Australia's first vineyards were planted in 1788 in a small area near the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Unfortunately due to the heat and humidity the Sydney vineyard never flourished, but still marked the start of a thriving viticultural industry that in a fraction over 200 years would be exporting over 800 million litres of wine to the world. Today you will find vineyards throughout more than 60 designated wine regions totalling approximately 160,000 hectares. Current export figures place Australia as the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine, selling to more than 100 countries around the world and contributing $5.5 billion to the nation's economy.
The first commercial vineyards started across the nation in the early 1800’s, with early grape varieties including the Verdelho and the Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which are represented in the current Label Wines range. As vineyards in Europe were decimated by the Phylloxera grapevine pest in the mid-1850s, certain Australian wine regions, such as the Barossa Valley, managed to remain Phylloxera free and thus today lay claim to some of the oldest vines in the world - resolutely growing on their original European rootstocks!
Many of these old vines are of the Shiraz variety, originally from the Rhône region of France (Syrah) and introduced to Australia in 1832. The Australian climate of cool winters and warm springs particularly suited the Shiraz variety, helping it to become the dominant red grape variety in Australia. In fact, outside France, Australia has a greater proportion of Shiraz than any other nation.
The critical shortage of beer during World War II saw the thirsty armies of both the US and Australia seeking alternative beverages and from then until the 1960’s approximately 80% of Australian made wine was sweet fortified sherry and port styles, known in the UK as ‘Colonial Wine’. As the demand for fortified wine cooled off in the 70’s, many wineries were holding on to premium vintages for long time cellaring, which subsequently resulted in a number of great old Tawny Port wines which are still available in the market.
After the war, many European migrants arrived in Australia and brought with them a culture of enjoying food with table wine in restaurants and at home. As a result the demand for premium red table wines rose rapidly, and in the early 60’s Penfold’s pioneering winemaker Max Schubert experimented with his first vintage of Grange – the iconic dry red destined to become Australia’s most lauded wine.