Wine has been one of the great agricultural economic success stories for Australia with increasing export volumes and export revenues encouraging further expansion. At home, domestic consumption of Australian wine continues to increase as winelovers discover the variety and quality available from wine regions of Australia.
In the late 19th century, wine regions around the world were devastated by the aphid-like insect phylloxera, which lives and feeds on the roots of grapevines. First detected in Australia in 1877, the phylloxera epidemic decimated much of the industry; vines were replanted on phylloxera-resistant American rootstock. The sandy soils of the Tahbilk vineyards prevented the spread of phylloxera, putting the surviving vines among the world’s oldest.
Most wine production in Australia is concentrated around the south east and south west of the country, with the north being too tropical and the centre too hot and dry. The areas in which grapes thrive tend to have cool to warm Mediterranean climates.
The factor of terroir is a great influence on the differences, qualities and characters of wine. Each region reflects its own unique characters of terroir according to the influences of climate, soil type, landscape, aspect and topography. The wine regions of Australia boast terroirs that are as diverse and unique as anywhere in the world.
Unique Characteristics of Australia
There are over 100 different grape varietals planted in Australia including many of the most popular Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Semillon, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache and Pinot Noir. European style varieties are also growing in popularity across Australia – grapes such as Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Barbera, Touriga Nacional, Nero d’Avola, Fiano and Vermentino.
Must See Australia Wine Regions
Victoria, a major wine-producing state, enjoys many high quality cool-climate regions including Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong, Macedon Ranges, King and Alpine Valleys, famed for austere, elegant wines like Chardonnay (still and sparkling), Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The warmer regions of Victoria – Glenrowan, Bendigo, Rutherglen – produce rich red wines like Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, along with world-famous fortified wine styles. The Murray Darling region of north west Victoria produces much of the state’s bulk commercial wines, full of generous flavour and softness thanks to the warm, dry growing season.
Known as the heartland of Australian wine, South Australia is home to some of Australia’s most famous regions, renowned around the world: Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills and Coonawarra. The climate and soil across South Australian wine regions provide ideal conditions for grapes to create richly flavoursome wines with great character and complexity.
South Australia is home to many different grape varietals, from the most popular styles Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Riesling, Semillon and Pinot Gris, to more alternative varietals like Barbera, Fiano, Nero d’Avola and Motepulciano.
New South Wales
Settlers planted the first vines in Hunter Valley, Australia in 1828. The first vine cuttings were planted at Sydney Cove (the site of the Sydney Botanic Gardens) although they didn’t survive long. Today wine production in New South Wales spreads as far as the Riverina region, taking in cool-climate regions of Orange, Tumbarumba, Hilltops and the Central Ranges. The Hunter Valley is renowned for its Semillon, Shiraz and Verdelho while cooler regions are gaining praise for crisp Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and spicy Shiraz.
Australia’s southern-most state is, naturally, cooler in temperature than the rest of the country. This provides ideal conditions for production of premium wine grapes. While Tasmania’s wine industry is small compared to New South Wales or Victoria, its focus is on high quality. The main grape varietals grown in Tasmania are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. The state’s cool climate and pristine environment give it a distinct advantage in the quality stakes.
The vast state of Western Australia is home to more than 150 wineries, all with a great reputation for a focus on quality rather than quantity. Most WA wine regions are located in the south west and southern regions of the state, with the most famous being Margaret River (home of supreme Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blends) along with Geographe, Great Southern, Pemberton, Manjimup and Blackwood Valley.
Although the state of Queensland is most famous for its iconic images of clear blue skies, sunshine and rolling surf on pristine golden sand beaches, higher-altitude inland areas of the state offer cooler climates and rich volcanic soils. Queensland’s most prominent wine region is the Granite Belt, 700 to 1000 metres above sea level, producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Viognier.
Generally too hot and arid for wine production, there is only one vineyard in the Northern Territory, Red Centre Wines 180 km north of Alice Springs. With most of the property planted to mango trees, there are a few hectares of wine gapes planted to Shiraz, Riesling, Chardonnay and Ruby Cabernet.
The future of Australian Wine
Australia continues along the path to achieving greater international recognition for the unique qualities and characters of its varied wine regions. The focus is on creating the perfect balance of simple, reliable easy-drinking everyday wines along with a smaller range of higher quality wines renowned for finesse, longevity and complexity. If models predicting rising temperatures in future are correct, the successful wine regions of Australia will concentrate around the southern regions where cooler temperatures will favour premium grape growing.
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