We’ve spent two weeks in South Australia, responsible for almost 50% of Australia’s annual production, exploring the main wine regions. During our stay, we visited the Adelaide region, located in the south-east of the country, and more particularly the Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek and McLaren Vale, where we discovered beautiful vineyards with their iconic kangaroos.
6th largest wine producer in the world
Total vineyard area: 135,133 ha, of which Shiraz accounts for 39,893 ha (30%). Chardonnay is the largest white variety with 21,442 ha (16%).
The total winegrape harvested in 2018 is 1.79 million tonnes, of which South Australian regions accounts for 879,000 tonnes (49%).
Wine production: 1.29 billion litres of wine – giving an average extraction rate of 716 litres/tonne.
There are estimated to be 2468 wineries and 6251 grapegrowers employing 172,736 full and part-time employees across 65 winegrowing regions in Australia, contributing over $40 billion annually to the Australian economy.
MAIN GRAPE VARIETIES
Shiraz is the most widely planted wine grape in the country (30%). This red grape variety coming from France arrived in Australia with James Busby in 1832. Shiraz, known as Syrah outside Australia, is very popular and provides to the country its export success. If the most historic area for Shiraz is the Barossa Valley, which benefits from the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, other regions are well established, not only in South Australia such as McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Eden Valley but also in the Hunter Valley.
We discovered the Sparkling Shiraz, which is a very traditional Australian wine style. Indeed, this red sparkling wine, made in the same way as Champagne, is very popular in Australia. It provides a light and fresh red wine, very appreciated to celebrate an occasion such as Christmas (which takes place in summer in Australia) when it is too hot to drink a full bodied red wine.
Australia is also well known for its red blend GSM: Grenache Shiraz Mataro. We’ve really enjoyed this blend! The Grenache provides lighter, red fruit flavours as well as spice; Shiraz contributes to richer fruit flavours and structure; while Mataro brings earthy and spicy elements and texture to the mix.
Regarding the white grapes, Riesling is viewed as “the king of the white wines”. This is the most popular white grape variety in Australia even if Chardonnay is the largest one planted. The Riesling comes from Germany, and arrived in Australia in 1838 thanks to William Macarthur. This grape variety then spread throughout Australia and was embraced by the German settlers in South Australia. Riesling is a late ripening, aromatic white wine with high levels of acidity.
SOILS GREAT DIVERSITY
Australia benefits from a large range of soils types that provide unique characteristics to the wine, especially in Adelaide region which is one of the most geologically diverse regions in the world. The wide variety of soils reflects the varied terrain, from deep sandy loams to clay loams and red brown earth, to shallows and rocky soils. This great diversity is studied by a dedicated group of experts gathering winemakers and geologists to further explore these differences and highlight the impact of geology on wine’s flavours.
For instance, The Barossa Grape & Wine Association (BGWA) has launched the Barossa Grounds Project. This exciting project, established in 2008, aims at establishing different terroirs in the Barossa Zone. According to the Australian Geographical Indications, the Barossa Zone is split between its Regions Barossa Valley and Eden Valley. To conduct their study, they’ve collected some climatic data, analysed soil profiles across the valleys and controlled winemaking studies in order to evaluate the variations of Shiraz from across Barossa’s landscape. At the end, they identified three distinctive Grounds within the Barossa Valley Region (Northern Grounds, Central Grounds and Southern Grounds) and they’ll undertake more studies to be able to do the same within the Eden Valley Region.
What’s more, South Australia is phylloxera free so quarantine restrictions have been introduced to ensure the State remains this way.
te remains this way.
A DRY CLIMATE
Australia's vast territory is home to a wide variety of geographical and climatic conditions. Latitudes near the equator lead to warm climatic conditions, tempered by maritime influences or altitude.
The climate of the Barossa being hot and dry, viticulture is dependent on irrigation. The aridity of the climate and the very cool nights make it possible to obtain a grape concentrated in aromas.
McLaren Vale is located on the coast, south of Adelaide, where the ocean breeze moderates the heat of South Australia. The climate is rather Mediterranean, with ocean winds and coolness from the nearby mountains.
As for Langhorne Creek, the cool breezes from nearby Lake Alexandrina create a microclimate of sunny summer days and cool evenings, ideal for a slow maturation that helps to shape a wine with a fresh climate, complex aromas and high intensity. One surprising and key climate event for this region is the flooding of the vineyards. In fact, in winter every 4 years on average, the Bremer River overflows and inundates the natural floodplain, which is home to Langhorne Creek’s iconic vineyards! The flood assists in improving soil quality, replenishing wildlife, and importantly helps them save water for the rest of the year.
Australia is one of the driest countries in the world. One of the major problems today and which should become the main issue in the future remains irrigation, which is becoming essential for vine cultivation. In order to overcome the problems of scarcity and low availability of water resources, Australia has set up an original system: this system is based on water allocations and is accompanied by the development of a "water market" where these allocations can be traded, leading to high speculation. These water rights are treated as private property, and are therefore fully negotiable within the framework of an open market.
To deal with the problem of low water availability in Australia, several innovative systems have been set up to optimize water consumption in vineyards:
First of all, we had the opportunity to discuss with the viticulturist at Temple Bruer Wines, an organic vineyard. This vineyard has set up sensors placed directly on the plants, which make it possible to collect information related to soil moisture, or to provide information on the environment (ambient temperature/soil, atmospheric pressure, rainfall, etc.). In this way, they allow the winegrower to know exactly when the plant needs water and thus limit waste in terms of irrigation.
In addition, several vineyards in Australia, particularly in the McLaren Vale region, presented us their vine irrigation systems through water recycling. Indeed, wastewater is an increasingly valuable and sustainable resource. However, recycled water is characterized by a significantly higher salt content compared to conventional fresh water. It is therefore necessary to measure and control the salinity of the water to avoid soil degradation problems.
Some vineyards in Australia also collect and use rainwater. Thus, they build huge pools that allow the recycling of rainwater. This water is naturally soft and has a slightly acidic pH.
Due to global warming, Australia is experiencing extreme weather events, such as heavy rains and record high temperatures. Climate change is having a major impact on the health of the vines and wine production. Indeed, the rise in temperatures leads to a faster maturity of the grapes, and therefore to earlier harvests which modify the sugar and acidity levels of the grapes, resulting in an increase in alcohol content and a production of wine of poor quality. In addition, in Langhorne Creek, whereas there used to be floods every winter (necessary to irrigate vineyards and save water during the year), they are now less frequent.
To cope with these climatic changes and in particular the heat records encountered, which have consequences for Australian vines, winegrowers have found effective solutions. For example, they do not hesitate to prune their vines late in order to delay their maturity and therefore the harvest.
Other winegrowers even choose to replant more heat-resistant varieties from Spain or Italy, such as Mencia, Tempranillo, Vermentino or Nero d’Avola. Some winegrowers have even, with regret, announced that they will no longer be able to grow Shiraz (their emblematic grape variety) in 20 years' time...
Moreover, in order to limit the drought caused by global warming, some winegrowers use an original method that consists of applying wood chips to the root of the plant. This mulching with wood enables to cover the ground in order to limit the evaporation of rainwater as much as possible and to reduce the appearance of weeds. Wood acts as a thermal insulator, limiting the drying of the ground with sun and wind burns.
women in the wine industry
Currently, 40% of the wine industry is made up of women while winemaking and viticulture courses generally have an equal representation of female and male students at university. Some initiatives have been taken to improve gender diversity such as the Australian Women in Wine Awards, which acknowledges and rewards the work of women in the Australian wine community. Don’t forget to follow the 2019 Awards which will take place on Tuesday 17th September in New York!
During our stay in Australia, we had the chance to meet many wonderful women winemakers, winegrowers and winery-owners who embody the great evolution in the wine industry!
A changing market
The Australian domestic market accounts for almost 40% of the wine production, which is much more significant than in other countries of the New World. Domestic sales of Australian wines are estimated to be 496 million litres. Drinking wine is deeply embedded in the Australian culture, and most of the vineyards we’ve visited sell the major part of their wines to local people.
Meanwhile, Australia is the 5th largest wine exporter in the world. The top varieties exported are Shiraz, which accounts for 249 million litres meaning 29% of exports, followed by Chardonnay (182 million litres), Cabernet Sauvignon (139 million litres) and Merlot (66 million litres). Australian wines are mainly exported to North America, Canada and the UK. Moreover, Asia represents a huge opportunity for Australian wineries. Actually, the Chinese wine consumption is steadily increasing and thanks to their geographical proximity, Australian are getting into the Chinese wine marketplace. Thus, China is the most valuable market for Australian wine exports and the growth is expected to continue. As a result, establishing long and sustainable commercial relationships with China is the new challenge for the Australian wine producers.
What’s more, in terms of national consumption, Australian are slightly moving away from full-bodied and concentrated wines to drink more elegant and fruit-driven wines.
Australians do not use corks but screw caps, even for red wines! It would even be an Australian invention! Producers believe that there is less risk of obtaining a bad wine, since screw caps ensure a perfect tightness of the bottle and thus preserve the freshness of the wine. This one no longer evolves once bottled. We also discovered at Henschke the closing of a bottle with a glass stopper: the Vinolok glass closure. The neutrality of the glass prevents the risk of oxidation and contamination. In addition, it is easy to open and close while being recyclable!
Finally, we tested for the first time wine in cans at Zonte's Footstep vineyard with their Prosecco "Bolle Felici", as well as in Chapell Hill, with their iconic Vermouth Spritz the "Americano".
Bernard Douvry, Georges Marais, Florence et Emmanuel Ramé, Florence et Jérome Dubar, Sabine Marais, Brigitte et Jean-Benoit Ramé, Marie-Christine Douvry, Molly Breiner, Anne-Sophie Klimczak, Lyssiar Oriwen, Astrid Massot, Juliette Leroy, Walfroy Dauchy, Sylvain Dubar, Antoine Rogeau, Tanguy Le Quilliec, Agathe Houssin, Mauricette et André Michel, Gillian Goulart, Ianja Rabenasolo,Valentine Burban, Delphine Héran, Valentine Ramé, Éléonore de Marnhac, Barthélemy Héran, Mathilde Perruchot, Jules Veyrat et Lise Riesen, Juliette Pinget, Juliette Dubar, Pablo Veyrat, Holly Bolgar, Jérémy Cerf, Phoebé de Sousa Passos, Emmanuelle Guisln, Charlotte Fliche, Mathilde Nike, Matthieu Giudicelli, Edouard Dollfus, Perrine Mathieu, Marie Altmayer, Romain Brissonneau, Valentine Bono, Yvan de la Baume, Maxence Béguin, Lydia Bellahouel, Aurélie Bergeras, Grégoire Leroy, Eloi Marquet de Vasselot, Agathe Guérin, Margaux Nuyts, Angèle de Leusse, Jean-Baptiste Mulliez, Mathilde Halpern, Diane Bunod, Blandine Charveriat, Marie Robaczewski, Clémentine Mittelman, Marie Delavoie, Holly Quintard, Chloé Peugeot et Antoine Charlent !