Mac's News from Australia, 2008...

... Report 2 - Western Australia
Margaret River Region


For the most part, wine regions in Australia experienced another hot, early vintage in 2008.  The harvest is expected to be around 1.6 million tonnes up from the 2007 vintage of about 1.4 million tonnes, the balance between supply and demand becoming more stable. 

The expected exit of up to 1,000 grape growers, mostly in the Riverland and Riverina in the interior Murray River Basin, will reduce wine bargains at the lower price levels.  This year some grape growers were able to purchase water at high prices to keep going but the poor long range outlook has prompted many to look to other options for their livelihood. 

The Hunter Valley was wet for most of the harvesthunter valley semillion period.  Reports indicate that early varieties (such as Semillon) were in good shape, but later reds had some mildew problems.  As is usually the case, Tasmania had a cooler and, for them, a more typical harvest period. To this date there have been no public assessments of the quality of the vintage in Australia. 

Margaret River had a compressed harvest but many of the wineries there also source from the Great Southern Region which includes Amberley Cape Vale wineryMt. Barker and Frankland River in Western Australia.  We were very impressed with the wines from the Great Southern Region  - especially the Riesling and Shiraz

Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also very strong here.  Margaret River as a region continues to speak for itself.  My "find" on this trip was Brown Hill Estate where they dry farm Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  The gravel soils support low yields on all varieties to less than 1.5 tons per acres.  All reds get a cold soak of 3 days and 18 months of barrel aging in combinations of new and used oak.  Whites also get a cold soak but a light pressing and no oak contact. brown hill estate cabernetThe quality of the wines was very impressive and the prices very reasonable.  Brown Hill Estate could be considered a "best buy" winery in the expensive Margaret River Wine Region

The northern parts of the Margaret River Wine Region are underlain by a large coal deposit similar to the Hunter Valley.  Unlike the Hunter, which has the more desirable and exported hard black coal, the coal in West Australia is soft and lighter in color.  The Western Australian coal is only for domestic use and almost exclusively for the production of power. vines to bottles Houghton Swan Valley

Rail cars carry the Hunter Valley coal deposits to the sea port of Newcastle NSW where dozens of ships await dock space to transport the coal to China - Australian coal plays a significant part in China’s economic development.  It also plays a significant part in the air pollution - a major issue for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. The ironic thing about this is that Australia is considering flying their Olympic athletes into China for their events only and have them stay elsewhere, especially for those competing in endurance events. That way, they can sell their coal while  competing too.

Cape Mentelle barrels Margaret RiverWe enjoyed a dinner in Sydney with Don Hoyle of Kanata, a long time Brehm Vineyard home winemaker.  Don is establishing a Southeast Asian location for the high tech company he works for and was also able to spend a few days to take in the sights of New Zealand.

Sydney, like Melbourne, is a great restaurant town and when all is figured in, prices in Australia for eating out are generally lower than in Canada.  The value for money in terms of better quality is a fact and the ability to bring one’s wine to the restaurant for Vineyard worker sign Margaret Riverlittle or no corkage fee is a big plus.  This is, of course, terrific for a visiting Canadian, but what happens if you can't get served? 

The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that there is a general shortage of restaurant servers even at a starting rate of $14 to $15 CDN an hour. That rate increases to $18 to $19 CDN an hour after the servers get the hang of the job.  One restaurateur in the article stated that an excellent waiter in a top restaurant in Sydney could earn $115,000 a year including tips.

Joey and Matilda in the Margaret River RegionAlthough tipping in Australia is generally confined to Sydney and other large centers plus high end vacation resorts, it never reaches the levels experienced in North America. Wages are a considerably larger factor in the food service business, but even at these levels competent staff are hard to fine.  The average wage for a chef in Sydney is reported to be $52,000 CDN per annum.

After checking the LCBO Vintages prices for Australian Wines on the internet, Ontario residents can be assured that they are getting good prices for downunder wines in the $15 and up price category.

Next up,  New York's Finger Lakes region.

in vino veritas...

Mac MacDonald
early April, 2008
New South Wales


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