A Brief History of the Australian Wine Industry

Australia has become a world leader in domestic and exported wine. What began as a few vineyard cuttings over 200 years ago has now flourished into an amazing industry – the fourth largest in the world!
Australia exports over 450 million litters of wine each year across the globe. The burgeoning wine industry has been an economic boon for the country. Not only have the +2,000 vineyards provided jobs, wineries have increased employment in other areas and improved tourism as visitors come to Australia to tour local wineries.

Australia’s wine is considered to be some of the most exquisite and delicious wine produced in the world, but it took many decades to reach that point.

The First Cuttings

Grapes are not native to Australia. The first vineyard cuttings were brought into the country when Australia still served as a penal colony. In 1788 Governor Phillips attempted to harvest the grapes for personal use but his efforts failed.

Fortunately, others succeeded where the governor failed. In the following years Australia began to see an influx of settlers who began to attempt to cultivate grapes using new processes. This is seen as the true beginning of Australia’s wine industry.

By 1820 the first winemakers in Australia were offering their products for sale inside the country. It was very
popular and quite chic to be one of the first to sample ‘home-grown’ or domestic Australian wine in the early part of the 19th century.

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Across the Pond

In 1822 Gregory Blaxland burst onto the Australian wine scene and changed it forever. Mr. Blaxland was the first Australian vintner to attempt to export his product. He did so with great success and even garnered rewards, including the first award ever awarded to an Australian wine in an overseas exposition.

After Mr. Blaxland set Australia’s name on the winemaking map its popularity began to grow worldwide. In the mid 19th century a bottle of Australian wine was sent by ship to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria.

One of the best known and oft related stories in wine history concerns an Australian wine. In 1873 at the Vienna Exposition judges tasted wine from different countries without knowing which country the wine was from. This is called a blind tasting. A French judge pronounced his favour upon an Australian wine but immediately withdrew in protest once he was made aware of the provenance of the wine. His reason? Only a French wine could be of such a high quality!

More settlers flooded into the country and found opportunities in the winemaking industry. The first vineyards were mainly backyard operations but with the new manpower and fortunes of the recent arrivals entirely new winemaking regions were identified, improving the country’s winemaking operations.

An Unfortunate Event

The Australian wine industry was devastated in the 1890’s by an epidemic of phylloxera. This is a plight similar to aphids that completely destroys all vegetation. Vineyards around the country were destroyed.

The country worked for many decades to rebuild their wine industry. It struggled for years on sweet and fortified wines. But, in the late 1970’s production was once again up and running at world leader standards.

A True World Leader

The most popular wine in Australia would have to be the Penfolds Grange. This incredible wine has won many competitions through the years. The 1955 vintage was allowed to age until 1962 before being submitted to competitions. Since that time it has won over 50 gold medals.

A wonderful wine culture has emerged in Australia. Wine bars, and boutique wineries are found around the continent and very popular with all ages. Locals and tourists enjoy holidays at Australian wineries where they can tour the winery and see the wine being made. Australia also is home to several large wine events including Taste Australia and the Margaret River Wine Region Festival.

No matter where you are in Australia you will find grapes being grown for winemaking. The main wineries are found in the south, in Victoria, and in New South Wales because of the cooler climate. But, even visitors to the hot centre of Alice Springs will find a local winery to cool things off.

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