Wine History of Australia

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In 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip alighted at Sydney Cove importing Australia's first grape vines from Brazil and the Cape of Good Hope. This tentative start was the birth of a thriving viticultural industry that in a fraction over 200 years would be exporting over 1 billion litres of wine to the world.

Initially wines were produced in the coastal region around the fledgling settlement of Sydney. Between 1820 and 1840 settlers gradually established vineyards in New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria and finally South Australia. The ancient Australian soils, protected by their very remoteness from the ravages of industrialisation and disease, proved fertile.

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.

By 1854 the first wine export to the United Kingdom had been formally recorded - 1,384 gallons (6,291 litres).

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.

In the mid 1800's, Phylloxera decimated over two thirds of the vineyards in Europe and by 1875 Australia fell victim. Strict quarantine regulations, restricting the movement of vine material between Australian wine regions, enabled South Australia's wine regions, such as the Barossa Valley, to remain Phylloxera free and thus today lay claim to some of the oldest vines in the world - resolutely growing on their original European rootstocks!

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 such as Penfolds and McWilliams who carried on operations in a number of localities.

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. Domestic consumption of wine vastly increased during WWII. The critical shortage of beer saw the thirsty armies of both the US and Australia seeking alternative beverages.

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 who introduced their culture of enjoying food with table wine in restaurants and at home. 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.

In the 1960's approximately 80% of Australian made wine was sweet fortified sherry and port styles, known in the UK as 'Colonial Wine'.

By mid 1970, fuelled by consumers' thirst for dry red table wine, sales of fortified were finally eclipsed and 1980 saw domestic wine consumption per capita reach 17.3 litres. The liberalization of liquor licensing laws had spawned a profusion of liquor outlets. Consumers had never had it so good and the national palate swung firmly in favour of white wine.

However, it was the period from 1996 to 2007 that saw spectacular growth in exports, following rapidly increasing appreciation of Australian wines overseas. Major wine producers from abroad have invested in Australian wineries, and Australian companies have taken controlling interests in wineries in countries such as France and Chile.

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. Australian wines have taken key international awards, competing favourably against longer-established international wine industries. Prized Australian bottlings grace the menus of many of the world's leading restaurants, while popular varietal and blended wines compete on the shelves of wine shops and supermarkets in over 100 countries around the world.

Being such a large country with almost every climate and soil type, Australia is one of the few wine producers to make every one of the major wine styles, from full-bodied reds and deep, fruity whites through to sparkling, dessert and fortified styles such as port and Muscat. Shiraz is the most-produced variety, followed by chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Premium white varieties other than chardonnay include Semillon, Riesling and sauvignon blanc. The main red wine varieties, other than shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, are merlot, Grenache and pinot noir.

Wine grape growing and winemaking are carried out in each of the six states and two mainland territories of Australia. The principal production areas are located in the south-east quarter of the Australian continent, in the states of South Australia (e.g. Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Coonawarra), Victoria (e.g.Yarra Valley, Rutherglen, Swan Hill) and New South Wales (e.g. Hunter Valley, Mudgee, Riverina). The states of Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland have smaller wine industries, which have grown rapidly in volume, quality and reputation. The region near Australia's national capital, Canberra, has a recognised cool-climate wine industry. 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.

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.

Wine is very much a part of Australian life, closely associated with both business and leisure. Wine consumption is often linked to the country's outdoor-oriented lifestyle as well as to the cosmopolitan, urban way of life of the bulk of the Australian population.

Wine festivals, where local food and wine can be sampled, are a feature of cultural life in the major wine-producing regions of Australia. They draw many Australian holiday-makers and international visitors each year. The largest such festival is the biennial Tasting Australia, in South Australia, but almost every wine growing region and state has an annual wine festival where local wine, food and culture can be sampled.

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.

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.

In 1982, the volume of Australian wine exported was just over 8 million litres, valued at almost A$14 million. Australia's principal export market was Canada followed by New Zealand. Approximately 170 Australian wineries were using almost 500,000 tonnes of grapes for wine production from just over 60,000 hectares of vines.

In 2009, Australia is the fourth largest wine-exporting country in the world, (behind the traditional wine producing giants of Italy, France and Spain) boasting 62 wine regions and contributing in excess of $5 billion to the national economy through exports, employment and tourism. The volume of wine exported is now 1 billion litres. Vine bearing areas exceed 170,000 hectares with over 2,100 producers using more than 2 million tonnes of grapes for wine production.

  • Australia's first commercial vineyard and winery were established in the early 1800's
  • Australia claims some of the oldest vines in the world dating back to the 1850s
  • Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are the top 3 varieties crushed.
  • Over 60 designated wine regions produce in excess of 100 different grape varieties
  • By volume Australia is the fourth largest wine exporter in the world
  • Australia remains the largest supplier of the Irish market
  • Australian wine sales in the US are over 30 million cases per year
  • The United Kingdom is currently Australia's number one export market by both volume and value.
  • Continental Europe is Australia's third biggest market after the UK and the US.
  • Wine is third on the list of Australian agricultural exports after meat and wheat. As an export earner,wine is more valuable than wool, milk and cream, and barley.
  • Average wine consumption in Australia has increased over the past decade to 22.5 litres per person a year, while beer consumption per person is declining.
  • In 2006 Australia was the number one supplier of imported wine in the UK, Ireland, Singapore and New Zealand and second in the USA and Canada. The UK and USA markets are worth one billion dollars each to Australia
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