Winelander – January 29, 2021

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Another year begins and the lockdown problems continue if we were expecting a magic wand to sweep away all our problems then we should be disappointed, I wore my mask as instructed for the first time this week yet above the island in Caloundra our Sunshine Coast cousins live a relatively normal life, ah that’s life but I doubt whether our U.K. friends appreciate the name U.K. virus!

As the dust of Christmas and New Year settles down we look forward to celebrating Australia day and the first vines that started to arrive in Australia carried by James Busby and friends, not to be confused with the name used by Coles for their house brands on the shelves in Liquorland and First Choice Liquor Superstore outlets!

James Busby was born in Edinburgh Scotland and then later emigrated with his family to New South Wales in 1824 and on his arrival was appointed a teacher in viticulture at the Male Orphan’s School at Bald Hills near Sydney. After receiving a grant of land from The Governor he chose a block in the Coal River area in The Hunter Valley region which eventually became one of the early wine-producing areas in Australia.

In 1831 Busby returned to England before visiting Spain and France to continue his studies in viticulture returning in 1832. In 1833 he was appointed to the position of British Resident in New Zealand and went to The Bay of Islands where he planted some of the rootstocks he had collected on his visit to Europe and began making wine there before his vines were productive in Australia.

Other settlers had tried to produce wine prior to Busby and wine was available commercially for consumption in 1820 even being exported back to The U.K. in 1822 by Gregory Blaxland who was the first winemaker to win an overseas award. In 1833 Busby arrived back in Australia with a serious selection of vine cuttings including mostly French grape varieties mainly for fortified wine production. The quality of winemaking in Australia was improving as more settlers from winemaking regions arrived, for example, emigrants from Prussia established winemaking in The Barossa Valley north of Adelaide and on a smaller scale winemaking was established in Geelong by winemakers from Switzerland.

Early winemaking struggled with the new climatic conditions the winemakers faced here in Australia however, in 1873 at the Vienna Exhibition at a blind wine tasting Australian wines were praised by the judges for their quality making which was later rescinded when the wines were found to be from Australia when the judges thought they were from France!

Australian wines continued to make strides at French wine shows and a Victorian Syrah (Shiraz) entered into the 1878 Paris Exhibition was likened to a Chateau Margaux which was great praise indeed. Wines continued to win Gold Medals in France until the industry was brought to its knees with the attack on the vines by Phylloxera a mite which attacked the roots of the vines killing the vine.

After recovering from this setback the Australian wine industry continued to grow to the 140 million cases produced annually today although there have been hiccups over the years notably in the 1980’s when a wine lake was created by overproduction resulting in thousands of vines being pulled out only years before our wines were discovered by the wine drinkers of England and we couldn’t produce enough to satisfy their thirst, especially Jacobs Creek wines, and until more vines had been planted.

Thanks to the vision of emigrants such as James Busby we have a vibrant wine industry that continues to move forward planting exciting new varieties to combat the changing climate although in recent years a new danger in bush fires has emerged and of course the dreaded tariff word imposed recently by the Chinese in an attempt to punish us for being outspoken on the virus, I am sure this will only drive us to look for new markets to enjoy the great wines of Australia in the future.

I bought some wines through ‘Naked Wines’ an online wine service and a selection from a winemaker in the West who was the senior winemaker at Evans and Tate, Brian Fletcher. I first met Brian at one of The Wine Press Club meetings where I was a committee member for around 15 years and during his time with Evans and Tate won many medals before he moved to Margaret River to form a partnership with The Calneggia Family who are major vineyard developers and owners in The Margaret River region.

Naked Wines provide the capital to make wines under the Naked Wine labels and the wines I have recently received made by Brian are outstanding. To date, I have enjoyed the Chardonnay which is excellent having aromas of rockmelon with a vibrant fruit finish and the Cabernet Merlot which again shows the outstanding winemaking talents of Brian. I eagerly look forward to opening his “El Cid” Tempranillo which I cannot believe no-one has used that name before especially in Spain!

Here’s hoping for a very different 2021, and here’s to the good drinking friends of the grape thank you for your support and I hope you continue to enjoy these articles.