On the regionality of Australian wine. In 1891.

I was thumbing through the 1891 Royal Commission on Vegetable Products, Handbook for Viticulture in Victoria (yes, really), when I came across this interesting quote:

"Instead of having in each district a host of different names , such as Hermitage, Shiraz, Carbinet, Burgundy, Chasselas, Riesling, Tokay, &c., let each district produce a definite type of wine. Names derived from the sort of grape really mean nothing. Two Rieslings - for instance, one grown on the Yarra and the other on the Murray - differ as much as Hock and Sherry.

Each district now has its Vine-Growers' Assocation. Let all the vine-growers join it, and agree amongst themselves to produce one class of wine, or two at most - say one white and one red - and instead of the host of names mentioned above, the wine will then come to be known by the name of the district in which it is produced. We should have, for example, Rutherglen, Great Western, Bendigo, Mooropna, and so forth.

Such a change will inevitably come, and the sooner it comes the better for the wine industry. A man will then have some idea of the contents of a bottle from the label ...

Board of Viticulture
Melbourne, 12th May, 1891."

While not directly translatable into the twenty-first century, this passage broadly conveys what I have been thinking for a little while now.  All of Australia's most successful wine regions seem to be more or less able to be identified with one or two grape varieties: regions such as Coonawarra (cabernet), the Margaret River (cabernet and chardonnay), the Hunter Valley (semillon and shiraz), the Clare Valley (riesling and shiraz), the Mornington Peninsula (pinot noir and chardonnay), the Barossa Valley (shiraz), Rutherglen (liqueur muscats and topaques - yes, "topaque" ... *) and Tasmania (pinot noir).  And each of these regions are also identifiable by having a certain style of wine that sometimes transcends grape variety (e.g. Coonawarra shiraz still tastes to me like "Coonawarra") - be it terroir or winemaking.  Regions such as the Yarra Valley seem less clear cut (chardonnay - yes, pinot noir - more or less, cabernet  - great if it's ripe, shiraz? sauvignon blanc?)

That Wine Australia should seek to re-energise Australian wines by seeking to focus attention on Australia's regionally distinct wine regions around 120 years later, following the apparent passing of "Brand Australia" providing "sunshine in a bottle" (read more here), is a reminder that everything old is new.

* For what it's worth, my suggestion would have been to replace "Rutherglen Tokay" with "Rutherglen Liqueur Muscadelle", that being what it is.  As for "apera" ... Buzz buzz? ...
Wine Thoughts
April 23, 2012

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