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Viticulture in Australia

Australia's winemaking boom began in the 1990s when vineyard hectarage and wine production doubled within the space of six years. And thanks to training, research and some very clever marketing, this trend has continued ever since.

History

In 1788 a ship carrying several hundred convicts landed in Port Jackson, now Sydney, where the first European colony was established on Australian soil. Shortly thereafter land was cleared and vines were also planted. Vineyards were planted almost at the same time as each new community was founded.
One of the pioneers of Australian winemaking, the Scot James Busby, founded a winery in the Hunter Valley in 1825. He brought back numerous seedlings from a trip to Europe, including the Syrah vine subsequently dubbed Shiraz which helped the wine region achieve fame. Busby went on to publish books and document grape varieties and winemaking techniques. Other pioneers and founders of the quality-focused Australian wine industry were Dr Christopher Penfold, the German Joseph Ernest Seppelt, John Riddoch and Thomas Hardy.

Growing areas

Australian winemaking is concentrated on the temperate coastal areas, primarily in the south and southwest: Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. With its cooler climate, Tasmania also has favourable conditions for winemaking.

Geography and climate

The land mass of "down under" is vast. It therefore comes as no surprise that the country has many different climatic zones. In the north and west it is very hot and dry so the vineyards there are reliant on artificial irrigation. By contrast, cooler climes prevail in the south and on the island of Tasmania. Most of Australia's winegrowing areas can therefore be found in its southern regions. For example, one of the most productive regions is the Barossa Valley which is home to top wineries such as Château Tanunda.

Wines

For over a century Australia produced sweet, high-alcohol port- and sherry-like wines. At the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s, fruity white Chardonnays with pronounced wood notes revolutionized Australian winemaking. The best Rieslings possess a distinctively unique character. Lemon-scented Semillons are produced with or without ageing in oak barrels. Other white varieties include Sauvignon blanc, Chenin blanc, Colombard, Gewürztraminer, Marsanne, Viognier and Muscat.
The creation of top-class red wines dates back to 1960 and Penfolds' Grange Hermitage. Australian winemaking was also famed for its Shiraz wines which are full-bodied, sweet and peppery. From then on both single-varietals and blends were produced from varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Barbera, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Merlot, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Pinot noir, and of course first and foremost Shiraz. Nowadays more than half of vineyard hectarage is given over to red varieties. Modern equipment is used to ensure high-quality production.

Producers

Notable producers are Coldstream Hills, Glaetzer, Hardy, Hill Smith Estate, Katnook Estate, Lindemans, McWilliams, Mildara, Mitolo, Orlando, Penfolds, Peter Lehmann, Pewsey Vale, Rosemount Estate, Rothbury Estate, Rymill, Seppelt, Southcorp, Taltarni, Wolf Blass, Wynns and Yalumba.

Vineyard area and production volume

Approximately 11 million hectolitres of wine are produced annually on around 150 000 hectares.

New South Wales

History

New South Wales is one of the oldest wine regions in Australia. It was here that the first convicts landed in Port Jackson, now Sydney, and planted the vines that had been brought with them. They were initially unsuccessful, however, as the area around Sydney was not suitable for winemaking. The proximity to the sea and the associated subtropical climate resulted in the grapes rotting. The best vineyards were planted in 1828 in the Hunter Valley, in the bush to the north of Sydney. The region has had an extensive, quality-focused wine industry ever since the 1970s. The area under vine has steadily expanded since the 1990s.

Geography and climate

The hot temperatures usually necessitate artificial irrigation, while the high autumn rainfall and proximity to the sea causes rot. Cooler planting areas at higher elevations were deliberately sought for new vineyards as this provides better conditions for producing good quality wines.

Wines

Depending on the producer, Shiraz wines can be dry and muscular or light and spicy. Cabernet Sauvignon is not so significant, but the best products can possess a Bordeaux-like elegance. Semillons are the star wine of the region – classic dry whites that continue to develop in the bottle. Chardonnay dominates white wine production with buttery, fruity wines that also have structure and body. Good examples can be found especially in the area around Orange. Other grape varieties are Pinot noir, Gewürztraminer and Riesling.

Producers

Australia's largest winemaking business Treasury Wine Estates owns some large wineries here, for example Lindemans and Tulloch. Other good producers are Tyrells, Rosemount, Lake's Folly, De Bortoli, Evans Family, Rothbury and Brokenwood.

Vineyard area and production volume

An area of 35 000 hectares supports annual production of 3.2 million hectolitres of wine.

South Australia

History

The first vines were planted outside Adelaide in 1838. Soon after, vineyards were also planted in the Barossa Valley and Clare Valley. As in other regions of Australia, for a long time South Australia also produced rather mediocre sweet fortified wine.

Geography and climate

The widely varying climatic and geographical conditions allows many different varieties to be cultivated. In Coonawarra, for example, the soil is rich in limestone, while the Barossa Valley has slate soils.

Wines

South Australia has three winemaking subregions. Different wine types can be assigned to them: Cabernet Sauvignon to Coonawarra, Riesling to Clare Valley and Shiraz to Barossa Valley. For some years the best wines have been created in the Adelaide Hills from Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay grapes. The Eden Valley produces very good dry Rieslings, while the Shiraz wines from the Barossa Valley are nothing short of legendary.

Producers

Notable producers are d'Arenberg, Asthon Hills, Wolf Blass, Grant Burge, Chapel Hill, Grosse, Hardy's, Henschke, Peter Lehmann, Lindemans, Charles Melton, Orlando, Penfolds, Petaluma, St Hallet, Wynns, Yalumba and Torbreck.

Vineyard area and production volume

Around 62 000 hectares is a big enough area to produce approximately 5.2 million hectolitres of wine a year.

Victoria

History

The first vineyards were created in the vicinity of Melbourne in 1838. After just a few decades, Victoria became the biggest winegrowing region in Australia. However, after phylloxera caused devastation here, all the major vineyards were almost completely wiped out in 1881. It took another 85 years for the vineyards to become re-established.

Geography and climate

Vines thrive in the nutrient-rich soils found in the southeastern corner of Australia. Proximity to the sea has both advantages and disadvantages.

Wines

Elegant Chardonnays and refined Pinot noirs are made in the Yarra Valley region. Outstanding Shiraz and sophisticated Cabernet wines are produced in the Pyrenees region and in the area around the town of Great Western. Sweet Muscat wines originating in the area northeast of Rutherford are a speciality.

Producers

Famous names are Coldstream, Domaine Chandon, Yarra Yering, Mitchelton, Dalwhinnie, Brown Brothers, Tahbilk, Morris and Mount Langi Ghiran.

Vineyard area and production volume

Vintners in this region produce approximately 1.6 million hectolitres of wine annually on 37 000 hectares.

Queensland

It was long held that Queensland's tropical climate made it unsuitable for winemaking. However, some winegrowers found a cooler climate and volcanic soils at higher elevations. These pioneers planted vineyards at up to 1 000 metres above sea level in the Granite Belt region. Red varieties grown include Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, as well as Chardonnay and Viognier for sometimes astonishingly good white wines.

Western Australia

History

The colonization of Western Australia began in 1829. A ship named Parmelia carried a cargo of grapevines that were immediately planted on arrival in what is now Swan Valley.

Geography and climate

Swan Valley has a mediterranean climate with a lot of rainfall in winter and long dry summers. By contrast, the Mount Barker/Frankland River region has a harsh climate where frost and hail are not uncommon.

Wines

The best red wines come from Margaret River, they are full-bodied and elegant. Some of the best Rieslings in Australia originate in the Great Southern subregion. Other red varieties are Shiraz, Pinot noir, Zinfandel and Merlot, while whites include Semillon, Sauvignon blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin blanc, Verdelho, Traminer, Muscat and Rhine Riesling.

Producers

Well-known names are Cape Mentelle, Cullens, Evans & Tate, Frankland Estate, Leeuwin Estate, Moss Wood, Plantagenet and Vasse Felix.

Vineyard area and production volume

The wineries of Western Australia extend over a total area of 11,000 hectares, where around 370 000 hectolitres of wine are produced annually.

Tasmania

History

After New South Wales, the island of Tasmania was the second Australian state where vines were planted. The first vineyards were created already in 1823 and winemaking developed gradually over the whole of the 19th century. As in other Australian states, the winegrowing areas here were almost wiped out in 1890. It was not until 1950 that winemaking resumed on a smaller scale. The first and largest wineries such as Heemskerk and Pipers Brook Vineyards were established in the Pipers Brook region.

Geography and climate

Tasmania has a moderate maritime climate. Spring and summer are characterized by mild temperatures, while warm days and cold nights in autumn promote a slower ripening of the grapes, allowing them to develop greater aromatic expression. Ripening is also delayed on the typical red, ferruginous soils. The variation between different vintages is much greater here than in any other Australian state. Winemaking centres primarily on the city of Launceston in northern Tasmania and around Hobart in southern Tasmania.

Wines

Sparkling wines are made according to the champagne method. Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs made from Chardonnay and Pinot noir are also produced. Tasmania's white wines enjoy a better reputation than its reds, but there are also good examples of Pinot noir wines. Other red varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Chardonnay can vary depending on the producer. Further white varieties are Riesling, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot gris and Gewürztraminer.

Producers

Famous names are Jollymont, Marion's Vineyard, Milford Vineyard, Moorilla Estate and Pipers Brook Vineyard.

Vineyard area and production volume

Approximately 16 000 hectolitres of wine are produced annually on 900 hectares of vineyards.

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