Australia's wine industry
In just 200 years, Australia's wine industry has grown from a few small plantings to an industry renowned throughout the world for quality, innovation and depth. In fact, Australia is consistently one of the top ten wine producing countries in the world and is one of the few countries that produces every one of the major wine styles.
The origins of our wine industry
As Australia had no native grape varieties suitable for wine-making, grapes were imported from Europe and much of the wine produced was shipped back to the United Kingdom. The first known record of successful European grape production in Australia dates from 1791, when Watkin Tench wrote:
On 24th January two bunches of grapes were cut in the Governor's garden from cuttings of vines brought three years before from the Cape of Good Hope.
The Governor's garden was located in what is now Sydney's Macquarie Street, one of the busiest streets in the city. Shortly after, John Macarthur established the earliest commercial vineyard in the coastal region around Sydney at 'Camden Park'.
Early wine production at Lindemans, established in the Hunter Valley (New South Wales) in 1843. Image courtesy of Lindemans.
Encouraged by these early successes, between 1820 and 1840 settlers gradually established vineyards in New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria and finally South Australia. In 1822 Gregory Blaxland shipped 136 litres of wine to London, where it was awarded the silver medal by the forerunner of the Royal Society of Arts. Five years later a larger shipment of Blaxland's wine won their gold Ceres medal. This was to be the first of many international medals won by Australian wines.
1850s gold rush
The discovery of gold in eastern Australia in 1852 initially meant a temporary loss of labour from vineyards in New South Wales and Victoria. However, the consequent increase in population saw vineyards expand their operations to supply the demand from diggers.
The Land Selection Acts passed in the colonies between 1860 and 1872 led to a rapid expansion of vineyards as land was unlocked for development; between 1851 and 1871 the area under vines increased from 2,510 hectares to 6,880 hectares. Export of Australian wines to England increased dramatically from an average of 31,850 litres a year in the period 1854-63 to 145,600 litres a year in the period 1863-85.
The coming of Federation in 1901 removed trade barriers between the states and further expanded the market for wines. A feature of this period was the emergence of larger, often old-established firms who carried on operations in a number of localities. For example, McWilliams, established in Corowa, New South Wales, was the first to move into the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, soon followed by Penfolds and Seppelt.
After the First World War, vines were planted in various soldier settlements which temporarily increased production. Overproduction though, and consequently lower prices for some grape varieties, meant that some vineyards couldn't compete economically and many vineyards collapsed. In 1925, the British government allowed preferential duty for Empire wines, which meant that Australia could economically export fortified wines; this further stimulated the industry.
During World War Two, exports to Britain practically ceased due to lack of shipping space. After the war, exports resumed on a smaller scale. By the 1950s, the wine industry was thriving in Australia, with South Australia the centre of production. The end of the Second World War saw an influx of European immigrants into Australia, bringing new skills in wine production. As new techniques were introduced and developed, and as Australians gained a taste for the newer, finer wines, consumption of wine in Australia grew rapidly.
1970s to the present
From the mid 1970s to today, Australia's love affair with wine has continued to grow. The industry is stronger than ever, employing thousands, many of whom have completed one of the viticulture courses offered at Australian educational institutions. Small boutique wineries have been established throughout Australia, often by retirees or people wanting to escape city life. Australia's wine industry has become more than just another industry - it has become a lifestyle for many Australians and winery tours a must for tourists.
Wine regions of Australia
Today, the main wine producing regions of Australia remain in the cooler south east of the country. There are about 60 wine-producing regions throughout Australia. Vineyards in South Australia (e.g. Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Coonawarra), Victoria (e.g. Swan Hill, Yarra Valley, Rutherglen) and New South Wales (e.g. Hunter Valley, Mudgee, Riverina) produce most of Australia's wine, with Tasmania, Queensland (e.g. South Burnett, Stanthorpe) and southwest Western Australia (e.g. Margaret River, Swan District) also contributing well recognised products. But it is not unusual to find a working, productive vineyard almost anywhere in Australia. In fact, even Alice Springs, in the dry red centre of the country, boasts a boutique vineyard.
Snow-covered vines in Orange, NSW. Image courtesy of Logan Wines.
As wine has become more popular in Australian society, it has become a part of the culture. The rise in popularity of wine appreciation courses, wine bars and boutique wineries has shown that Australians are serious about their wine. Where we once used to head off to the beach for the weekend, many Australians are now heading off on tours of regional wineries for tastings and winemaking demonstrations.
Wine festivals are also a feature of cultural life in the major wine producing regions of Australia and draw many Australian holidaymakers and international visitors each year. The largest such festival is the biennial Tasting Australia, but almost every wine growing region and state has an annual wine festival where local wine, food and culture can be sampled. For example, the Margaret River Wine Region Festival celebrates wine with music and food events.
What's special about Australia's wine industry?
Australia is such a large country that almost every climate and soil type can be found. This means that we are able to produce all of the major wine types, from red wines to white wines, fortified wines (such as port), and sweet wines to sparkling wines.
Cowra vineyard. Image courtesy of Tourism New South Wales.
It is not just the climate and variety that makes our wine special. Places such as the National Wine Centre in Adelaide and the National Wine and Grape Centre are leading the world in research and education. Students can study viticulture (grape growing) and wine making at university and, once they have graduated, are in high demand throughout the world.
Australia also has some of the oldest grape vines in the world. Many of Europe's established vineyards were destroyed by disease in the 1800s with the only survivors being the vines brought to Australia. In order to preserve these, our viticulturalists have developed some of the vine management techniques now used throughout the world. We have also invented ways to produce wines with fewer chemicals and, of course, Australia is the home of the wine cask.
Australian wines can now be found for sale in over 100 countries. In fact, we are one of the main exporters of wine in the world and the United Kingdom now imports more wine from Australia than it does from France. Australian wines have won medals at almost every major international wine competition and set records for the price of a single bottle. And just think, all this since that first bunch of grapes was harvested just over 200 years ago.
Australian wine industry
- Wine Australia
- Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology
- Wine policy - Department of Agriculture and Water Resources
- Australian Wine Research Institute
- Winemakers Federation of Australia
- Australian wine - Wikipedia
Wine festivals and events
Last updated: 14th December 2007
Creators: Big Black Dog Communications Pty Ltd, Kathryn Wells