A short history of Australian wine

In 1788 Governor Arthur Phillips brought grape cuttings with him to New South Wales, a newly formed British penal colony. The journey from Portsmouth to Australia was long and arduous, and when the First Fleet, led by Governor Phillips, stopped in Cape of Good Hope in Africa for the final provisions they needed to settle in Australia, Phillips procured vine cuttings from some of the best vines in Africa to plant in Australia.

Governor Phillips’ first attempts at producing grapes in Australia were unsuccessful, largely due to strange climate conditions. With the arrivals of the Second and Third Fleets and then the arrival of free colonists, more and more people tried their hand at viticulture in Australia.

Spreading out from the coast of New South Wales, people found that if they worked with the weather in Australia instead of trying to grow grapes just as they had in Europe, that they could produce very fine wines. In 1833, James Bushby arrived in Australia with quite a few Spanish and French grape cuttings from which he was able to produce fine wines.

He also brought with him a good selection of vines that were perfect for making fortified wines. These cuttings proved to be very useful later in history.

By 1873, Australian wine makers were winning international awards for their wines. Wine makers had discovered by then that the perfect grapes for their climate are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Riesling. Between 1873 and 1889, the Australian wine making industry steadily increased in quality. Several wines per year earned gold medals at various international wine competitions and people from around the world enjoyed the wine that Australia had to offer them.

Unfortunately, a great phylloxera epidemic shattered the production of wine in Australia from the 1890s through the early 20th century. Phylloxera, a pest similar to aphids, laid waste to Australia’s wine industry and the only wines that Australia produced from 1890 through the late 20th century were sweet wine and fortified wine.

In the late 1970s, Australia rose from the ashes of wine making and began once again to produce the wines for which it had once been famous. Utilizing hybridization and resistant rootstock, Australians were able again to produce the Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Riesling for which they had once gained notoriety.

While Australia still produces a fine selection of sweet and fortified wines, they export over forty million liters of dry and unfortified wines each year and they sell over forty million liters to locals each year. Even old wine producing countries such as France and Italy import Australian wines.

Australia’s most famous wine, Shiraz, was formerly known as Syrah in France and other wine growing regions, but Australia has made it such a famous grape under the name Shiraz, that most wine makers have followed their lead and begun calling their Syrah grapes Shiraz.

Today, Australia is the fourth largest wine exporting country in the world. Australia’s wine production is a major factor in Australia’s economy because of employment, export and tourism.

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About The Author, Peter Brittain
Ian Love is the managing director of Australian wine outlet - Liquor Merchants, and has been a leader in the Western Australian restaurant industry for over 30 years and writes a blog on wine in Australia. He also owns top Perth fine dining restaurant - Coco’s and runs a great vintage wine club in Perth.