Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Regional Australia & wine

I have just finished a post on the New England, Australia blog on the Hunter Valley and wine.

One of my favourite books is Geoffrey Blainey’s Black Kettle and Full Moon (Penguin). Subtitled Daily Life in a Vanished Australia, the book explores different aspects of daily life from European settlement until the early part of the twentieth century.

According to Blainey, spirits not beer were the favourite drink in early Australia simply because of transport costs.

Rum, Indian not Jamaican, was the early favourite. Later Dutch gin known as Geneva gained in popularity. But by the time of the gold rushes brandy had become the clear winner. Brandy was drunk in oceanic quantities, with ship after ship carrying kegs of French brandy.

Beer was a minor drink before the gold rushes but then gained in popularity. In 1870 Victoria had 116 breweries. In NSW, thirty towns had at least one brewery.

This diversity did not last as local breweries closed in the face of competition from beer carried along the new railways or were bought by the major breweries. Today, very little of this diversity remains.

Wine is different.

Today nearly every area in Regional Australia has its own wine, while Australian wine can be found in every part of the world. Experiencing the local wine is part of the joy of a Regional Australia lifestyle for both locals and visitors. This was not always the case.

Wine growing began early around Sydney. By 1832, George Wyndham was producing wine in the Hunter Valley, expanding rapidly from his Dalwood base.

In early Victoria the vineyards, often planted with cuttings from the Hunter, were few but productive in quantity (quality was another issue) before being badly damaged by phylloxera.

In South Australia wine growing began in the hills around Adelaide with grower names like Seppelt, Hardy, Penfold, Reynell and Gramp, names that would become famous. Prussian, British and Bavarian vignerons then opened up the Barossa Valley.

In the midst of all this, wine was not really a popular Australian drink. Many Australians who did drink wine preferred the imported product.

There were places where wine drinking was popular among a large minority. Roma in Western Queensland had a winery from the 1860s and probably drank more wine than all of Brisbane. Wine was a popular minority drink around Newcastle in the lower Hunter, in north eastern Victoria and among South Australia's German immigrants. However, in Australia as a whole, there were whole streets where not a wine bottle would be found.

Even then, and I did not know this, Australians as a whole still drank more wine per head than other English speaking countries. But it was still a minor drink.

How things have changed.

No comments: