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, is considered by some to be wholly inappropriate for Australia, given the heat, intense UV, and natural vigour of the vines.  Dave Powell of Torbreck provides colourful commentary about the absurdity of some of the stringent standards laid down by the Demeter Association: “Look,” he says, “Cows aren’t native to Australia, and for that matter, neither are grapevines. If you wanted to be truly biodynamic here you’d have to take a didgeridoo and stuff it full of kangaroo shit and bury that in the vineyard.”

Yarrow mentions that he canvassed a lot of opinions from winemakers and other people in the Australian wine industry about the reasons for the fading of America’s love affair with Australian wine.  In addition to the GFC, two issues stand out. First, a flood of cheap Australian wine imports has conditioned many Americans to think of Australian wine as “something that costs less than $5”; and secondly, at the high end of the market, high praise over the years in Robert Parker’s influential Wine Advocate for huge, extracted, high-alcohol wines from the Barossa has caused some winemakers and importers to chase demand, producing or selling wine that has not always lived up to its lofty expectations.

Overall, Yarrow said that he was “extremely excited” about Australia as a wine producer, and looks forward to returning to explore Western Australia, Tasmania, the Mornington Penninsula and other regions “where I think there is a lot of exciting wine being made, and to be made in the future.”

Editor’s Note: Wine critic Robert Parker recently singled out Vinography as one of the best wine blogs. (See Robert Parker’s very interesting interview with Joe Roberts of The 1Wine Dude.(“The First Serious Wine Blogger”: The 1WineDude Robert Parker Interview)

For a detailed discussion of the reasons behind the fall in demand for Australian wines in the US, see Mike Steinberger’s article Not Such a G’Day: How Yellow Tail crushed the Australian wine industry, Slate, 8 April 2009