A Glass of wine or un verre de vin? by Amie Sexton

Ask your average Australian wine drinker and he would justly tell you that the Australian wine industry was founded by the Germans in South Australia in the mid 1800s. Press him and he would probably concede that French wine, particularly champagne, is the best in the world. So what does that say about Aussie wines? In fact, they have been winning international prizes for almost one hundred and fifty years, and most of them have had some kind of French connection.

When Swiss immigrant Paul de Castella bought the now quite famous Yering Station in the Yarra Valley in 1850, he established the first winery in the region. His brother Hubert later joined him and began St. Hubert’s. Both wineries still operate today. The De Castella brothers worked relentlessly in their quest to produce a quality wine and to promote wine-drinking in a country more disposed to ale and scotch.

At the same time, a Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Trouette, made the first méthode champenoise at St. Peter’s (now Seppelt) in the Great Western district, a region still famed for the quality of its sparkling wines. He produced the wine in the traditional French way, but with a uniquely Australian twist – it was stored in cellars that were once gold mines, a practice which continues to this day. The combination of a warm, dry Australian climate and French expertise has created an outstanding tradition of winemaking.

The strength of our industry owes much to the hard work of pioneers of all nationalities, but French winemakers have contributed more significantly than is commonly recognised. At present there are a number of French winemakers working in Australia and many wineries have developed partnerships with companies in France. The French connection, although subtle, continues.