My Take On The Australian Wine Industry
In 2016 we said goodbye to several famous musicians and Hollywood actors and hello to a new American President. In 2017, we have witnessed several atrocities across the world including the Manchester bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire in England. The world of Australian wine has had some changes too and has changed fundamentally over the last 50 years. I wanted to share my personal take and memories on the changes with you.
In the 1960’s Aussies were really just starting to develop a taste for table wines as they transcend fortified wines with names like ‘Burgundy’, ‘Claret’ and ‘Sparkling Pearl’. I wasn’t even a twinkle in my parents eye at this time so sadly I can’t recount what these early wines tasted like, but if I was a betting man I’d say they would have been fairly ordinary.
Thankfully by the late 60’s some visionary vignerons and winemakers established vineyards in exciting cool climate regions (for example Margaret River) and employed the use of innovative winemaking techniques (refrigeration and selective yeast strains). This seemed to spur others on and by the 70’s there was plenty of wine ‘sloshing’ around. Some of the most famous came in the form of cask wine with brands such as Coolabah appearing on our televisions with ads that promoted drinking as almost another Aussie sport!
Wine became more affordable than ever as it became faster and cheaper to produce, market and sell to the public. As the 80’s dawned and I became old enough to witness my parents and their friend’s consumption of wine, several ‘new’ varietals became popular and there was a significant switch from bulk and cask wines to higher priced ‘varietal’ bottled wine. Who can remember the ‘good old’ wooded Chardonnay of the late 80’s?
The industry then experienced a short lived slump due to oversupply but by the early 1990’s it had bounced back and exports of Aussie wines were soaring to over $2 billion and the industry’s 25 year targets were achieved in a few years. The big producers were making a killing and going public and the smaller more premium wineries were charging a premium and taking advantage of money made in the ‘dot-com’ boom in America to sell high alcohol, overtly oak Shiraz at $1,000+ bottle thanks to Robert Parker. Remember that? I certainly do. It was following this time I decided to become a winemaker and study Oenology at The University of Adelaide in 1998, perhaps naïve to what was coming and thinking the golden times of the 1990’s would continue.
Unfortunately by the mid to late 2000’s we ended up with too many grapes, cleanskins everywhere, the GFC and a high Australian dollar, accumulating in me being made redundant in 2010. All this impacted the wine industry but I persevered as my passion for winemaking won out. I escaped the doll drums of Australia and spent the majority of my mid-twenties overseas working in wineries around the world. I was lucky enough to make wine in Italy, France and New Zealand during this period.
The 2000’s also welcomed ‘new’ wine styles to Australia such as Moscato, Rosé and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I remember making amazing but unsellable Adelaide Hills Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc during this period, as the population drank ‘Kiwi Sav Blanc’ at this time and very little else.
Today, as a winemaker I still see opportunity and excitement. Naked Wines has allowed boutique winemakers such as myself to sell and communicate unique and exciting wines that explore different varieties, winemaking techniques and wines styles directly to the consumer. I hope you’ll enjoy my releases of a 2017 Dry Rosé, a lower alcohol 2016 McLaren Vale Shiraz and an aromatic 2017 Chardonnay from the Hills.
Enjoy the unconventional - JP