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 15 wines from the various producers and his tasting notes are worth a read.

The Artisans of the Barossa group also highlights just how dynamic and interesting the Australian wine market really is despite the damaging ramifications of the global wine glut, the high Australian dollar, the lingering after-effects of the GFC and negative overseas perceptions of Australian wine.

The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown recently expressed shock and dismay at “the lack of choice in [Australian wines] in that great land of choice: the USA...Apart from a handful of conscientious importers, gatekeepers to the world’s second largest wine market are in my view generally lazy and opportunistic when it comes to Australian wines. USA consumers who are sincerely enthusiastic about discovering more of what Australia has to offer need to demand more of their retailers, wholesalers and importers – demand more regionally expressive wines and more of a variety of regions, at all price points.” (Australia’s New South Wales: Not to be Overlooked, eRobertParker.com, April 2010)

As we’ve discussed before, the retail situation in Australia also restricts the number of wineries that get their products on the shelf, so perhaps we should also heed Perrotti-Brown’s advice and “demand more regionally expressive wines and more of a variety of regions, at all price points.”

Certainly alliances like Australia’s First Families of Wine and the Artisans of Barossa are playing an important role in increasing the visibility of Australia’s high quality wines, and hopefully pointing to a future that is less dominated by the large commercially driven majors.

Photo Credit: Artisans of the Barossa