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Australian Wine - Making History Bottle by Bottle

The Origins of Australian Wine

The earliest European settlers in Australia knew the country's abundant sunshine and fertile soil would be perfect for winemaking. The first vines were planted around Sydney as early as 1790, and by 1795 the earliest Australian wines were being made in the area of modern-day Rosehill.Willamette valley wine tours German settler Phillip Schaffer's 1795 vintage, reviewed by one local as "tolerably good," is regarded as the first.

By the mid-1800s, Australian wines began to gain their first international attention. In 1822, Sydney winemaker Gregory Blaxland sent a cask of his pinot noir/meunier blend to the British Royal Society of Arts, which awarded the wine a silver medal. Around the same time, James Busby made his famous tour through the wine regions of Europe, eventually returning to New South Wales with hundreds of varieties of vine. They were planted both in the Sydney Botanic Gardens and on Busby's own estate in Hunter Valley, which helped establish Hunter Valley as one of the earliest and best-known Australian wine regions.

Australian wine makers of the 1830s and 40s, Busby among them, set a precedent for the experimentation, innovation, and adventurousness that survives to this day in Australian viticulture. Unlike the winemaking countries of Europe, Australia has no centuries-old tradition of winemaking tying it down to a few set methods and varieties of wine. Australian winemaking tradition is based on the idea that experimentation is an essential part of producing high-quality wines.

The Middle Period of Australian Winemaking

By the 1850s, an epidemic of Phylloxera-the vine-killing pest-swept across Europe. During this period of difficulty for winemakers in Europe, Australian winemakers were able to increase exports and to win many international awards. But by the 1870s, Phylloxera made its way down under and began to wreak havoc on Australian vines. Fortunately, the insect was unable to thrive in the southernmost reaches of the country, which made the epidemic only a temporary setback.

For the next 100 years, Australia winemakers were best known internationally for their fortified and sweet wines. While the domestic market for the country's many unique traditional and experimental wines always thrived, it wasn't until later in the 20th century that the rest of the world would catch on to all the fine wines that Australia had to offer.

The Late-20th Century Boom

The Australian wine business was given a huge boost during World War II, when Pacific Theater soldiers stationed in the country gave rise to a huge demand for all varieties of beer, wine, and spirits. This gave Australian winemakers a financial boost that would launch them into the boom years that were soon to come.

After the war, a sudden influx of immigrants from Europe breathed new life into an industry that had not changed much in many decades. While Australian wine was already known for its diversity, these newcomers to the country brought a variety of traditions and styles of winemaking, and many of the areas where they settled went on to become Australia's top wine regions of today.

At the turn of the 21st century, Australia had asserted itself as one of the top wine exporters in the world, surpassing every other country as an exporter to the U.K., and also making up a large share of wine imports to other European countries, as well as the U.S. and Canada. More recent years have seen a leveling-off of Australian wine's international growth, but the business continues to thrive. The domestic market is booming thanks in part to online wine buying, and the Australian wine tourism industry draws thousands every year from Australia and abroad.

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