Ibelong to a Melbourne-based wine club. Once a year, we visit a wine region. We meet with experts in the trade and sample wines together. Every trip has been a beauty.
We are spoilt for choice: an hour from Melbourne, in any direction, there are countless world-class wineries; an hour further, the same again.
Victoria boasts more regions, more wineries and more planted grape varieties than any other Australian state.
Moreover, there are fellow travellers everywhere: industry-types and ordinary punters who are keen to talk and quick to share their passion for the grape.
We’ve come a long way. By ‘we’, I mean Australians and Australian wine.
In 1968, the year that I was born, four-fifths of all Australian grapes were used for fortified wine. Today, almost 98 per cent of grapes are used for table wine.
Wine is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Australia (though beer, by volume, is the most consumed): a stunning fact and a stable trend that shatters a national stereotype.(1)
Domestic demand is high, at almost 40 per cent of total Australian wine production, and wine literacy among Australians is relatively strong.
Wine literacy? My term for the elevated levels of general wine knowledge found among consumers in countries where wine is central to the culture.
To put all this another way: if my mates and I were born a generation earlier, the depth and diversity of our collective wine encounters would not have been possible; the things we now enjoy barely existed.
For the Australian wine enthusiast, the golden age is here.
For those in the trade, wine is work: their livelihood, their future.
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
So wrote the Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith, more than 200 years ago.
In my lifetime global demand for Australian wine has fuelled extraordinary growth in wine exports, especially through the 1990s and into this new century.
The sector contracted in 2007, around the time of the global financial crisis.(2)
The sustained hit to volumes and value coincided (at home and abroad) with diminishing affection for a generic style of Australian wine that was ‘big’ but often bland.
The sector today is up and about, defined by innovation, new energy and growth.
Australian wine exports grew by 11 per cent in the last 12 months – their third consecutive year of double-digit growth – and are now worth $2.71 billion. Five years ago, that market was worth $1.8 billion.
Northeast Asia comprises nearly half of total exports by value at $1.14 billion – and China accounts for the bulk of that figure at $1.06 billion.(3)
Clearly, there is no going back: the Australian wine industry will live or die in international markets, where competition is intense and where the future is (as always) up for grabs.
The magnitude of the threats and opportunities are enough to make you dizzy.
A vast and complex architecture now underpins the sector. It comprises trade and industry associations, government bodies and stakeholder groups of every imaginable kind.
The network expands like a fabulous web and holds within its orbit a stunning mix of people, policy and practice.
I find myself drawn to it because I’m cheering for the future.
I admire the skills and character of those who grow grapes or attempt to make wine on any commercial scale.
They deserve the best support. They overcome almighty odds and propel the sector forward.
I doubt I’d have the brains or guts to make a go of it.
Image above: Australian export wine sales over the last 12 months; www.wineaustralia.com
(1) Roy Morgan Alcohol Currency Report, 2017.
(2) Click here for an elegant overview of the Australian wine industry.
(3) Click here for further facts and figures.