We see the Australian kangaroo wine labels everywhere. But do we know much about Australian wine beyond these cute labels?
Australian wine history is elaborate, funny, devastating and ultimately a tale of survival and excellence. Join us on a multi-part journey into the wonderful world of Australian wine.
In 1788, British Admiral and Governor Arthur Phillip brought with him to the penal colony of New South Wales some vine cuttings, surprisingly originating from the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Admiral Phillip was a far-sighted individual, and sought to provide an enduring framework of governance, a legacy if you will, to his new area including a plan eventually to emancipate the expatriated convicts. I have to digress for a moment and say that this man was seriously able to multi-task, considering that he managed a fleet, governed a colony that included convicts, and began to produce wine!
The road was not easy, however. The cuttings from the Cape failed, but other settlers were determined to try as well. As soon as 1820, domestic Australian wine was produced for native consumption. From that year until 1850, things were very busy for the Australian wine industry. The first Aussie wine export was in 1822 by Gregory Blaxland. The 1830s saw growth of wine regions like Hunter Valley, and a push was on to import the major classic French wine stocks. Queen Victoria herself in 1844 received a shipment of Australian wine from Adelaide Hills.
For the next two decades, wine production continued to improve due to immigrant Europeans, who brought not only their talents, but also a motivation to innovate and create something new in their new land. It was the Prussians who established the Barossa Valley region in South Australia. But more on regions later.
In the 1870s, Australian wine makers overcame setbacks, many due to climate variances that were unfamiliar to the vines, and were both honored and snubbed in a blind French wine competition. In not surprising French fashion, the winning prize was promptly withdrawn upon the judges’ discovery that the wine was from Australia. They declared that due to the wine’s “provenance” (read origin) the winning wine was clearly French!
More hard times were to come, however, as Australia suffered from the Phylloxera epidemic that swept Europe. Making a long story short, many hectares of vines were pulled up, and the pestilence was thought to be contained. Recently, however, in 2006 and 2008 more evidence of Phylloxera was found, so we wait, watching to see if it will be stopped.
My series on Australian wines will continue for the next five or so weeks. I hope you enjoy it.
G’Day and Cheers!