1997 — a year in retrospect

It’s been a big year for the Australian wine industry. The second biggest vintage ever fell short of demand, especially in premium red wine. Exports reached an all time high. Domestic consumption, especially of bottled red and white grew strongly. And, in face, of shortage, prices continued to climb.

Premium riesling, so long the bargain of Australian whites, finally caught on, resulting in rationing and higher prices. On the commercial front our larger wine makers moved into off-shore ventures to fully exploit growing global demand. Australian wine-making interests now span the world.

Share prices of listed wine companies reached new heights. New floats (mostly recently Cranswick Estates and Alambie) attracted strong interest. And acquisitions continued, including Southcorp’s purchase of Devil’s Lair in the West and Mildara Blass’s $160 million move into direct marketing
through its purchase of Cellarmaster Wines.

On the retail front, growth of the majors continued with the Coles Myer owned Liquorland’s group move into the Queensland market through the purchase of hotels and attached liquor barns.

And Woolworths-owned Macs liquor launched its Australia-wide ‘Abervale Wine Club’ apparently to counter arch-rival Liquorland’s Vintage Cellars and Fly Buys Wine Clubs, The Australian Wine Society and the numerous wine clubs run by Cellarmaster Wines. All of which is good news for drinkers. There’s
nothing like hot competition to raise service levels and keep a lid on prices.

In Canberra, 1997 brought a legally defensible regional wine boundary after years of debate and negotiation. The boundary starts and finishes at Burrinjuck dam wall after wandering north then east along the Yass and Gunning Shire boundaries to the 149 degree two minute meridian, south to 35 degrees 35 minutes, west to the 149 degree meridian, then north back to the dam wall.

The Canberra wine region, as gazetted, becomes law in mid January 1998, provided no one lodges objections to the proposed boundaries.

Canberra’s other big wine news in 1997 was BRL Hardy’s decision to establish a winery, cellar door facility, regional promotion centre and to foster the planting of 250 hectares of vines within the regional

A government land grant on the corner of Flemington Road and the Federal Highway at Watson has clinched the location of the winery. And when the regional boundary is bedded down, vineyard planning may proceed with more certainty.

1997 will go down as the year the big decisions were made. The future should see Canberra’s wine output increase tenfold by the turn of the millennium, with the possibility of Canberra’s becoming a major
wine-processing centre for grapes planted along the western side of the Great Dividing Range.

Through all this rapid change and price escalation, Australian wineries continued to make ever-better wine. I offer here the Chateau Shanahan annual wine awards for 1997:

Best current-release red: Penfolds Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 707 1994. A fabulous, world-class red still selling for about one third the price of Grange.

Best mature red: Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1991. Bottles from Chateau Shanahan and the Anders Josephson Collection confirmed good old black label Wynns one of the great wine bargains of the world.

Best white wine of the year: Penfolds Reserve Bin 95B Chardonnay 1995 . Due for release this year this wonderful Adelaide Hills-McLaren Vale white won three trophies at the Sydney Show and was described later by Chairman of Judges, Len Evans, as ‘a revelation’. (This wine, an Adelaide Hills/McLaren Vale blend, became the first Penfolds Yattarna. Penfolds released its cellar mate, a straight Adelaide Hills blend, and a better wine, in my opinion, as Bin 95A Reserve Chardonnay).

Best mature white : Leo Buring Bin DW B13 Watervale Riesling 1972. Wine maker John Vickery offered this wine in a tasting of distinguished Australian rieslings spanning thirty years.  You can’t buy it now, but the message is that top rieslings are amongst the best whites we make.

Copyright Chris Shanahan 1998 & 2007