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Whilst most of Australia consists of arid deserts and dense bushland, the oceanic coasts to the south of the country have a terrain and climate ideal for vine cultivation and wine production. It took several decades of failed attempts at the end of the 18th century in order to produce vines of a decent enough quality for making wine, but since those first false starts, the Australian wine industry has continued to grow and grow. Today, wine production makes up for a considerable part of the Australian economy, with exports in recent years reaching unprecedented levels and even overtaking France for the first time ever. Whilst the greatest successes in regards to quality have been the result of the Syrah grape varietal (known locally as Shiraz), Australia utilizes several Old World grapes, and has had fantastic results from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Chardonnay and more. As the Australian passion for locally produced wine continues to develop, wineries have begun experimenting with a wider range of grape varietals, meaning that nowadays it isn't uncommon to find high quality Australian wines made from Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Viognier, amongst many others.
Of all the white wine grape varietals, surely the one which has spread the furthest and is most widely appreciated is the Chardonnay. This green skinned grape is now grown all over the Old and New Worlds, from New Zealand to the Americas, from England to Chile, and is one of the first varietals people think of when considering white wine grapes. Perhaps this is because of its huge popularity which reached a peak in the 1990s, thanks to new technologies combining with traditional methods to bring the very best features out of the Chardonnay grape, and allow its unique qualities to shine through. Most fine Chardonnay wines use a process known as malolactic fermentation, wherein the malic acids in the grape juice are converted to lactic acids, allowing a creamier, buttery nature to come forward in the wine. No grape varietal is better suited to this process than Chardonnay, which manages to balance these silky, creamy notes with fresh white fruit flavors beautifully.
South-Eastern Australia is a vast stretch of land which is recognized as a GI (Geographical Indication) wine region. It covers an entire third of the country, and the boundary on the west of the region is no less than 1250 miles long. As such, this enormous wine region is one of the most varied in the world, and includes mountain ranges, desert, rainforest and coastlines. It is in the coastal areas where most viticulture takes place, as the blazing heat of this part of the world is there tempered by the cooling ocean breezes and fogs which roll daily over the vineyards, allowing for more balance and acidity in the grapes which grow.
This part of Australia is typified by a bold and daring type of viticulture, with vintners here constantly looking at ways of pushing the boundaries and using new techniques to make the most of their fruit. Organic and Biodynamic farming has taken off in a big way, as Australian winemakers look for ways to express their unique land in the bottle. The vast majority of vines grown here are classic imported French grapes, including Semillon, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, although lesser known varietals are increasing in popularity and prevalence.