History of Wine in Australia
In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip alighted at Sydney Cove importing Australia’s first grape vines from Brazil and the Cape of Good Hope. This tentative start was the birth of a thriving wine industry that in a fraction over 200 years would be exporting more than 800 million litres of wine to the world. Australia’s first commercial vineyard and winery were established in the early 1800s.
Australia claims some of the oldest vines in the world dating back to the 1850s.
More than 60 designated wine regions produce in excess of 100 different grape varieties.
By volume, Australia is the fourth largest wine exporter in the world, totalling 781 million litres (AUS $ 2.1 billion) year ending December 2010 The United Kingdom is currently Australia’s number one export market by both volume and value.
Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are the top 3 varieties crushed.
Australia has world-renowned wine research and educational facilities.
Influenced by European and Asian immigrants, Australia’s food and wine culture encourages innovation and excellence.
Today’s wines express the enormous diversity of the people who craft them and the unique regional characteristics they express.
The earliest vines were planted in Sydney. Unfortunately due to the heat and humidity of the Farm Cove site, the vineyard never flourished. John Macarthur on his Camden Park property some 50 kilometres south west of Sydney is widely credited with cultivating Australia’s first commercial vineyard and winery early in the 1800s. The principal varieties grown were Pinot Gris, Frontignac, Gouais, Verdelho and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Commercial vineyards for wine production were well established in most Australian States by 1850. The ancient Australian soils proved fertile. From the gently undulating soils of the Hunter, the ever-changing gradients of the Eden Valley, to the maritime slopes of Geelong, the early vignerons embraced the vagaries of the vast Australian landscape.
By 1854 the first wine export to the United Kingdom had been formally recorded – 1,384 gallons (6,291 litres). In the mid 1800s, Phylloxera, decimated more than two thirds of the vineyards in Europe and by 1875 Australia fell victim. Strict quarantine regulations, restricting the movement of vine material between Australian wine regions, enabled South Australia’s wine regions, such as the Barossa Valley, to remain Phylloxera free. The regions today lay claim to some of the oldest vines in the world – resolutely growing on their original European rootstocks!
Domestic consumption of wine vastly increased during World War II (WWII). The critical shortage of beer saw the thirsty armies of both the US and Australia seeking alternative beverages. Until the 1960s, approximately 80% of Australian made wine was sweet fortified sherry and port styles, known in the UK as ‘Colonial Wine’. Contemporary tastes swung slowly away from fortified wine as they were influenced of post-WWII migrants from Europe. People from countries such as Italy, Greece and Germany introduced their culture of enjoying food with table wine in restaurants and at home.
Maurice O’Shea: Australia’s first winemaking legend:
Interestingly as early as 1925, the legendary Maurice O’Shea had been quietly championing table wine at his Mount Pleasant vineyard in the Hunter Valley. A master blender, O’Shea’s finely crafted table wines were unprecedented in Australia at the time. Twenty six years later, Penfold’s pioneering winemaker Max Schubert experimented with his first vintage of Grange – the iconic dry red destined to become Australia’s most lauded wine. By mid 1970, fuelled by consumers’ thirst for dry red table wine, sales of fortified were finally eclipsed. 1980 saw domestic wine consumption per capita reach 17.3 litres, ‘bag in box’ or ‘cask’ packaging had been perfected, and the liberalisation of liquor licensing laws had spawned a profusion of liquor outlets.
The volume of Australian wine exports for the 1981/82 financial year was just over 8 million litres, valued at almost $14 million (Aus). Australia’s principal export market was Canada followed by New Zealand. Approximately 170 Australian wineries were using almost 500,000 tonnes of grapes for wine production from more than 60,000 hectares of vines.
Six years later export volume for the 1987/88 financial year had soared to 39 million litres with a value of $97 million (Aus), and Sweden and the United Kingdom had usurped first and second positions as our prime export markets.
Today, Australia has just 4% of total world wine production but is the fourth largest exporter by volume behind the traditional wine-producing giants of Italy, France and Spain. In the year ended Dec 2010 Australia exported 781 million litres of wine and vine bearing area was just below 160,000 hectares with over 2,000 producers using 1.6 million tonnes of grapes for wine production.
Today, Australia has an enviable restaurant culture where internationally recognised wines can be enjoyed with an exciting and ever changing cuisine. With more than 60 designated wine regions, the diversity of grapes and resulting wines is exported around the world and showcases Australia’s established and credible offer of quality wines at every price point.
Australian viticulturists have an enormous diversity of soils, some more than 500 million years’ old that affords them the luxury of planting each variety in an environment guaranteed to see it thrive. Whether it is free draining soil littered with ironstone, ideal for the exacting Pinot Noir, or the famed Cabernet-loving Terra Rossa in the Coonawarra region, the result of carefully considered plantings is outstanding quality fruit.
Home to many world renowned research and educational facilities Australia’s next generation of winemakers and viticulturists have the sound technical skills necessary to allow unbridled expression of their creative spirit in an international market.