Vine cuttings from the Cape of Good Hope were brought to the penal colony of New South Wales by Governor Phillip on the First Fleet (1788). An attempt at wine making from these first vines failed, but with perseverance, other settlers managed to successfully cultivate vines for winemaking, and Australian made wine was available for sale domestically by the 1820s. In 1822 Gregory Blaxland became the first person to export Australian wine, and was the first winemaker to win an overseas award. In 1830 vineyards were established in the Hunter Valley. In 1833 James Busby returned from France and Spain with a serious selection of grape varieties including most classic French grapes and a good selection of grapes for fortified wine production. Wine from the Adelaide Hills was sent to Queen Victoria in 1844, but there is no evidence that she placed an order as a result. The production and quality of Australian wine was much improved by the arrival of free settlers from various parts of Europe, who used their skills and knowledge to establish some of Australia’s premier wine regions. For example, emigrants from Prussia in the mid 1850s were important in establishing South Australia’s Barossa Valley as a winemaking region.
Early Australian winemakers faced many difficulties, particularly due to the unfamiliar Australian climate. However they eventually achieved considerable success. “At the 1873 Vienna Exhibition the French judges, tasting blind, praised some wines from Victoria, but withdrew in protest when the provenance of the wine was revealed, on the grounds that wines of that quality must clearly be French.” Australian wines continued to win high honours in French competitions. A Victorian Syrah (also called Shiraz) competing in the 1878 Paris Exhibition was likened to Ch”teau Margaux and “its taste completed its trinity of perfection.” One Australian wine won a gold medal “first class” at the 1882 Bordeaux International Exhibition and another won a gold medal “against the world” at the 1889 Paris International Exhibition. That was all before the destructive effects on the industry of the phylloxera epidemic.
In the decades following the devastation caused by phylloxera until the late 1970s, Australian wine production consisted largely, but not exclusively, of sweet and fortified wines. Since then, Australia has rapidly become a world leader in both the quantity and quality of wines it produces. For example, Australian wine exports to the US rose from 578,000 cases in 1990 to 20,000,000 cases in 2004 and in 2000 it exported more wine than France to the UK for the first time in history.
The industry has also suffered hard times in the last 20 years. In the late 1980s, governments sponsored growers to pull out their vines to overcome a glut of winegrapes. Low grape prices in 2005 and 2006 have led to calls for another sponsored vine pull. Cleanskin wines were introduced into Australia during the 1960s as a means to combat oversupply and poor sales.
In recent years organic and biodynamic wines have been increasing in popularity, following a worldwide trend. In 2004 Australia hosted the First International Biodynamic Wine Forum in Beechworth, Victoria which brought together biodynamic wine producers from around the globe. Despite the overproduction of grapes many organic and biodynamic growers have enjoyed continuing demand thanks to the premium prices winemakers can charge for their organic and biodynamic products, particularly in the European market.
The Australian Wine Industry is the fourth largest exporter of wine around the world, with 760 million litres a year to a large international export market and contributes $5.5 billion per annum to the nation’s economy. Australian wine accounts for a very large imported wine market share in South Asian countries and is the second largest imported wine in India with a market share of 16%. There is also a significant domestic market for Australian wines, with Australians consuming nearly 500 million litres of wine per year. Wine is produced in every state, with more than 60 designated wine regions totaling approximately 160,000 hectares; however Australia’s wine regions are mainly in the southern, cooler parts of the country, with vineyards located in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia. The wine regions in each of these states produce different wine varieties and styles that take advantage of the particular Terroir such as: climatic differences, topography and soil types. With the major varieties being predominantly Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Semillon, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. Wines are often labeled with the name of their grape variety, which must constitute at least 85 percent of the wine. The wine industry is a significant contributor to the Australian economy through production, employment, export and tourism.
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