Vines first arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788.
Heat and humidity was a problem for initial plantings at Sydney Cove although significant vineyards were established near Parramatta in 1805 by Gregory Blaxland and near Camden in 1820 by William Macarthur. James Busby became involved in viticulture around 1825 and in 1831 he went to Europe and collected 650 varieties.
362 survived the journey and were planted in the Botanical Gardens in Sydney. A duplicate collection was planted at his Hunter Valley property and subsequent cuttings made their way to various parts of NSW, Victoria and South Australia. Many of Australia’s old vines can trace their history to the original Busby collection.
The Hunter Valley was the first commercial region with Wyndham Estate being established in 1828 By the 1840’s viticulture was established by Italians in Riverina, Swiss in Victoria, Dalmatians in Western Australia and Lutheran Germans in South Australia, particularly the Barossa and Clare Valleys.
Commercial viticulture was established in most states by 1850. By 1854 the first wine export to the United Kingdom had been formally recorded – 1,384 gallons (6,291 litres).
Phylloxera affected some states in the late 1870’s and a few active pockets remain but many areas in Australia are phylloxera free and have very old, ungrafted vines.
There are now over 100 different varieties planted in Australia, the most important of which are:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pinot Noir
- Also significant:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Gris
A recent interest in other Mediterranean varieties has seen small but increased plantings of:
- Nero d’Avola
- Touriga Nacional
Australia’s land mass is almost equal to that of the United States and considerably larger than Europe. It is also the flattest continent. Its highest peak is only 2,228m. (France has 75 peaks higher than this). Australia is not at cool latitudes but cool climate regions exist due to the impact and influence of altitude and the surrounding oceans.
There are three main mountain ranges that impact the viticultural areas in Australia:
Darling Scarp in Western Australia:
This is the edge of the Yilgarn Craton and rises only to 400m. The best Western Australian regions are on this scarp – from Perth Hills down to Pemberton
Mount Lofty Ranges in South Australia:
This range makes viticulture possible in Adelaide Hills, Clare, Barossa and Eden Valleys
Great Dividing Range in Eastern Australia:
This is a major landform consisting of mountains and uplands. It is important to most of the GI’s in New South Wales and Victoria. It brings height and acts as a barrier to tropical rain systems that come down the east coast effectively creating a rain shadow. The only major wine region on ’wrong’ side of range is the Hunter Valley which typically experiences mid-summer and harvest rain. Large parts of the north are tropical and the centre is too hot and dry. The areas most suited for fine wine production are in the SE and SW of the country. These areas have cool to warm Mediterranean climates.
Three main factors influencing the climate in these areas:
Weather patterns: Prevailing cool weather patterns from the cold Southern Ocean moderate the warm northerly influence of the hot inland
Latitude: Higher latitudes (further from equator) are cooler → southern Australia is much cooler than the north
Temperature: decreases approximately 0.65°C for every 100 metres in altitude
Australia has been an individual land mass for over 100 million years and is the oldest and therefore most eroded continent with very old & complex soils. The oldest things on earth are found in Australia: Zircon grains from Jack Hills in Western Australia are 4.4 billion years old (only 200 million years younger than the planet)
Cratons are predominantly granite outcrops and are the oldest formations of land on the planet.
Australia has three cratons → 2 in Western Australia (Yilgarn and Pilbara cratons) and 1 in SA (Gawler craton). Wine is produced on edge of Yilgarn craton.
There are younger soils made up of sand and limestone and also many areas of volcanic origin. Tremendous soil variation from region to region and within the regions themselves