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The history of Italian wine in Australia

No matter how numerous the Italian community living all over Australia is, it was only very recently that Italian wine varieties managed to establish themselves in this country

The history of Italian wine in Australia

Claudia Astarita

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Italy is undoubtedly a country of wonderful wines. The Italian Ambassador of Italy to Australia, Pier Francesco Zazo, recently revealed to the Australian magazine Winestate that wine is part of the Italian culture and has been for several centuries. "Wine represents one of the utmost goods exported from Italy, the first wine exporter of the world. Only in 2013, 5 billion Euros of wines were exported from Italy, 17 million to Australia".

Despite these numbers, and no matter how numerous the Italian community living all over Australia is, it was only very recently that Italian wine varieties managed to establish themselves in this country. As explained in details by Winestate, "not so long ago Australian wine was absolutely dominated by the so-called 'French varieties', sauvignon blanc, riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and maybe merlot".

The father of Australian wine is James Busby, a British man who imported the first collection of vine stock from France to Australia in 1831. Differently from previous experiences, when all cuttings died, many of Busby's wines survived, and they underpinned the Australian wine industry for the following decades. In the 1890s, when the vine attacking insect phylloxera decimated much of Europe's vineyards, all interest in importing more Western varieties to Australia suddenly disappeared because of the fear of this pest. Actually, it was only in 1990s that new wines imports were legalized again, and this is enough to explain the limited presence of Italian wine varieties in Australia until the end of last century.

Things are changing right now and Italian varieties seem one more time appealing for local producers. However, it is a matter of fact that "Italian varieties tend to be more difficult and fussy in terms of ripening in the vineyard compared to the French varieties". This of course does not mean that growing Italian wine in Australia is impossible, rather that "a careful assessment of the climate and soil type of the European origin is vital when deciding to plant the variety in Australia", together with the awareness that new varieties will never taste like the originals.

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