Wine Australia – the biggest thing since Barossa Pearl

Len Evans calls Wine Australia 96 the “biggest thing to happen to Australian wine since Barossa Pearl.” For those whose memories don’t stretch back to 1956, Barossa Pearl introduced a generation of Australians to the pleasure of the grape.

It was a sweetish, Eden-Valley-riesling-based sparkling wine, made by Orlando’s Colin Gramp and Gunther Prass and launched during the Melbourne Olympics.

Forty years later and with another Olympics upon us, Wine Australia 96 (to be held at Darling Harbour Sydney) June 15-18, offers city-dwelling Aussie wine drinkers a new experience reflecting the amazing changes that have taken place in just one generation.

Forty years ago we barely drank table wine and barely exported it. Now we consume 900,000 litres a day in Australia and export almost a third of our production. Increasingly, those exports are in bottle not bulk and earn ever-bigger dollars for Australia.

Despite a strong international focus, 68 per cent of wine production remains at home and, even in the face of rising prices, local wines make up 96 per cent of our consumption.

From a handful of makers in 1956, the industry has flourished so that we now have over 800 wine makers spread across every gully, creek, slope and flat of southern Australia. We make everything from tasty, mass-produced whites and reds in the irrigation areas, to handcrafted, idiosyncratic wonders reflecting a myriad of soils, climates, and wine maker predilections.

Wine Australia 96 reflects the ingenuity and diversity of the industry — all under one roof, on an unprecedented scale. Pay a visit in June and you can see a vineyard growing; a winery in operation; a bottling line in action; a cellar; an up market retail store; attend seminars on wine and food; enter the “Wine Options” tasting competition; and, best of all, enjoy wines from more than 250 wineries, representing 35 regions.

Displays will be set up on a State by State, region by region basis and include local foods as well as wines.

When I first reported on the event several months back it was mostly a dream, but wine makers have since given big support (90 per cent of space is booked); and major sponsors have weighed in with money: AMCOR fibre packaging, BOC Gases, Qantas, NSW Government, Vintage Cellars (Liquorland’s fine wine chain); ACI Glass Manufacturers, Australia & NZ Direct Line and LS Booth Transport.

Visit Wine Australia and you can taste wines from South Australia (Clare Valley, Murray Valley, Padthaway, Coonawarra, Mt Gambier, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley and Eden Valley); New South Wales (Hunter Valley, Cowra, Riverina, Mudgee, Canberra, Young, Orange and Hasting River; Queensland (Granite Belt, Roma, Mt Tambourine and Amberlie); Victoria (Goulburn Valley, High Country, Bendigo, Gippsland, Pyrenees, Grampians, Yarra Valley, Geelong, Macedon Ranges, Mornington Peninsula, King Valley, Rutherglen and Ovens Valley; Tasmania (Tamar Valley, Pipers River, East Coast and Southern Tasmania); and Western Australia (Margaret River, Swan Valley and Pemberton).

Entry to the exhibition will be through a live vineyard (the vines are currently under refrigeration, being fooled into believing they’re in the northern hemisphere). From the vineyard, visitors will pass through a winery, bottling hall and cellar to a courtyard. In the courtyard, Vintage Cellars will have a fully stocked retail store and the courtyard will also give access to the self-contained regional displays.

The regional displays are to be separated by three metre high walls so that each may properly display wines and produce and give visitors a series of unique experiences.

The organisers expect the majority of visitors to be local and the event is primarily aimed at promoting Australian wines to Australians. But the long-term aim (the exhibition is to be held every two years) is to make Wine Australia an important International happening.

This year, 800 international trade and media representatives are being flown in to Sydney, so our wines are assured another round of international exposure. And to help smaller makers with export ambitions, key trade visitors are conduction workshops to inform makers about their markets.

Tickets for Wine Australia 96 cost $30 for a single one day pass; $50 for a double one day pass and $80 for a single four day pass and will be available from Ticketek from April 1. As well there is a 24 hour information line on 02 9965 7203. Organisers anticipate opening 40,000 bottles over the four days — a good incentive for us all to visit Sydney for the event.