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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

An attempt to start a wine industry in Australia commenced with the arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson in January 1788. During the voyage, vines had been procured by Governor Arthur Phillip at Rio de Janeiro and later at the Cape of Good Hope. These were planted with various crops at Farm Cove, the present site of the Sydney Botanical Gardens. A lack of grapes resulted in the vines being transplanted to the Governor’s garden at Parramatta, west of Sydney. In 1791, the garden contained three acres of vines, and the first two bunches of grapes harvested were reported by naval officer Watkin Tench in January of that year. It is quite likely that the grapes were used to make Australia’s first wine.

The first private vine grower in the colony was Philip Schaeffer who had a vineyard of one acre at his Rydalmere farm in 1792. Several private growers had a total of 8.5 acres of vines by 1797. The government encouraged wine-making and drinking in these early years to try and curb consumption of lethal spirits that were being concocted in vast quantities. It was also part of a wider push for self-sufficiency in agriculture. After initial success, these enterprises had failed by the turn of the century. The early years of the industry were hampered by disease and poor management.

Consequently, Antoine Landrien and Francois de Riveau, two French prisoners of war were sent to Australia in 1800 to help establish a wine industry after claiming they had the necessary experience. They planted 12,000 vines but four years later, only forty gallons of poor quality wine had been produced and disease overtook the vines. Further attempts to grow grapes were made by George Suttor at Parramatta and by Nicholas Devine who had three acres of vines at Newton but these ventures failed too as the vine types were unsuited to the Australian conditions.

Gregory Blaxland was probably the pioneer of Australia’s wine industry. After arriving in Sydney in 1806, he grew crops, grasses, and grapes over 25 years on his 450 acre property. His knowledge of viticulture exceeded that of growers before him. He planted both seeds and cuttings, trained the young vines, and dug trenches to keep roots moist. He developed a species resistant to anthracnose and black spot. In 1816, his wine was given the thumbs-up by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Blaxland was the first person to export wine and the first to win an award. He sent a 26 gallon concoction of red wine and French brandy to London in 1822 and won a silver medal from the Royal Society of Arts. In 1828, he won their gold medal for his tawny red wine. However, his wine production efforts remained on a small scale.

Australia’s first commercial vineyard belonged to John Macarthur, better know as a pioneer in the wool industry. Macarthur had traveled to France, Switzerland, and Italy in 1815-16 to gather information on viticulture. In the 1820s, he established vineyards at his property, Camden Park, near Penrith, west of Sydney. After early failures, he was reportedly making good wine from verdelho and muscat grapes. William Redfern and the Australian Agricultural Company were also producing wine at this time. By the mid 1820s, Australia’s annual wine production reached 20,000 gallons.

The industry was widely promoted by James Busby in the 1820s and 1830s. He studied viticulture in France before coming to Australia with cuttings he thought would be suitable for the Australian climate. He taught viticulture at the Male Orphan School, Cabramatta, near Sydney, and published four books on the subject. He also distributed some 20,000 cuttings to people. The vineyard he started at the orphan school produced wine that was well regarded in London. He collected many vines on a trip to France, Spain and England in 1831, and sent them to Australia where they were planted in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens and made available at no cost to growers. His third book, “Journal of a Tour Through Some of the Vineyards of Spain and France” in 1833 stimulated great interest in viticulture and had two reprints.

The efforts of Busby helped expand Australia’s wine industry in the 1830s. For example, George Wyndham produced 1,650 gallons in 1836, John Jamison made a similar quantity and stored it in underground cellars, and the Macarthur family had a 20 acre vineyard. By this time, other colonies were also establishing vineyards, including Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia.

Population growth led to an acceleration in the wine industry in the 1840s. Several of Australia’s famous wineries got their start in this decade, including Lindemans in 1843. The New South Wales Government was concerned that people were drinking too much hard liquor, so it waived the need for wine producers to have a publican’s license, and allowed them to sell smaller amounts of wine. This resulted in a doubling of the number of acres of vineyards to over 1,000 from 1843 to 1850. Wine production exceeded 100,000 gallons in that year.

Gold rushes in the 1850s slowed the wine industry as labor disappeared to the gold fields. But the population explosion brought about by gold plus the gold itself eventually benefited the industry. Vine growers Henry Lindeman and Samuel Smith found enough gold to expand their wineries considerably. Thomas Hardy made money supplying meat on the Victorian gold fields and used it to set up a vineyard near Adelaide, South Australia. In 1865, he produced 14,000 gallons of wine and by 1875, this had increased to 53,000 gallons. Many others financed their entry into the wine industry from gold.

Colonies passed land selection acts in the 1860s as a move to promote closer settlement. This benefited the wine industry. The area under vine on the mainland rose from 6,200 acres in 1851 to 17,000 acres in 1871. Many famous producers commenced in this period, for example, Yering, St Hubert’s, Yeringberg, Fairfield, All Saints, Chateau Tahbilk, St Peters, Auldana, Seppelt, Craigmoor, and Oakdale.

In the late nineteenth century, expansion of the industry was hampered by the small size of the domestic market. By 1900, Australia’s population was still under four million, spread between six colonies, each with high customs duties to protect their respective industries. Some growers felt this was the industry’s greatest impediment. Another issue was that Australians were not big wine drinkers, and also often preferred to import not only their alcohol but other goods too. In 1885, consumption of wine in New South Wales was 0.64 gallons per head, compared with 1.30 gallons of spirits, and 13.19 gallons of beer. Further, the abstinence and temperance movements were quite active and persuasive in the 1880s and 1890s, and this didn’t help the wine industry. The government tried to get people off spirits by enabling enterprising individuals to buy a “Colonial Wine Shop” license for three pounds in 1882. By 1887, there were 400 of these shops in the colony.

Export markets for wine were difficult to penetrate too. England had put a preferential duty on wine from the Cape of Good Hope, effectively shutting Australia out of the British market. The duty was lifted in 1860 and exports rose. Australian wine exports to England averaged 7,000 gallons in the period 1854 to 1863. This figure increased to an average of 32,000 gallons between 1863 and 1885, rising to nearly half a million gallons a year from 1885 to 1900. The success of the local industry was brought about by Australian firms setting up offices in London to market the produce and by a number of international exhibitions where Australian wines were promoted. Despite some problems with disease, especially in Victoria, the area under vine increased threefold from 22,000 acres to 65,000 acres between 1885 and 1900.

Wine production in 1900-01 exceeded five million gallons, with Victoria leading the way. But Federation in 1901 brought a new set of problems. Under the new constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, the states were no longer allowed to impose tariffs. The South Australian industry was the only one to benefit as the new state government gave producers a subsidy in lieu, making their wines cheaper than in other states. Surplus production between 1900 and 1904 caused grape prices to fall and less profitable vineyards to close. Drought and disease affected output in New South Wales and Victoria around 1909 and 1910. By 1913-14, South Australia was making 2.7 million gallons of wine, or 60 per cent of the national total.

Many of the larger firms, such as McWilliams, Penfolds, Seppelts, and Lindemans, established themselves in a number of areas away from their home base in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Following World War I, new vineyards were opened in soldier settlements along the Murray, Murrumbidgee, and Hunter rivers, and production rose. However, overproduction resulted in a fall in grape prices by 1924 and many producers left the industry.

In order to try and arrest the decline, the Australian government paid a subsidy to viticulturists. The English government’s introduction in 1925 of preferential duty for wines within the British Empire also assisted Australian producers. Further, the federal government’s bounty acts in the 1920s and 1930s boosted wine exports. In 1929, the Australian government set up the Australian Wine Board to improve the overseas marketing efforts of local wine. Between 1925 and 1939, Australian exports of wine to Britain averaged 2.8 million gallons or about 20 per cent of British wine imports, compared with 3.5 per cent in the period 1885 to 1900.

Wine consumption in Australia increased during World War II due to a shortage of beer. However, exports to Britain almost ceased after 1941 due to embargoes and lack of shipping space. Exports to England resumed after the war but on a much smaller scale. To try and increase exports, the Wine Board established an Australian Wine Centre in London in 1960. But Australian exports of wine remained small. By 1974-75, production passed 80 million gallons, but exports were only about 1.4 million gallons valued at $5.3 million.

After World War II, producers started selling bottles of wine under their own labels rather than selling wine in bulk to retailers and wholesalers. This resulted in an increase in competition. Post-war migration of large numbers of people from European countries also pushed up demand for wine. Australian Wine Bureau promotions coupled with more advertising by wine firms meant steady growth in the industry through the 1950s and 1960s. Consumption rose from about one gallon a person in the early 1960s to two gallons in the early 1970s and three gallons by 1976-77.

The turning point for the Australian wine industry is considered to be the pressure-controlled fermentation technique, first used in 1953. Orlando introduced the Barossa Pearl brand into the market in 1956 using the technique, a wine that became very popular in the 1960s and 1970s, appealing to women as well as men. This success was followed by a wide range of similar brands by different companies.

By the mid 1990s, about 4,000 growers produced 700,000 tons of grapes for 8,000 wine-makers each year. The industry employed 5,000 people, and wine sales reached $2.5 billion. Following the European Community / Australia Bilateral Wine Agreement in 1994, Australia has gained greater access to European markets. This has allowed more emphasis to be placed on exports. Despite a decrease in the tariff on imported wine from ten per cent to five per cent in 1996, Australia producers kept their share of the domestic market at around 97 per cent.

In 2006-07, wine production totaled nearly 220 million gallons. The value of wine exports was $2.9 billion, exceeding domestic sales of $2.0 billion. Australian wines are now sold in over 100 countries. The United Kingdom imports more Australian wine than French wine. The total area of grape-bearing vines in the 2006-07 season was 405,000 acres. In 2006, the grape growing industry employed 11,000 people, while wine manufacturing gave jobs to 17,000 people. Medals have been won by Australian wines at nearly every international wine competition. The industry has come a long way since Watkin Tench proudly held two bunches of grapes aloft in 1791.

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