In the late 1700s, almost one hundred years after other countries in the New World began producing wine, Australian settlers planted their first vines in the state of New South Wales. Imported from South Africa, the plantings were Vitis vinifera varietals originally taken from Europe. Unfortunately, Australia’s earliest immigrants were from England and were unskilled in winemaking; their efforts failed. It wasn’t until immigrants from southern Europe targeted more suitable plots of land and applied their skills to produce ever-improving wine. By the early 1900s, Australia was producing more wine than its population could consume, and began exporting to its largest trading partner, Great Britain.
As in almost every other region of the world, phylloxera spelled disaster for Australia’s vineyards around the same time. Most Australian vines were killed before they could be grafted onto the heartier rootstocks of North America. Hence, the dark ages of Australian wine immediately followed during which high-volume sweet wines of very low quality were produced. Not until the 1960s, with the advent of new technologies and insights developed in the United States did the Australian wine industry reach world-class standards. Today Australia has surpassed France to become the #2 importer of wine to the United States, second only to Italy.
If US wine producers are pioneers, their Australian counterparts are radicals. Technology has been adopted more liberally here than any other region in the world, allowing Australians to engineer wines that mirror their own personalities – bold, direct and unpretentious. What’s more, almost unanimous use of automation in the harvest and winemaking process has allowed Australians to achieve this distinctive style at lower costs than the rest of the world. Australia’s most prolific wine, Shiraz, is an inky, concentrated version of its Rhone counterparts. Not all Australian wines embody the same “shoot from the hip” style. The country produces a huge diversity of wines, including highly nuanced, food-friendly Rieslings, Semillon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the cool, southern regions of South Australia and Victoria.
Australia may be the smallest continent but it’s the sixth largest country and only slightly smaller than the continental United States. A diverse country with snow-capped mountains, arid deserts, sandy beaches and rainforests, only a portion of the country is suitable for producing wine. Australia’s winegrowing regions are concentrated in a narrow strip of coast on the southern edge of the continent. Within this area some regions are truly coastal, and therefore suited for delicate varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Other regions are further inland and better suited for hearty varietals like Shiraz. Two famous regions typify this dichotomy of climates along Australia’s southern coast – Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley. While the rain-abundant region of Adelaide Hills is known for highly structured Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the farther inland Barossa Valley produces some of the world’s most concentrated red wines, namely Shiraz, from its nutrient- and water-deficient rocky soils.