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Aussie wine trends: 7. Sub-regional recognition

While Australia is well-known for its attempts to highlight regional distinctions, today the focus is also on the country’s sub regions and single vineyards.

McLaren Vale launched the Scarce Earth project in 2009

Hence, our fourth entry on Australia’s top 10 wine trends considers the increasing emphasis not so much on “regionality” but “sub-regionality”, along with the fashion for “block” wines, which are designed to draw attention to specific sites.

In particular, as Australia’s established GIs continue to mature, winemaker associations are beginning to formalise sub-regional differences using soil and climatic data.

Leaders in this field are producers in the McLaren Vale, who have worked over the last 30 years to develop a detailed geological map of the region and, as a result, have now identified 19 sub-regions.

“There’s a joke that we are the Burgundy of Australia,” says Marc Allgrove, CEO at Chapel Hill, “and that Grenache is the Pinot Noir of McLaren Vale.”

Together, wineries in the region have launched an initiative called the Scarce Earth project.

As part of this, since 2009, producers have been submitting single vineyard Shiraz-based wines from vines over 10 years old made using minimal intervention.

These are tasted by a panel of winemakers and commentators, and then a chosen selection are branded with a Scarce Earth sticker and sold solely within the region for the first three months following their release, which is always on the same day – 1 May.

Meanwhile, Barossa has launched the Barossa Grounds project which has prompted producers to identify nine potential sub-regions in the Barossa Valley and three in the Eden Valley, according to Toby Barlow, winemaker at St Hallett Wines.

“It’s a response to the concept that Barossa is just one monolithic Shiraz, he says, adding, “And we’ve just got funding to produce a map of the region based on soil and climate.”

Margaret River’s sub regions were proposed by Dr John Gladstone in 1999 but are not officially recognised. Map from

Over in Western Australia, Margaret River has also been working to formalise its sub-regional variations, and has produced a map highlighting six districts.

These are based on viticultulist Dr John Gladstone’s proposals presented back in 1999, and comprise the following sub-regions: Yallingup, Carbunup, Wilyabrup, Treeton, Wallcliffe and Karridale.

As Vanya Cullen, of Cullen Wines in the region points out: “Sub regional and single vineyard and block wines is the direction for Australia at the top end.”

In the Adelaide Hills, Michael Hill-Smith MW at Shaw & Smith agrees with this view, but also warns: “The sommeliers in particular want single block and single vineyard wines but they need to be different enough to make it worthwhile.”

He cites New Zealand Pinot Noir specialist Felton Road for igniting an Australian fashion for isolating vineyards and selling wines as single blocks.

“Everyone is doing block wines,” he says, “And you can’t get away from Felton Road idea of Block 3 and 5 [Pinot Noir].”

Summing up, he adds, “The idea of having a Reserve wine is not a modern concept anymore.”

Click here to read the first instalment of db‘s top 10 Australian wine trends, which focuses on the development and export of extremely pricey wines from the country.

And click here to view the second part, which considers the fast-growing interest and investment in Tasmania, and click here to see the third entry, which looks at the country’s embrace of Italian grapes and newfound success with the Moscato wine style.

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