Australia is a vast island continent, too hot for vegetation in most of its central areas with only its coastal regions, bound by the Indian Ocean to the West, the Tasman Sea to the East and the Southern Ocean, able to support agriculture and, hence, vine production. It is extraordinarily rich in mineral resources, including coal, diamonds, uranium and petroleum. The Aboriginal peoples have inhabited the land over millennia but the first visitors from Europe were the Dutch in the early 17th century followed by the British several decades later. Not until after Captain Cook landed in 1770, did the ‘colonisation’ of the land begin. Vines were growing from that period; however, it was not until settlers began arriving in numbers in the mid 1800’s, some following the lure of the gold rush, did serious planting begin. There are still today many areas in production which started at that time.
Primarily wine is produced in 5 states: N.S.W., Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia and each state has within it very distinct climate and topographical differences. In N.S.W., for example, the Hunter Valley region is probably the most well-known with its Hunter Semillon and Chardonnay, all very much put on the map in the 1970’s by the long-established Tyrrell family. There are easily another 10 clearly defined wine regions most of them dependent on the irrigation systems of the Murrumbidgee, Murray and Darling Rivers. The neighbouring state of Victoria has 20 official wine regions with at least 800 wineries, many small and catering to local consumption only. Recently the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne, has come to the fore with its super Pinot Noirs. 260 miles (420km) across the Bass Strait divides Victoria from the island of Tasmania. It is a mountainous state, buffeted by westerly winds and a heavy rainfall. Nevertheless, the leading grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are producing some fine wines and, although still small in quantity, are now receiving decent global recognition. It could be added that Tasmania has many notable whisky distilleries!
South Australia is now producing at least half of Australia’s total output each year and some of its wine-producing regions – the Barossa Valley: think Wolf Blass Shiraz or Penfold’s Grange; Eden Valley: Henschke’s Hill of Grace, Seppelts and Yalumba; Clare Valley: Petaluma, Kilikanoon and Jim Barry; McLaren Vale: D’Arenberg, Fox Creek and Mollydooker; Coonawarra: again Henschke, Petaluma, Wynns and Lindemans; and finally the Adelaide Hills: Petaluma, Shaw & Smith and Lucy Margaux. Plus so many other fine winemakers, all of whom are now synonymous with the most impressive and recognised wine production in the Southern Hemisphere.
And now to Western Australia, its capital Perth almost 3300 kms(over 2000 miles) from Sydney. The original vineyards were located around Perth (who remembers the old Houghton’s White Burgundy?) but climate considerations moved grape-growing much further south where the westerlies off the Indian Ocean and the Antarctic seas would have a beneficial effect. Best known of the southern wine regions is Margaret River where we have Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle, Voyager, Stella Bella and McHenry Hohnen, to name but a few.
Statistics tell us that Austalian wine output is massive ; over 1.5 million tonnes of grapes crushed in 2020: 30% Shiraz and 19% Chardonnay. But volumes and quantities are outweighed by the sheer influence of Australian wine-making producers, technology, expertise and quality emulated, respected and appreciated now around the world.