Custom «Hunter Valley Wineries in Australia» Essay Paper Sample

Hunter Valley Wineries in Australia

I am writing to tell about my trip to Australia, and, in particular, to give you more information about Hunter Valley Wineries, in which you were so much interested. While there, local wine producers have told me a lot about spread of wine culture in Australia in general and in Hunter Valley in particular. As with the introduction of viticulture to southern Africa by the Dutch, the first vines planted in Australia were brought there, not by settlers from the Mediterranean homeland of the vine, but rather by denizens of a traditionally wine importing country of northern Europe. The British decision to create a penal colony in Australia implied the introduction of an agricultural enterprise to support it, and carried with it the expectation that the new colony might one day furnish produce for Britain which had previously been imported from elsewhere.

It is nevertheless somewhat surprising that vines were to be found among the plants carried in the holds of the eleven ships under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip that arrived in Australia in January 1788 to establish the first colony. (Halliday 1985) These vine cuttings had been obtained from Rio de Janeiro and the Cape, and were planted at Farm Cove soon after the establishment of the convict settlement at Port Jackson (Halliday 1985). In the high humidity the vines grew rapidly, but were subject to disease and only produced small amounts of fruit of poor quality. As a result, Captain Phillip ordered that a new vineyard be planted further inland on a three-acre site by the Parramatta River in 1791, by which date another one-acre (0.4 ha) vineyard had also been planted by a settler named Schaffer (Halliday 1985).

Thereafter, the expansion of viticulture was slow, but following his crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813, Gregory Blaxland established a new vineyard with vines from the Cape at Brush Farm, Parramatta, in 1816 (Halliday 1985). Although the wines produced were not of a particularly high quality, Blaxland was awarded a silver medal by the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in London for a red wine that he had submitted in 1822, and later in 1828 he was also awarded a gold medal for a further shipment. Meanwhile, another early pioneer, Captain John Macarthur, who had obtained a land grant of 8,500 acres (3,440 ha) in 1805, but had subsequently been forced to leave the colony because of his role in the Rum Rebellion, used some of his time abroad to visit the vineyards of France and Switzerland in 1815, where he gathered practical information about the production of wine. (Halliday 1985)

Macarthur is best known for his influence on the Australian sheep industry, but on his return to Australia in 1816 he brought with him a selection of French vine cuttings, and used these to establish a vineyard at Hunter Valley (Halliday 1985). While some doubt has been expressed as to how many of these cuttings actually arrived in Australia, by 1839 Macarthur's son William is recorded as having introduced German vine growers as colonists, and the Macarthurs can be seen as the first people to have developed a commercial winery in the continent (Halliday 1985). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, tough, Hunter Valley society still largely reflected its convict origins, and within this community beer and spirits were by far the most popular alcoholic beverages, leaving little demand for the wine that was beginning to be produced. Moreover, the rapid success of wool production and the dramatic expansion of sheep numbers in the 1820s provided a far more profitable source of income for the new settlers of the continent than did viticulture. (Halliday 1985)

Hunter Valley is also known for some of the technological changes that became prevalent with Australian wine producers. The changes in viticultural practice in the Hunter Valley for the last decades include the use of irrigation, in particular through drip irrigation systems, the introduction of new systems of vine training, and the application of foliar feeds. (Halliday 1985) While the main emphasis of these changes in viticulture has been derived from a desire to reduce labor costs, the changes that have taken place in vinification have, in contrast, been designed to make the resultant wine more appealing to the consumer. The most important of these changes has been the introduction of temperature controlled cool fermentation for white wines, which has enabled producers in hot locations, such as the new vineyards of Hunter Valley.

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Two of the traditional characteristics of wine were its variability from year to year, and its susceptibility to differences in storage condition. While this was relatively unimportant for the connoisseur, the development of mass-produced brands of wine for the lower end of the market required that the consumer always received wines that tasted the same, regardless of the year in which they were produced and the way in which they were stored. Consequently, most of the changes that have taken place have been designed to produce stable and uniform wines for the mass market. This has involved the introduction of numerous chemical additives to prevent bacterial spoilage and oxidation, as well as to control the levels of acidity in the wines. (Johnson 1994)

Moreover, the use of new types of filtering equipment, and the cooling of wines to precipitate tartrates prior to bottling, are now commonplace. Other recent changes in vinification practice in Hunter Valley include the pretreatment of grape juice for white wines prior to fermentation, the introduction of carbonic maceration, the prevention of oxidation through the use of inert gasses, the replacement of natural yeast by dry cultured yeasts for fermentation, and the use of centrifuges for separating musts from the remaining material after fermentation. (Johnson 1994)

While the above comments apply most forcibly for producers of wine for the mass market, another important recent trend has been the rise in boutique wineries in Hunter Valley, and in the attention paid to quality wine production. As increasing numbers of wine consumers become more discerning in their tastes, and as wine buyers for the large retail chains travel ever more widely in their search for the best quality products at the most reasonable prices, there has been an increasing emphasis on the quality of wine production during the 1990s. This is also, in part, related to the challenge that the technological developments in the Hunter Valley.

Until the 1970s, it was widely accepted that wines from the traditional producing areas of France and Germany were superior to those of Australia and United States, and could therefore claim a substantial premium in price. However, in 1976, at a tasting of French and Californian wines organized by the English wine merchant Steven Spurrier, French authorities judged a red and a white Californian wine to be the best of each category (Johnson 1994). Thereafter, European wine producers have been forced to respond to the challenge, and considerable investments have now been made in technological improvements.

Among the European producers to benefit most, have been those of Italy and Spain, who in the past suffered from climatic problems similar to those encountered by wine makers in California and Australia, and in particular from the difficulties associated with fermentation and wine storage in hot climates. (Johnson 1994) The introduction of technologically advanced wine making equipment, able to control precisely every process from the arrival of the grapes to the bottling of the wine, has thus transformed wine production in many areas of the Old World as well as the New.

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The concern with fashion reflects a further strategy adopted by the global corporations in their attempts to increase sales through the projection of certain drinks as being particularly fashionable. By changing the image of what is deemed to be in fashion, the market can be manipulated towards an expansion in the sales of a particular product. “Taste is not an immutable, but a mutable thing”. (Johnson 1994) Within the wine sector this trend can be seen most clearly in the attention given to wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes in the early 1980s, and more recently to Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc. Following the international controversies over the labeling of wines during the 1960s, producers in North America and Australia increasingly turned to the use of varietal names for their wines, and in particular to the high value Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay varieties. (Johnson 1994)

The undoubted success of many of these wines, then led to increasing numbers of producers in other traditional wine making countries, such as Italy, to experiment with such 'noble' varieties of grapes, for which there was a ready market. Moreover, wines produced from these grapes could also be sold at a greater profit than those made from more traditional local varieties, and particularly in Italy the 1980s have therefore seen a gradual shift away from the cultivation of many of the indigenous varieties of vine, leading to a reduction in local diversity.

Mark, I believe that compared to the European producers of wine, Hunter Valley producers may be somewhat less efficient, but, at the same time, they produce unique wines that attract wide variety of wine lovers. The picturesque place itself adds a lot to the essence of their wine, and I would definitely be interested in coming back their to spend some more time.

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