by Jamie Drummond

Australia, for many a year, has been the vanguard of modern wine production; making some truly world-class bottlings that have been judged/scored highly by many a taster/judge (myself included) in both the blind and structured format. Australia has also been testing the extreme limits of legitimate grape-growing areas, utilizing the most bleeding-edge technologies to make those areas viable, and then having some of the most marketable of front labels and back stories to sell the juice from the aforementioned expansive fields of grapes. This was all well and good for the Canadian market, with the wine store shelves literally sagging under the weight of all that Yellowtail. Isn’t Australia the great success story?

Well, a few years ago it was all pretty easy… As a Sommelier one would simply shove an inexpensive and good value Australian Shiraz or Chardonnay on one’s wine list, and the greedy-for-it punters would be gobbling it up like monkeys at a tea party… Shiraz-and-Chardonnay-guzzling monkeys for the most part. But things have changed quite drastically since those halcyon days of yore. Unfortunately for the Australian wine industry things went a bit “pear-shaped”…

Let’s be blunt about this, why don’t we?… Both Australian wine in our marketplace and the Australian wine industry as a whole are in a pretty difficult spot these days and there are myriad reasons for this.

Some may argue that the 2 large International companies responsible for around 70% of Australia’s wine production are to blame. Others may point the finger at a series of stellar harvests that left the country awash in more bulk wine that cute animal labels could possibly sell. Perhaps it could be the truly awful vintage of 2007 that saw a 30% drop in production due to disease, frost, and especially drought, with climactic oscillations having devastated much of the industry, causing serious supply issues regarding access to vine-potable/non-salinated water sources. And then we could always blame the kids coming up from behind; Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and to a certain degree the newly vitalised France, snatching Australia’s piece of the market share at a very particular price-point. Or could it simply be a matter of market saturation?

One thing is for sure, something has to be done, and the Australians are certainly not a bunch to rest upon their laurels as they are a damn resourceful bunch with the ingredients to make some of the very best wines in the world. So what are they up to these days…?

A much greater focus upon the distinctive and wonderful regions of Australia:

On the restaurant floor over the past 10 years I have noticed a considerably more educated clientele who make a point of asking for a BAROSSA Shiraz, or a YARRA VALLEY Chardonnay rather than the generic Shiraz or Chardonnay, and this is the way of the future. A word of warning though, many of your dinner party guests may have very particular expectations when it comes to the S and C words…

A greater emphasis upon specific producers:

Rather than the huge brands that many customers worshiped previously, there is undoubtedly a shift towards them demanding particular producers within (or occasionally across) the aforementioned regions of Australia.

Manic Organics… and Biodynamics:

We have all observed an ever-growing trend of the wine-drinking public demanding organically produced wines. In Australia this has not gone unnoticed with a huge number of superb Winemakers choosing to go green and follow that path.

Freaky New Kids On The Block:

For many years some of the more experimental of Australian Winegrowers have been playing around with some esoteric grape varietals outwith the Shiraz/Chardonnay axis, and to (in many cases) great success. Look for some amazing bottlings of Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, and Albarino coming from Australia sometime very soon.

So never let it be said that Australian wine is a two-trick pony… When one takes in to account the way in which the industry is tactically developing and evolving in order to face the issues I mentioned earlier, the vinous future is certainly looking brighter for Australia.

Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… and he recently discovered that it is nigh on impossible to sum up a country’s wines in around 600 words.