This past decade is one to be remembered for the first ever significant decline of Australian international wine sales.

But more important is the rise in recognition of Australia’s regional heroes – the great wines of the country which reflect 62 regional terroirs and sense of places.

The country lost two great men of wine (raconteur Len Evans, 75) on August 17, 2006, and more recently (author Dr Max Lake, 84) this year on April 15. Both were Sydney domiciled but magnificent promoters of local wine in their beloved Hunter Valley.

Many of the significant changes have come at the back end of this decade: making structural and promotional adjustments from the slide in big brand wines, still widespread and popular but forever available.

The largest brand, Yellowtail, sells one in five of every Australian wines outside the country and in 40 other ones. Yellowtail is the brand of this decade.

To support the regional heroes the industry held its first Landmark tasting, 250 of these top styles for invited “country influencers” who attended in the Barossa Valley last August. Next year’s is to be in the Yarra Valley in September with a new crop of invitees, entry having closed today.

The larger independent producers established Australia’s First Families of Wine, a dozen families who have taken the charge away from the listed wine companies with short sighted objectives to give Australian regional heroes more stability and longevity, investing long term with greater experience. First Families (Yalumba, Henschke, De Bortoli, Tyrrells, Browns and more), a very modest group, will spend AUD600,000 in their travelling world promotion during 2010.

A refocus on promoting wine by the national body Wine Australia has recognised 12 top regions who command most buyer attention; in order of significance they are-Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Hunter Valley, Riverina, Limestone Coast, Margaret River, Clare, Langhorne Creek, Adelaide Hills, Coonawarra, Yarra, and Tasmania. That’s one state, one Western Australian, one Victorian, two New South Wales and the rest South Australian.

To learn more about Australian terroirs and their regional identity there is a web based training course in seven languages.

This decade Australian wines, generally older examples, have been able to dominate international wine shows, particularly in Europe.

In a style position once owned by German wine producers Peter Lehmann Wines (PLW) have shown one regional hero, aged Peter Lehmann Reserve Eden Valley riesling to be one of the great wines of this country. PLW took International Wine & Spirit Competition (IW&SC) Australian Producer of the Year in 2003, 2006 and 2008, followed by McGuigan Wines 2009 who also showed 2004 Eden Valley riesling with ultimate success.

In the same competition PLW then streaked the opposition (including the fancied Hunter Valley producers-Tyrrells, Brokenwood and McWilliams, and White Bordeaux) to be named White Winemaker of the Year in 2006 with PLW Reserve Semillon (later renamed Margaret after the ebullient Margaret Lehmann).

PLW were named International Winemaker of the Year twice by IW&SC in 2003 and 2006.

Another famous wine competition, the International Wine Challenge (IWC) continued the long run for Australian riesling by naming Tim Adams Riesling 2008 from Clare as the Great Value/Champion White Wine in the 2009 competition.

The same show recognised an Adelaide Hills chardonnay, 2007 McGuigan Shortlist which took three trophies, awarding its maker Neil McGuigan White Winemaker of the Year (all countries).

And finally the doyen of PLW, Peter Lehmann was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by IWC in the same year, applauding the man who has guided the company since 1979, and underscored the amazing performance of grapes grown in the Barossa/Eden Valleys, and assisting it to be Australia’s most widely-recognised wine region internationally.

The terroirs of the Barossa can take a bow.

Australia entered the decade exporting 500 million litres of wine which earned AUD 2.4 million, peaking to 785 million litres in 2007 worth AUD 3 billion, but as wine value has fallen in the fighting varietal sector, 2009 will see 750 million litres exported at the same return, AUD 2.4 million as in 2000. What a circle.

I foresee the next decade to see a rise in exports yet more, but at a greater return to this committed industry as more regional hero wines hit the international stage.

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