I think it must have been in the 1970s when Len Evans, doyen of Australian wine, said something that interested me: Australia’s best vineyards haven’t been planted yet.
His view was probably shaped by two things. The early establishment of vineyards in Australia was pretty haphazard, with lots of different grape varieties planted here, there and everywhere. With little knowledge and experience in growing grapes, the early pioneers were shooting in the dark and any success was basically down to luck.
In contrast, the grape-growing cultures of Europe had been at it for centuries and had worked out which grape varieties did best in different regions. And within regions they had observed that some vineyards performed better than others, producing superior fruit year after year.
A few years ago Jane and I were in the Alsace region of France, staying in a gorgeous village called Kaysersberg. On the drive into the village there was a quite large vineyard on the steep hillside to the north. It was Schlossberg, one of the world’s great riesling vineyards.
When Alsace identified its Grand Cru vineyards (there are now 51 of them) the first to be chosen was Schlossberg. Here, everything comes together to tease pure magic out of one of the world’s best white grape varieties – the southerly aspect, the shelter provided by the Vosges mountains, perfect air and water drainage, the sandy, granite-based soils and, of course, careful nurturing by the vignerons. The vineyard’s wines are very pure, harmonious, minerally and delicate, yet with delicious intensity. Classic riesling.
Schlossberg is simply a great vineyard. And it only took them 500 years to work that out.
Here in Oz we are still a little behind but we are making up ground fast. When Len Evans published his seminal ‘Australia and New Zealand Complete Book of Wine’ in 1973 there was no mention of the Yarra Valley or the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, or Margaret River in Western Australia. And he reported that just a few hectares of vines were growing in Tasmania. Nothing in Orange.
All these regions are now adorned by vineyards – a remarkable development in just 50 years – and the quality of the wines emerging speaks volumes about site selection and how grape varieties have been carefully selected to suit these sites. As single vineyard wines become more popular certain vineyards will begin to shine brightly and their reputations will grow.
Now, maybe some of Australia’s best vineyards have been planted.