Australia's land mass is the sixth largest among countries in the world. In 2009, Australia produced about 4 percent of the world's wine and was the fourth leading exporter. The majority of the wine growth is along the southern coast, but all regions have their specialties. Australian wines are produced with a more adventurous spirit since they do not face the restrictions and traditions that older wine-producing countries have enacted. The 1990s saw a huge rise in the popularity of Australian wine, which has also won many awards.
Wine-producing grapevines were imported to Australia in 1788, and the first commercial vineyard and winery was established in the early 1800s in Sydney. Australia's wild lands proved to be fertile and were untouched and therefore unexploited, giving them a purity and richness that various grapes found hospitable. The early grapes were grown primarily in and around Sydney. The varieties recorded at the new vineyards were Pinot Gris, Frontignac, Gouais, Verdelho and Cabernet Sauvignon. The mid 1800s saw a decimation of the vineyards by the pest phylloxera. World War II saw increased interest in wines as a result of a shortage of beer, and in the 1970s dry red table wines were all the rage. The more carefully crafted wines of recent concoction have fueled a worldwide interest in Australian wines.
Most of Australia's grapes are growing on original European rootstock of vinus vinifera. White grapes dominate growth at 57 percent of all wine-producing acreage. Chardonnay has become one of the most lauded Australian wines, and its grapes grows to perfection in the Southern Hemisphere. Pinot Gris is a full-flavored white wine that has a citrus aroma. Rieslings are fruity, sweet wines that work well paired with spicy dishes, and Semillon is a traditional French grape that yields a robust flavor. Sauvignon Blanc, Verdelho and Traminer are other white varieties. Shiraz is the most commonly grown red grape. It accounts for 37 percent of the grapes grown in Australia. Other reds include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Grenache and Pinot Noir.
The bulk of wine grapes are grown in South Australia, which is known for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. The area includes valley vineyards and coastal wineries. New South Wales is one of the warmer grape growing regions. Chardonnay is grown across the region, and red grapes make up the remainder of the grape crops. Tasmania is an island off the coast of Australia and primarily grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling grapes. West Australia is just beginning its wine production and is experimenting with almost all the varieties. Victoria is the smallest area and has a cooler coastal climate. It produces Marsanne and Shiraz in the Goulburn Valley and Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Yarra Valley.
All wine production and grape growing is overseen by a three tiered system that includes the national, state and individual operator levels. Grape plants can be from dormant cuttings, vines on their own roots and vines grafted onto rootstock. Grafted vines are on the upswing, and 20 rootstocks are available for grafting. The qualities that rootstock must have are saline tolerance, especially for coastal planting, increased productivity and nematode resistance.
Most Australian soils must be amended with lime, superphosphate and any minerals that are lacking. Planting takes place in late winter or early spring. Y-shaped trellises are used to hold up the vines, and most varieties are machine pruned or not pruned at all. Fertilization takes place with inorganic fertilizer administered through irrigation. This is called fertigation. Rows are kept weed free along the vines and have a ground cover between the rows. Harvest begins in March and continues through April.