially in summer. There is enough rainfall, mainly in the spring, to make irrigation unnecessary. The soil is mainly open calciferous red or brown clay.
The vineyards in this area are sited at heights of 1,312- 1,640 feet (400-500 metres) and are becoming better known thanks to the production of very acceptable sparkling and quality wines. The altitude of the vineyards somewhat mitigates the heat and leads to increased rainfall. Since most of the rain falls in winter though irrigation is still necessary. The soil around Adelaide consists of a fairly infertile mixture of loam and sand.
McLaren Vale is one of Australia's best wineproducing areas and certainly the best in terms of the varied grapes and types of wine. The area is best known for the powerful dark and very aromatic reds and mighty whites. Despite the cooling effect of the ocean too little rain falls here and irrigation is necessary. McLaren Vale has many different soil types which explains the diversity of the wine. It is mainly sand and loam on underlying clay and chalk, or sand, or red or black weathered loam.
The Barossa Valley is probably the best-known wine area of Australia, both because of its wines and its rich history. The valley was the first territory of the early German settlers who started the wine industry here. German is still spoken here. The climate is hot, sunny, and with little moisture. Despite this there is little irrigation. The vines are trained low, almost like creepers, and the yield is intentionally kept low. This produces excellent wine which is very concentrated, full of colour and structure. The soil chiefly consists of brown sandy soil or clay to dark sand.
This is a lesser known wine region on fairly level terrain that largely consists of loam or terra rossa with good underlying drainage. The shortage of rainfall here makes irrigation during summer necessary. The area mainly produces commercial wine but is switching over to quality wines such as those of Hardy.
This is an extremely well-known area within South Australia where wine-growing started way back in the late nineteenth century. The finest Australian Cabernet Sauvignons originate from here these days. The area is situated immediately behind the coastal strip and is favourably influenced by the ocean. The climate here is a moderate maritime one with fairly cool summers (by Australian standards) .
Australia's wine history is certainly not as old as the land itself. Southern Australia was first discovered by the Dutchman Abel Tasman and then eastern Australia was discovered much later
by the Briton James Cook. The Aboriginal people certainly drank no wine.The first vines arrived in the late eighteenth century, intended for a botanical garden. The first official wine-growers arrived in the early nineteenth century. The Scot James Busby, with some experience of winegrowing and making acquired in France, successfully planted the first vineyards in the Hunter Valley. Vines were soon growing elsewhere in Australia. Apart from Hunter Valley on the east coast, they were planted in the south, around Adelaide, Southern Vale, and Barossa.
The initial wines tasted somewhat like the present day Rhone wines through the excess of sun and too little water, although they were sold somewhat cheekily in London as 'Australian Burgundy' or even 'Burgundy'. The wine industry was given a sudden and unexpected impulse after World War I when thousands of soldiers were suddenly discharged with no work for them.
The government encouraged soldiers to make a new life for themselves in growing and making wine. This proved to be a success, indeed perhaps too successful given the hefty over production of wine that arose. The growers directed their efforts increasingly towards the production of port and sherry type fortified wines. This gave the growers two ways of getting rid of their surplus. The demand for fortified wines was huge and wine spirit was needed in order to make them.
Up to the 1960s most Australians preferred to drink beer or gin to wine. The Australian wines were mainly intended for the local Greek and Italian immigrants and for export. When the Australian government took measures to reduce drinking and driving, the pattern of alcohol consumption began to change.
Consumption of wine gradually increased in Australia, both at home and in restaurants, bars, and such places. Better wines started to be drunk but the bulk wine market remained very active. Wine in a can, bag, or box is still widespread here. With a consumption of 19 litres of wine per capita per annum the population of Australia still lags well behind that of most European countries, but a new style of life is clearly to be seen.
The drinking habits of the world consumers changed in the 1970s. Far less sweet wine was drunk, with dry wines becoming far more popular. Australian producers reacted well by seeking out cooler places to grow their grapes such as the Eden Valley and Coonawarra which are more suitable for grapes like Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay.
A similar change also occurred with red wine. Because Australian
Vines are grown in almost every part of Australia but wines are only produced in the cooler southern parts. Australia can be roughly split into seven large regions.
The only good wine area of Western Australia lies far to the south of Perth, just inland from the southwestern coastal strip.
Margaret river is an extremely interesting area that is less well-known outside Australia, but this is likely to change. The climate is strongly influenced by the ocean.
Australian wine-growing is quite typical of the New World scene with huge vineyards spread across enormous territories between South Australia (Barossa and Coonawarra),
Victoria (Yarra), and New South Wales (Hunter), plus hi-tech equipment and methodology and staggering yields. Despite all this Australia is not anywhere near the output of wine-producing countries like Italy, France, and Spain. A large proportion of the potential harvest is destroyed by natural hazards such as hail, rain, extreme heat, fire, kangaroos, foxes, crows, and greybacked silvereyes.
Considerable government support has been invested developing and extending the local wine industry. Up to the 1970s the most popular wines were mainly sweet Rieslings. The plantings of Riesling have been decimated since the arrival of Chardonnay vines, because the wines from these are more successful in the export market.
Chardonnay is now the most widely planted grape variety but Shiraz is also gaining ground too. Besides these there are also a number of other varieties which are new to Australia that are gaining popularity.
Hence in addition to new plantings of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Ruby Cabernet (Cabernet and Cinsaut), increasing numbers of Sangiovese and Barbera vines are also being planted. The white grape that surprises everyone and is gaining popularity at the expense of Chardonnay, Semillon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Colombard, Muscadelle, and Traminer is the Verdelho.
Australian wine-makers are often accused of putting more emphasis on the variety of grape than on the aspects related to terroir. The criticism is not entirely justified because each wine is a combination of factors: the grape variety, soil, climate, and of course the underground water.
Australian winemakers can guarantee their customers constant quality by blending together wines from different areas. This can compensate year in year out for the vagaries of the Australian climate. The result is a superb wine with a distinctive character. Australian wines are almost always produced from a number of vineyards. It is possible for 'single vineyard' wines to be made in Australia, but given the enormous size of many of them, this would lack credibility while also adding unnecessary costs and uncertainty. This would also be contrary to the 'flavour for dollar' policy that has made Australian wines world famous. A 'single vineyard' wine would vary in quality from year to year and this is not what today's consumers want.
It is often essential in Australia to irrigate the vines. This is strictly forbidden in most European countries, even during the most extreme periods of dry weather. New World wine countries though regard irrigation as a perfectly natural occurrence. Their systems are so well refined that the vines can be drip fed at whatever height is required. Spray equipment is installed on both sides of the vines but it is also possible to spray from just one side. This gives the vine a contrasting signal so that the leaves absorb water rather than the grapes in order to maintain a good balance between sun and moisture.
The technique by which the skins are left in contact to extract the maximum possible aromatic and flavour substances in the juice (maceration pelliculaire), is only used in poor years in Australia. The grapes normally have more than adequate aromatic and flavour substances in them as a result of the good sun/moisture balance.
The malolactic fermentation with lactic acids that is used in Europe is only partially used here. Australian wines do not by nature have high levels of acidity, so that it makes no sense, nor is it desirable for a complete malolactic fermentation to take place. The sun also has a beneficial effect on the growth of the vines. Australian winemakers rarely need to add fertilizer to the soil. Those in favour of organic winemaking do not need to ring any alarm bells here as they do in Europe.
Australian wine-makers ideas about cask maturing in wood are also different. In order to provide plenty of flavour at a price they have used wood chips to give cheaper wines a characteristic 'oaked' taste. This is a thing of the past though for today the best Australian companies use huge tanks in which a sort of giant wheel constantly agitates the young wine.
This gives the wine regular contact with large oak planks that can be pushed into the tank through special apertures. The length of time that the wine spends in these tanks is determined by the desired strength of the taste of oak required. The eventual result has much greater finesse than the use of oak chips.