Category Archives: Overseas Perspectives on Australian Wine

Dec 12 2010

Artisans of the Barossa: Breaking down the Stereotypes!

Posted on December 12, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In my article, Australian and New Zealand Wine: Telling a Complex Story!, 28 September 2010, I mentioned that 12 of the country’s most prestigious wineries have joined forces to create Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW) – an export oriented venture designed to explain and promote the character, heritage and quality of Australia’s family-run wine companies.

In the Barossa region another group of like-minded winemakers formed their own alliance in 2006 with a similar purpose. Today, Artisans of the Barossa consists of 12 wineries that are working together to market their small production, hand-made, high quality wines to the domestic and international markets. Familiar and not-so-familiar names make up the group’s membership: Dutschke Wines, Hobbs of Barossa Ranges, John Duval Wines, Kalleske Wines, Massena, Radford Wines, Schwarz Wine Company, Sons of Eden, Spinifex Wines, The Standish Wine Company, Teusner and Tin Shed. Collectively they represent 11 Barossa subregions: Barossa Ranges, Lyndoch, Ebenezer Moppa, Kalimna, Bethany, Vine Vale, Light Pass, Koonunga and Marananga, as well as the Eden Valley.

What is also interesting about Artisans of the Barossa is that while the winemakers collectively have decades of winemaking experience behind them and share a rich viticultural heritage, most of the wineries in the group are less than 20 years old. Indeed, they represent a new generation of wineries that are dispelling the notion that Barossa is about massively extracted, high alcohol wines. As the American wine critic Alder Yarrow commented in his article, Tasting the Artisans of Barossa Wines, Vinography, 30 March 2010, “I was very happy to find many of them making 13.5% to 14% alcohol, elegant and delicious Shiraz (some from very old, microscopic family vineyards, and lean, low-alcohol Rieslings from the Eden valley).” Yarrow tasted … Read the rest

Sep 09 2010

Australian and New Zealand Wine: Telling a Complex Story!

Posted on September 09, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Even the most dedicated wine student can have a difficult time understanding the wine regions of France and the complex classification system. The Bordeaux classification system of 1855, for example, still dictates the ranking of the chateaux in the Medoc region, dividing the wineries into five different growths according to their value, prestige and quality. Burgundy is even more complicated with hundreds of premier and grand cru vineyards.

But Australian and New Zealand wines seem to be suffering from a perception that is the opposite of complexity, at least in the minds of the wine consuming public in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Due in part to the phenomenal marketing success of Yellow Tail and the legion of “critter brands” that latched onto the tail of Yellow Tail’s cute wallaby logo, American consumers tend to see Australian wine as homogeneous – flavourful but cheap and not very interesting.  According to Mike Steinberger, Not Such a G’Day: How Yellow Tail crushed the Australian wine industry, Slate 8 April 2009, “this perception became a major liability when those same consumers got interested in more serious stuff; rather than looking to Oz, they turned to Spain, Italy, and France.”

New Zealand’s outstanding Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc helped put New Zealand on the international  wine map, but regrettably it spawned inferior export oriented followers who have similarly cheapened the image of New Zealand wines in the US and UK markets.

Two recent initiatives, one from Australia and one from New Zealand, are designed to educate the international consumer about the high quality and viticultural diversity of the respective wine regions.

Complexity is the name of New Zealand’ export venture pitched at the premium and super-premium end of the US market.  As the name connotes, its purpose is to challenge simplistic notions … Read the rest

Sep 09 2010

An American Perspective on Australian Wine

Posted on September 09, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Alder Yarrow, founder and editor of the well respected American wine blog Vinography, recently visited top wine regions in Victoria and South Australia, including the Yarra Valley, King Valley, Beechworth, Heathcote, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale, and the Barossa Valley.

Yarrow makes a lot of interesting and informed observations and insights. His article and the readers’ comments are well worth reading. (Some Thoughts on Australian Wine, 21 May 2010, Vinography) Here are a few highlights:

Yarrow says that he encountered a much wider range of wines (styles and grape varieties) than are typically found in the U.S. “In large part, much of this diversity existed at smaller wineries. Indeed, some of the most exciting wines I had in Australia are made by tiny producers who don’t make much wine, and export even less to the U.S.”

Yarrow remarks that he was surprised to see so much mechanical harvesting in Australia even among some of the more premium producers. As he notes, the practice is a function of a lower influx of migrant labour and higher labour costs, which makes it more expensive for Australia than other countries to hand-harvest. While acknowledging that he has had some good wines from machine-harvested vineyards, Yarrow says that “anecdotal experience leads me to believe that machine harvesting may at least limit the quality of wine, if not negatively impact it.”

The trend in Australia towards biodynamic winegrowing and winemaking was also discussed by Yarrow. He describes his conversations with winemakers about the practice, noting that many are taking a pragmatic approach to biodynamic certification because aspects of the strict certification regime are not necessarily suited to the Australian environment.  Preparation 501, for example, which requires ground quartz to be buried in cow horns in the soil and then sprayed over the vines, … Read the rest