History of Wine in Australia

Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet brought vines to Australia in 1788, and planted them on the site of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. They did not thrive there because of the unsuitable composition of the soil. The first known record of successful European grape production in Australia dates from 24th January 1791, when Watkin Tench wrote "..two bunches of grapes were cut in the Governor's garden from cuttings of vines brought three years before from the Cape of Good Hope."

The Governor's garden was located in what is now Macquarie Street, which is one of the busiest streets in Sydney. Soon after, John Macarthur established the earliest commercial vineyard at "Camden Park" in the coastal region around Sydney. Propagation and winemaking developed rapidly and numerous vineyards were established in the areas which are now suburban Sydney.

In 1822, 136 litres of Australian wine was shipped to London by Gregory Blaxland, where it won a silver medal. Five years later a larger shipment of Blaxland's wine won a gold medal. These were the first of many international medals won by Australian wines.

With the surveying and settlement of the country new vineyards were established, and by the 1890's the Hunter, Barossa and Yarra Valleys were producing wines. Over the years, much of the European immigration to Australia has shaped the wine industry. German and Italian immigrants were largely responsible for the development of the Barossa and Riverina wine regions respectively, where many of their descendants still operate family wineries today. In Victoria the wine industry was influenced by Swiss settlers, and in the 1890's Victoria produced 75% of all Australian wines.

Australia now has some of the oldest grape vines in the world because during the 1800's many of Europe's established vineyards were destroyed by disease.

Prior to the 1950's the primary focus of the Australian wine industry was fortified wines. The Rutherglen district in northern Victoria still produces some of the country's greatest fortified wines and many of the original family wineries remain in operation. Fortified wines were popular as the added alcohol gives the wine protection against microbiological attack making it suitable for storage and transport.

During the 1960's there was a major shift in wine production to sweet and sparkling wines. In the later part of the 1960's there was a shift to fuller-bodied red wines which was influenced by a large increase in immigration. The 1970's saw a trend to semi-sweet fruit driven styles such as Gew?rztraminer and Rhine Riesling. The 1970's also saw the introduction of the wine cask which was an Australian invention.

The end of the 1970's brought a preference for dry white table wines and the Chardonnay boom. Chardonnay continued to be the wine of preference throughout the 1980's and has been favoured by white wine drinkers for many years.

During the late 1980's Australian wines became established in the traditional markets of Europe. There was demand for the Australian clean and fresh wines with fruit driven white styles and robust reds. This export boom created a greater demand for our red wines than the whites, and this is still the trend today. By 1995 Australia was responsible for about 1.5% of the world wine trade and today this has risen to 3%

With 1000 wineries in around 60 wine growing regions, Australia is consistently one of the top ten wine producing countries in the world, and the United Kingdom now imports more wine from Australia than it does from France. In 200 years the Australian wine industry has grown from a few small plantings to an industry which exports to over 100 countries and is renowned throughout the world for its quality and innovative techniques.

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About The Author, Ian Love
Ian Love is director of Perth Restaurants group West Valley, which runs Coco's Perth restaurant, Raffles Hotel Perth & Bellhouse Seafood restaurant.