Saturday, 30 June 2012

Overview of Australia's Wine Regions - Part 1

Part 1 - Australia as a Prominent Wine Producing Country

An American friend of mine who follows my blog and has a real appreciation for wine wanted to develop a better understanding of Australian wines.  I have been thinking about how to help him and have come up with several ideas such as sending him some books or links on the Australian wine industry and specific wines, sending him a mixed dozen wines to sample (but I always get concerned about US wine distribution laws), or recommend some top-notch liquor and wine stores in the US that specialize in better Australian wines.  I decided, the first and easiest thing I can do, is to write a blog overviewing (is there such a word?) the Australian wine regions and describe some of their unique characteristics.  At least that way, he will be able to target getting some Australian wines from the regions that are best known for being suitable to different types of grapes and styles of wine.  I think an introduction to some of the great Australian wine families and history would also provide useful information.  Therefore, I have decided to create a short series of blog entries on the Australian wine industry.

Over the last 40 years, Australia had developed into one of the most prominent wine regions in the world and arguably could be the most prominent "new world" wine region.  (I am certain my American friends might protest!)  The "old world" wine regions (basically Europe - most notably France, Italy, Germany and Spain) still produce some magnificent wines.  More recently, "new world" wine regions have evolved, including Napa Valley and surrounding regions in California,  along with some other great wine growing regions in the US such as Oregon (especially for Pinot Noir), Chile and Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  In addition, China is now starting to come up fast and is producing some fine wines.

(BTW, it really surprised me to find out that all 50 US states now have at least one winery!)

The distinction between "old world" and "new world" has real meaning and influence on wine making in terms of culture, style of wine making, terroir, and the age of vines.  The age of the vines can play a large part in the flavor of the wine produced.  Most vines do not start to produce enough usable grapes until they are about three years old.  Some vines are over 100 years old with some going on 130 - 140 years of age!  For my general purposes of specifying "old vines," I use the figure of 40 years or more as being necessary to call a vine an old vine.

Why is vine age so important?  Vines develop character over time, continuing to pick up that character from the soil and surrounding elements, and the manner in which they are cared for.  And look at the thickness of the vines to the left!  With this type of size and strength, the vines are more likely to produce a consistency of wine from vintage to vintage, far more consistent than the annual changes imputed on younger vines.  Additionally, after a number of vintages, a particular style becomes known and expected and influences our belief in what defines a particular style for which the wine is known.  You may asked the question, "When does a vine become too old that it stops producing good wine?"  I have never seen a good answer to that, but will be researching the question and get back to you in a later blog.

Unfortunately, many of the oldest vines in Europe were destroyed by a disease called "phylloxera,"  a plant lice which kills the root of the vine.  Australia vines were first planted with some scale and success around 1840 (and has never suffered from phylloxera), so Australia now has some of the oldest vines in the world.

The other things that Australia has going for it with respect to wine production is a wide variety of climates, weather patterns, elevation levels and soils.  All of this makes for a wide variety of truly outstanding wines.  Except for the most northern part of Australia, being Queensland and the Northern Territories, all other Australian states and territories produce some magnificent wines.  An overview of those regions will be presented in "Australia's Wine Regions (Part2)."

But for now, I hope you agree that Australia, among all countries, is a special place for growing wine.  There are a few good reasons why - as an American - I have decided to call Australia home, none more important than the quality of its wine.  While I am opening my eyes (really my lips!) to many other global wine regions, I still find the best and best-valued wines are Australian wines.


  1. No phylloxera. Didn't know that. The best Cali Zin is always labelled as Old Vine. The most desirable.

  2. Jeff, the Australians were fortunate and proactive enough to understand the value of grafting all vines onto American root stock. Thanks for the tip on Old Vine Cali Zin!