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Let me know what you think of what I typed below. Thanks mate!

How important is regional identity in the Australian wine industry?

Regional identity in the Australian wine industry is of ever increasing importance in the world marketplace. While each Australian region has offered unique wine styles for many years, the high volume production of Brand Champion types of wine has overshadowed the regional dimensions. There are over sixty wine regions with a large diversity of terroir that impacts the wine styles produced.

According to the Wine Australia, the foreign market had, up until recently, perceived Australian wines as “wines from anywhere” as opposed to “wines from somewhere.” While some popularly sought after good quality wines continue to be produced from grapes cross-state, other quality wines come from individual regions whose climate and topography are most conducive for producing specific grape varieties and wine styles.

Wine Australia has established a marketing campaign that categorizes the wines, of which several would support the importance of regional identity:

Regional Heroes are wines that are produced in one specific region. These wines are marketed to the public with specific interest in the correlation between the area they are produced and the grape variety or wine style. Some examples include Pinot Noir from Mornington Peninsula, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Hunter Valley Semillon, Eden Valley Riesling, Chardonnay from Margaret River or Yarra Yarra, spicy style Shiraz from the Grampians, and Grenache/Syrah blending from McLaren Vale.

Landmark Australia wines come from highly distinctive soils within micro climates conducive to producing some of the finest wines. The vines are low-yielding and the wines are typically made from the varieties classic for their respective regions. The wines have high intensity in flavor concentration. These are typically based on “regional heroes” as well as on endorsements by wine writers who give high ratings. Some examples include Henry’s Drive Shiraz Padthaway Reserve, Wolf Blass Shiraz/Cabernet blend from South Australia, Leeuwin Chardonnay Margaret River, and Ninth Island Pinot Noir Tasmania.

Generation Next wines are made by winemakers who innovate wine styles with creative blending. Generation Next wines are also made with some new international grape varieties that are being planted in wine regions whose terroir is suited for growing these respective varieties well. These wines are geared toward an audience who drink primarily for the social occasion rather than for specific wine attributes. While regional identity is not as dogmatic with this wine category, there is still an interconnection of terroir and grape in that today’s Australian vine growers are planting varieties like Tempranillo and Sangiovese in soils that the growers know will support this new growth.

While Landmark Australia and Generation Next wines are not mandated by law to be 100% from one specific region or grape variety, many producers are more region specific as part of the way to educate the public and gain loyal followings. Further, vineyard owners are not legally limited to specific grape varieties for specific regions. In addition, winemakers are free to blend their varietal wines as long as there is at minimum 85% of that one variety. Irrigation is permitted which allows for better vineyard management control during drier vintages.

The less astringent Australian wine laws compared to those of the European regions have allowed the winemakers to become more innovative with their blending. This leniency also allows vine growers to plant grapes appropriate for the respective regions. Many wine educators and trade associations have successfully raised the status of Australian wine and continue to raise consumer expectations about the various wine regions. This country’s success is substantiated by the fact that Australia is the fourth largest exporter of wine, selling wine to over one hundred countries, all of which bring over 5 billion dollars to Australia’s economy.
The less astringent Australian wine laws compared to those of the European regions have allowed the winemakers to become more innovative

Much as less stringent spelling requirements allow spellers to become more innovative?

So John - Are you doing some market research for someone? Why else the posts on NZ and Australia, and passing on the info distributed by the Australian Trade people a few weeks ago?

FWIW - Keep in mind that the varietals selected were almost random - there is no reason to identify any single varietal with one region more than any number of other regions, something that was made clear if you attended any of the presentations.

As far as the whole idea goes - the Europeans had the isolation of various regions through the Middle Ages which helped to establish certain varietals in certain areas. Australia will never go through that so they are free to make whatever is good wherever they want. To the degree that the market wants regional identities, I think the Australian winemakers are up to the challenge without some kind of gimmicky marketing campaign.
OK. That makes sense then. What he typed up is what the industry groups have been putting about for a few years and they just did a tour in which they passed out additional items, etc. They're going to be replacing their annual huge tasting with smaller regional tastings as well.

To the original question as to whether regional identity is important - IMO it's foolish to identify varietals with regions, which is the antithesis of what made Australia what it is, but it's not foolish to identify regional character.

While Australia has a winemaking history that goes back to some of the early settlers, for the most part, they were making wine for themselves, not to compete with the best of Europe. Regional identity is a concept central to European winemaking, but it is the result of centuries of warmaking, despotism, experimentation, trade, and much more, mostly having to do with politics rather than winemaking or marketing.

The Romans carried grapes and winemaking everywhere they went, but after the collapse of the empire, communities ended up more isolated than under the Romans. Consequently, local traditions grew up without reference to other towns or nation-states. Winemaking disputes that did exist concerned only the things close at hand. For example, they weren't growing nebbiolo or blaufrankish in Burgundy, so the rulers didn't have a choice between those and pinot noir. They simply selected between pinot noir and gamay and one became identified with Burgundy. Same with nebbiolo and so many other regional grapes. Garnacha is found in many southern areas close to the Mediterranean, likely carried by sea. Was it really the knowledge of viticulture that kept Portugese grapes from travelling the same route?

So regional identity as far as wine grapes is as much or more a product of accident and politics than a result of careful planning. Moreover, Old World wine drinkers tended to drink local products that became part of their traditions and cuisine. Still do - you don't find a lot of great Chinese food in the little towns of the Loire Valley. Or even much great Italian cooking. And I doubt that most Bordelais really collect much Gruner Veltliner.

For "New World" wine drinkers, if they came from a wine culture, those traditions were part of their own family past. In other cases, they were simply part of the romance of historic Europe. Americans who may not have Italian, German or French heritage are nonetheless drawn to the romance of the Tuscan countryside, or Rhine or Rhone valleys. In our heads we identify the varieties with the areas, even to the point that some of us try to convince ourselves that in the wine we can actually taste the chalk or limestone or slate or whatever is in the dirt.

The new world doesn't have any of that history and romance. Consequently, we're free to plant whatever we want wherever we think we can make a go of it. There is no real reason that Napa had to be devoted to cabernet sauvignon and at this point, it's just money that will continue that devotion because other grapes that might do as well or better will not bring the same financial return.

Same with shiraz in Barossa, which can produce pretty good grenache except for the fact that a few years ago the government policy was to tear out those great old grenache vines. It's not that the wine couldn't be good, it was about a political decision that made sense to somebody at that time. There's also no reason that they couldn't have been growing touriga nationale and identified that with Barossa, other than the fact that most people in the 60s had never heard of it. Australia makes pretty good zinfandel - where is that region going to be?

So associating grapes with the regions, which is part of this new Australian policy, is to me a silly exercise. The Brand Champions, etc., I just don't get.

The idea that certain areas have certain characteristics does make sense. Margaret River is not the same as McLaren Vale and regardless of the grape, it should have some identifying character. In that sense, the Wine Board is on the right track. To the degree that they care at all, most people simply equate Barossa Shiraz with Australian wine. There is much more to Australia. More logical to me would be to highlight the differences in the same grape, not to identify one varietal with a particular area. The first will highlight regionality, the second just seems too contrived and too much an attempt to replicate Europe. An Australis did not get where it is by copying the model of others.

So John in NYC, if you're doing the diploma, good luck. But be careful - you're not supposed to think too hard. I've looked at some of the tests and you need to be careful to answer what they want, whether or not you think something else. Best of luck.
Thank you all for your input. Australia is a newer topic for me so all the info above helps. I am making some deductions that "wines from anywhere," which had been Australia's reputation for quite some time, can be problematic for the boutique wine makers in that more intense marketing has to continually be done to educate people about the difference. For example, while everyone already knows Shiraz is a classic for Barossa, not everyone knows that Cab Sauv is great from Coonawarra so that is what I believe the challenge is.

I am pursuing the WSET Diploma, which is the most fun I have ever had in such a tough program. The pass rate, unfortunately, has dipped below 40% on some of the exams. I have plenty more exams to take and if heaven forbid I don't pass, I know I can take them again if I pay. Plus, in the mean time, the worst thing that can happen is I will know so much more about wine.

In this program, the WSET seems to encourage my speaking to winemakers at the trade expos as well as to the wine boards, of which some are in NY. Otherwise, I can always call if I can't find the info on the website.

Anyone else pursuing WSET definitely should join a study taste group and chip in for the wine. You might have classmates who are importers who can get the wine for very little. I check back at these pages more often as the down under is newer to me.
Quite a few Australian producers do seem to be trying to develop some expression of terroir in their respective regions, moving away from the bulk brands and grapes shipped half-way across the continent. Just from personal experience my rough generalisations would be...

Cab-Sauv from Coonawarra (apparently it's all in the Terra Rossa).
Old Vince Grenache from South Australia (McLaren Vale & the Barossa)
Shiraz & Semillon from the Hunter Valley
Riesling from Clare & Eden Valleys.

Srill, I find myself nodding to a lot of what GregT says as well, Australian wine marketing , production and customer expecations don't always match and I've no doubt generalisations such as mine above can be shot down pretty quickly by someone with better insider knowledge.
OK those above replies are somewhat inaccurate for Australia or NZ, but as a perception from the US market maybe accurate. In other words your perception is going to be driven by what you have accessible and are in turn able to consume.

Australia has always been very very regionalised and the styles from region to region are varied and different. The issue you may face in the US is that because of the requirements of distribution most wineries have produced generic bulk wines (think Yellow Tail) or top end wines that are constituted as Australian as opposed to Barossa/McLaren vale/Adelaide Hills/ Coonawarra, Lime Stone Coast etc.. As is noted above.

There are regions which Greybeard points out are better at certain varietals over others however still produce a plethora of other variety's.

An examples-

Yalumba- Aussies oldest family owned winery produces wines from 5 regions, with over thirty differing labels or tiers and a huge number of varieties including Grenache, Mouvedre,Shiraz, Viognier, Chardonnay, Riesling, Semillon, Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Muscat, and Tempranillo.

They are probably best known for the Octavius Cabernet Shiraz from Barossa. However they also produce some excellent Eden Valley Riesling and Viognier and some Coonawarra wines.

In other words regionalised character is part of the wine the individual winery makes.

Its best to learn the regions then search out the wines to understand this.

Personally I would look at South Corps- Penfolds or Yalumba as good examples of Barossa, Greybeards choice of D'Arenburg from McLaren, Grosset from Polish Hill/Eden Valley, Cape Mentelle or Vasse Felix from Western Australia, Wynns from Coonawarra, Mt Pleasant from Hunter Valley, Jim Barry from Clare Valley, Yerring Station from the Yarra Valley and Maestro from Orange as a selection of wineries to give a good example of each of the regionalised style.

But in turn you then have to recognise that these are only the generically recognised styles and within these regions there are personalities and wine making styles that producce completely different wines. Even within those companies listed above you will seen changes depending on the labels. BUT if you stick to their core labels you will get a good generic wine that represents the region well.

Personally I would recommend hunting out James Halliday's Australian 2008 vintage report (a hard copy not online as its huge)- it will be worth the investment.

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