There are more than 100 grape varieties planted in Australia. Wine is produced in every state and there are more than 60 wine regions, each with their own flagship styles. Little wonder Australia is the world's fourth largest wine exporter.
The little bug that almost ended it all
Wine is one of Australia's greatest agricultural success stories. Domestic consumption of Australian wine grows year-on-year as new varietals appear and regions prosper. As markets grow and new markets open, export volume and revenues increase. But it wasn't always this way. In the late 1800s, vineyards in Europe, especially France, were wiped out by the aphid-like phylloxera insect. Phylloxera lives and feeds on grapevine roots to devastating effect, and was first found in Australia in 1877. The following phylloxera plague devastated the Australian wine industry. Fortunately, vineyards were re-planted with American rootstock, which was phylloxera-resistant.
The challenges of the Australian climate
As we know, Australia is a vast, stand-alone continent, much of which is arid. The north is simply too tropical, and the centre too hot and dry for grapes. Not surprisingly, vineyards are concentrated around the south east and south west, where grapes flourish in cool to Mediterranean climates. Vineyards also thrive in Western Australia, where grapes enjoy the cooling influence of the Indian Ocean. With more than 60 wine regions, terroir varies greatly. Each region has its own unique makeup of climate, soil, terrain, aspect, temperature, sunshine and rainfall, all reflected in the wines they produce.
A look at the wine-making regions
Victoria - is a massive wine-producing state. It includes the Murray Darling region - one of Australia's great engine rooms of wine, producing much of the country's bulk commercial wines. These wines are generous in flavour and softness thanks to the warm, dry growing season. Victoria is also home to the high-quality cool-climate regions of The Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong, Macedon Ranges, King and Alpine Valleys. Varietals grown here include Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay (still and Sparkling). Wines are typically austere yet elegant.
South Australia - is known as the heartland of Australian wine. Here you'll find the world-renowned regions of the Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, McLaren Vale, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills and Coonawarra. The climate and soil across these regions create ideal growing conditions, resulting in rich, flavoursome wines full of character and complexity.
New South Wales - the first vine cuttings were planted at Sydney Cove in 1788 (the site of today's Sydney Botanic Gardens). As settlement spread northward, authorities encouraged grape planting and the first larger planting of the Hunter Valley began in 1825. Today wine production in New South Wales covers the Riverina region, taking in the cool-climate regions of Orange, Tumbarumba, Hilltops and the Central Ranges. The Hunter Valley is best-known for its Semillon and Shiraz.
Tasmania - the only state not attached to the Australian mainland is Tasmania. Naturally this most southern of states is cooler than the rest of the lucky country, which is a good thing as it provides ideal conditions for production of premium grapes. While Tasmania's wine industry is small compared to New South Wales or Victoria, its focus is on quality. Tasmania's most popular varieties include Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.
Western Australia - WA covers the entire western third of the continent. Yet despite its size, it only produces around 5% of Australia’s wine. Here you’ll find more than 150 wineries, all with a focus on quality rather than quantity. Most WA wine regions are in the south west and south, the most famous being Margaret River, home of top-quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blends. Other famous regions include Geographe, Great Southern, Pemberton, Manjimup and Blackwood Valley.
Queensland - is most famous for its picture-postcard blue skies, sunshine and pristine golden beaches. But the state's higher-altitude inland areas feature cooler climates and rich volcanic soils well suited for grape-growing. Some 700 to 1000 metres above sea level, Queensland's most well-known wine region is the Granite Belt, which produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Viognier.
Northern Territory - you'd think the Northern Territory too hot and arid for wine production, and mostly that's true. But like everything in Australia, there is an exception. NT's only vineyard, Red Centre Wines, is just 180 km north of Alice Springs. With most of the property planted to mango trees, there are just a few hectares planted in Shiraz, Riesling, Chardonnay and Ruby Cabernet. Brave experiment or folly? Let's just say after 30 years they must be doing something right.
In 1965, Australia gave the world the wine cask, invented by winemaker Thomas Angove of Angove's Winery.”