has moved into the top 10 of wine producers in the world, averaging
80 million cases a year (an increase of more than 50 per cent in
the last five years). The style vary from aromatic, dry whites to
those fashioned in the image of vintage port. Some of its wines,
like the Semillons of the Hunter Valley and the fortified Muscats
and Tokays of northeast Victoria have no direct equivalent elsewhere,
but overall the wines are distinctively Australian yet fit easily
into the world scene. Over 1,000 wineries are spread through every
state and territory.
Most of the wineries are small; 80 per cent of the annual crush
comes from the four largest companies, headed by the vast Southcorp
with a market share of 35 per cent. As in California, over 70% of
those small wineries have come into existence in the last 20 year.
Australia is about the same size as the US. Because wine is made
in every state, it is impossible to bundle up Australia's wine industry
into a few tidy sentences. However, we can break it down to two
basic weather patterns, one affecting Western Australia, South Australia,
Victoria, and Tasmania (the southern states), the other governing
Queensland and New South Wales.
The southern states experience a winter-spring rainfall pattern,
with a dry summer and early autumn. Ridges of high pressure sweep
across the southern half of the continent from Perth to Melbourne
during the vines' growing season, uninterrupted by mountain ranges;
daytime temperatures typically range between 77°F and 95°F. There
is a less profound maritime influence than in California and the
sea temperature is generally warmer. As a result, the summation
of heat in the premium wine regions is a major factor in promoting
Hunter Valley is tends toward too much rainfall during harvest,
and conversely, a winter and spring drought. Its redeeming feature
is the humidity and afternoon cloud cover which reduces stress on
the vines and subdues the impact of the heat.
International cost comparisons by the Penfold Wine Group showed
that Australia is able to grow and harvest grapes more economically
than California, France, or South Africa. This populist approach
to viticulture has been carried to its logical conclusion with the
development high yield vineyard techniques which produced bountiful
crops, yet the resultant wines had a mesaure of flavor that made
their value a cut above the competition.
French oak is preferred for top-quality white wines, for Pinot Noir,
and much of the Cabernet Sauvignon produced. American oak is widely
used for Shiraz, Cabernet-Shiraz blends, some Cabernet Sauvignon
and unfortunatel, too many low end Chardonnays. For lesser-quality
wines, the use of oak chips (in conjunction with older barrels)
is becoming increasingly widespread. Chemical additions of all kinds
are decreasing. The grape growers are seeking to provide grapes
with the correct chemical composition (reducing the need for acidification)
while the wine-makers are reducing already low sulphur dioxide additions.
Fewer and fewer wine-makers add any sulphur to red must or wines
prior to the completion of the malolactic fermentation. For dry
white and red wines the aim is to limit the total sulphur dioxide
level to 50 parts per million (ppm) and free sulphur dioxide to
20 ppm, less than half the internationally set legal limits. Sulphur-free
red wines are being made, and may become more common, relying on
the preservative action of their tannins. Making sulphur-free white
wines with an acceptable shelf life is rather more difficult, but
research work is continuing.
Australia's premier red wine grape in terms of production and quality
is without question, Shiraz. Total plantings increased from 12,000
in 1992 to 33,000 acres in 1997. Shiraz's output was forecast to
increase by 30 per cent by 1999. It is grown in virtually every
wine region, responding generously to the varying imperatives of
terroir and climate. The variety is identical to the Syrah of France
and has a long Australian history.
Cabernet is second to Shiraz in terms of plantings but is more ubiquitous.
The thick-skinned small berries stand up to rain, and impart distinctive
varietal flavour in almost all growing conditions. Partly due to
the excess demand of the 1960s and 1970s, the blending of Cabernet
and Shiraz-or, more probably, Shiraz with a little Cabernet-became
widespread, but with a few notable exceptions the trend for premium
wines is towards the traditional Bordeaux blend with Merlot and
Cabernet Franc. The rate of increase in the planting of these latter
two varieties exceeds all others, and varietal Merlots, uncommon
at the start of the 1990s, are proliferating.
Until the mid 1960s, Grenache accounted for 90 per cent of Australia's
red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon began to make inroads, followed by
Pinot Noir. Shiraz became less fashionable. Just when it seemed
these varieties would cease to be at all significant, the world-wide
interest in the Rhone wine styles reversed the trend. Century-old,
dry-farmed Grenache in McLaren Vale and the Barossa Valley is now
in great demand for table wine with production topping 24,200 tons
(about 1,300,000 cases).
Total 1992 plantings of 4,683 acres put Pinot Noir in fifth position
as an Australian red wine grape, and production was expected to
increase by a further 20 per cent by 2001. Plantings of Chardonnay
soared from a negligible level in 1970 to 33,871 acres in 1997.
It is grown in every wine region, bending as much to the wills of
the growers, wine-makers and public as to the influence of climate
and terroir. The style varies from simple to complex and quality
from mediocre to excellent, parameters increasingly recognized by
a widening range of prices. Market demand engendered blends with
Semillon, Colombard, and almost any other white grape variety in
Semillon is Australia's white counterpart to Shiraz. The nation's
11,861 acres in 1997 is shared between many regions, however much
the variety may be identified with the Hunter Valley in New South
Wales. As with Shiraz and Cabernet, Semillon is emerging from the
shadow of Chardonnay, and production was expected to increase by
20 per cent by 1999. Classic Hunter Semillon is made without the
use of new oak, relying on extended bottle ageing to produce and
incredibly complex and flavor layered offering. Latter-day variations
incorporate barrel fermentation and barrel maturation, or blending
with Sauvignon Blanc. The latter is another recent arrival on the
scene, essentially since 1980, and production is rapidly increasing,
spurred on by competition from New Zealand.
The Australian wine market is dominated by the world's second largest
wine operation (behind the US's Gallo), Southcorp which owns, among
others, Penfolds and Lindemans. The majority of the largest wineries
in the country are in South Australia. Penfolds, Orlando, Seppelt
(also part of Southcorp), Wolf Blass, Yalumba, Rosemount, Saltram,
Peter Lehmann, Krondorf and Hardys.
The sale of wine within Australia is relatively simple, and notably
free of the restraints which apply in the United States. Movement
between the states is unhindered, and wine producers can sell to
whomever they wish (distributors, retailers, or the public), wherever
they wish. One of the particular freedoms of Australia is the BYO
restaurant, `BYO' standing for Bring Your Own. In Victoria, indeed,
`Licensed and BYO' restaurants, which are licensed but which generously
encourage patrons to bring their own wine, are common. This ethic
spreads across all restaurants in Australia. Most will permit patrons
to bring their own wine upon payment of a corkage fee, if the request
is made in appropriate fashion.