The vineyards of Australia cover 170,000 hectares in different wine regions in New South Wales (NSW), South Australia, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and part of Queensland.
Australia has become the 7th biggest wine producing country having about 1,200 million litres of wine produced each year. With the country’s own consumption representing less than 40% of the production, Australia is the 4th largest wine exporter.
Australia has spent millions of dollars to build a brand around Shiraz (Australia’s word for Syrah). As a result Australia wine production has tripled since 1990. However, despite this success, Australian wines have suffered some serious drawbacks in the media. Wine critics often disregard most Aussie wine as “Critter Wines”, referring to the cute animal designs that adorn many of the wine labels.
Australia’s main grape varietals are Shiraz followed by Chardonnay. The two varieties make up 44% of the total wine production. However, Australia is working toward diversification. The balance of production comes from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Sangiovese, Mourvèdre and Pinot Gris.
The Wine Regions
Margaret River (Western Australia) produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Shiraz.
Barossa (South Australia) produces Shiraz.
Coonawara (South Australia) produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, and Merlot.
Adelaide Hills (South Australia) produces Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris.
McLaren Vale (South Australia) produces Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Clare Valley (South Australia) produces Chardonnay, Sémillon, and Riesling.
Hunter Valley (New South Wales) produces Sémillon, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Yarra Valley (Victoria) produces Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Rutherglen (Victoria) produces Shiraz and Durif.
Heathcode (Victoria) produces Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Mornington Peninsula (Victoria) produces Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Tasmania produces Riesling and Pinot Noir.
The grape varietals produced in Australia are bolder than the same varietals grown in the northern hemisphere, in places like France, Germany, or Canada. However, if you prefer the bolder spicier flavours, Australian wines may be right for you.
The impact on the wine industry from the wild fires currently raging in Australia remains to be seen. More than 3.4 million hectares of land have already been destroyed. Previously the most land burned during an entire fire season was only 280,000 hectares.
Vines not destroyed by the fires could still be impacted by the smoke. Bushfire smoke can permeate the skin of the grapes as they ripen, causing wine to have an unpleasant smoky characteristic. It is worse in red wine, when the skins are used to create colour.
Experts say it is still too early to determine what the extent of the fires will have on the 2020 harvest.
Grape growers are facing a second problem; record high temperatures which have reached the upper 40’s Celsius. Extreme heat can cause leaves to droop or even drop off, leaving grapes exposed to sunburn. This causes discolouration and affects the flavour profile of the wine.
The effect of heat can be managed provided vineyards still have access to enough water – which they don’t in many areas across South Australia, central and northern Victoria, and NSW.
As we prepare to enter 2020, no one seems to face more challenges than the Australians. I fear that some of the Australian wines the world enjoys today may soon disappear forever. A sobering thought to close out 2019.