Now one of the world's most important wine producers with over 180 million gallons produced annually, and this quantity is on the increase. Whether this is because Australians are the highest wine consumers per capita in the English speaking world is open to debate... Just about every style of wine is made, from sparkling to fortified, dry to sweet, light to full bodied etc. - you name it and the Aussies can make it, and in most cases they make it very well indeed. Just about every major grape variety is grown somewhere in the country, and a great many more unfamiliar to wine drinkers can found if one looks hard enough. The staggering increase in wine exported from Australia from the mid 80s to the present day shows the importance of Australia on the world’s wine markets.
Wine is produced in every state of Australia although there are several key areas whose wines tend to of a higher quality. Because of the climate, where summers tend to be reliably hot, vintages are on the whole more consistent than their European counterparts, although variations from year to year are inevitable. Viticulture has existed in Australia since the early 19th century mainly in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, three of today’s most significant regions. South Australia quickly became the country's biggest producer after Victoria succumbed to Phylloxera in the late 1870s. It was at this time that many of the more familiar Australian wine-growing regions established themselves, with the Barossa valley at the hub of the industry. Exports to England thrived due to trade agreements between Commonwealth countries (which meant England imported more Australian wine than French in the first half of this century!). By the 1950s production had moved up a gear in both quantity and quality as classic grape varieties made their mark (Penfolds Grange Hermitage was first made in 1951), and regions such as Coonawarra became prime vine growing centres. The advances made continued over the next few decades, and today the very greatest Australian wines rival those of just about any other country. In recent years there has a throwback to traditional French wine-making values, so that a few producers are keen to emulate their French contemporaries instead of making the intensely fruit-driven wines we associate with Australia. These producers are few and far between but their wines are worth seeking out even though their prices could easily pass for serious Claret!
Other regions are now very much in vogue, with Western Australia now one of the higher quality producing areas. Victoria has regained its position as an equal with South Australia, and even Capital Territory (Canberra) is making some excellent wines. Smaller ‘boutique’ wineries are very fashionable nowadays with some truly stunning wines trickling out, many of which are operated on a tiny scale compared to many in California, with production of less than 100 cases more common than you’d expect. A sad side of this trend is the big boys of the Australian wine industry often swallow up these tiny outfits - the Australian wine industry is dominated by only a handful of companies. Some of the boutique wineries are allowed to continue their production as before but many are taken over with the grapes grown used for other wines.
Australia’s place in the market is firmly entrenched and has had such influence that even the French have modified their attitude to winemaking in some areas. Exports grow annually, as does quality. While the bargain basement tag is no longer as valid as it once was, the country’s position as a place for thoroughly drinkable wines looks to remain unchanged.