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
The expected exit of up to 1,000 grape growers,
mostly in the
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 harvest 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
Margaret River had a compressed harvest but many of
the wineries there also source from the
Great Southern Region which
Mt. Barker and
Frankland River in Western Australia. We were
very impressed with the wines from the Great Southern Region - especially
the Riesling 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
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
The 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
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.
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,
sell their coal while competing too.
We 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
little 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?
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
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...
early April, 2008
New South Wales