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Australia

Australia, one of the gems of the New World, didn’t welcome its winemaking excellence until relatively late.

Through many challenges, such as needing to import grapevines for plantation in the late 18th century and a climate very much exposed to the effects of global warming, Australia has become one of the most important regions for the production and exporting of wine.

History

The first attempt of winemaking in Australia is relatively recent compared to Europe – or Old World, in wine geography – and America. This is largely due to the fact that the Country originally didn’t have grapevine in its territory. Vines were originally introduced by the First Fleet in 1788, from the Cape of Good Hope. Due to an unfamiliar climate, the first vines rotted, but despite the first attempt not having resulted in a legendary vintage, it still marked the beginning of winemaking in Australia.

It was John Macarthur in the early 1800s who established the first commercial vineyard and winery in Camden Park, a large estate property about 50km southwest of Sydney. The trade became noteworthy by 1820.

In 1833, grape varieties from France and Spain made their first appearance on the continent, introducing Syrah alongside Chardonnay and Merlot, going on to define the Australian wine culture that we know today.

In the mid-19th century, settlers from Europe contributed further to consolidate this tendency towards the newly introduced grapes. Winemaking and viticulture technique also gained benefits from this era’s immigration, particularly from the Prussian winemakers who settled in the southern Barossa Valley.

By the end of 19th century, Australian wines had gained international recognition and were collected awards worldwide, including in France.

However, the phylloxera epidemic that devastated Europe in 1860 reached Australia in 1875, a process accelerated by the import of grapes. It took almost a century for the industry to recover.

In the 1960s, technological innovations and a booming economy encouraged a shift from the production of fortified and sweet wines to more common table wines, which are today largely associated with Australian winemaking. The result of this evolution led the country to become the sixth largest producer in the world, not to mention the fourth largest exporter.

Climate

Australian climate is Mediterranean, generally warm and dry, which makes it ideal for winemaking. At the very beginning of viticulture in the country, however, winemakers struggled with Australia’s unique conditions, of which they were unfamiliar.

Over time winemakers learned how to make the most of the situation, managing the impact of relatively frequent heatwaves and drought, as well as the recently increased fire risk.

Global warming and climate change is impacting the Australian wine community more than other, with measures such as increasing irrigation efficiency, use of alternative grape varieties and sourcing cooler climates being now commonly adopted.

Wine production

Generally speaking, around 30 million glasses of Australian wine are consumed worldwide every day.

Production of wine in Australia was around 1.3 billion litres in 2016, coming from 1.81 million tonnes of grapes crushed. Red wines are slightly predominant (less than 55%) over whites, with only slight fluctuations over the years.

The Country is the sixth largest producer worldwide.

Wine sales for 2016 reached around $5.1 billion (£2.8 billion), with export representing a bit more than 60% of that total.

In 2018, Australia was ranked as the fourth largest exporter in the world.

Grapes

For red wines, the most predominant grape in Australia is Shiraz. Originally called Syrah in the rest of the world, winemakers started labelling their wines in the Australian way in order to piggyback the wine’s popularity.

Other dark-skinned grape varieties in the Country are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

White wines are vastly dominated by Chardonnay, distantly followed by Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.

Wine characteristics

In Australia, wines need to be made from at least 85% of the same grape, or coming from the same region or appellation to be allowed to state that information on the label. The label on every bottle of wine is required, by law, to state this clearly, and usually the main grape itself has a massive influence on the style of each wine.

Generally speaking, reds from Shiraz are medium to full-bodied, depending on the climate being cooler or warmer respectively, both sharing the grape’s trademark spicy twist. Wines from Cabernet Sauvignon are generally more complex, with the most interesting examples being made in Coonawara and Margaret River.

Chardonnay is the dominant grape for whites: cooler climates provide a light-bodied and crisp wine, while warmer climates produce medium to full-bodied productions. The cool climate of Margaret River makes this region also suitable for quality Chardonnays.

Notable producers

Penfolds is the most famous Australian wine estate. Founded in 1844, the first cuttings were imported from France with the aim of producing medicinal wine. These wines are renowned for being named with numbers after “bins”, which were originally used to indicate the location of wines in warehouses. Auction prices for Penfolds wine have regularly been used as a key performance indicator for the wider Australian economy.

Farr is a small estate in the Moorabool Valley, on the west side of Geelong. The estate is run by Gary Farr, founder and father of Nick, who shares with him responsibilities and fame. Despite working together, the beauty of this estate is the clear distinction in style between Gary and Nick, resulting in two production lines: by Farr and Farr Rising, both widely praised by wine critics worldwide.

Moss Wood is a winery in Margaret River. The estate was the second winery established in the area, actively contributing to the development of the Margaret River wine industry. Although specialising in reds, Moss Wood also produces some of the very few white wines in the area: and we wanted to include one of these gems in our selection.

Torbreck is an Australian winery found in the Barossa Valley. Widely recognised for producing some of the finest examples of red wines from Australia, Torbreck has been rated in the top 100 wineries worldwide. The winery specialises in premium productions made from Shiraz and Grenache, each wine being made with grapes sourced from at least two different plots.

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